The "Jeopardy!" host hunt is down to the wire.
As the iconic quiz show's 37th season finale nears next week, producer Sony Pictures Television is preparing to anoint only the second permanent host in the show's current incarnation after Alex Trebek's death last November from pancreatic cancer.
Sixteen guest hosts have stood at the podium since January, starting with a six-week turn by "Greatest of All Time" champion Ken Jennings.
Sony declined to comment on a report from Variety that claimed executive producer Mike Richards is the frontrunner. But a new host is expected to be named shortly after next week's finale, as the show prepares to resume taping for a 38th season that premieres Sept. 13.
Richards is the top pick of USA TODAY TV critic Kelly Lawler. He became producer of "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" last May, is a longtime game-show producer who competed to replace Bob Barker on CBS' "The Price is Right" and has hosted several other game shows, including "Beauty and the Geek" and "Pyramid." He won high marks for his "Jeopardy!" stint, which came with three days' notice while the show struggled to remain in production before celebrity guest hosts had been lined up.
"I was very surprised by the reaction to me, and very flattered," he said in an interview last May. "I think it speaks to the passion of our fan base that they can (embrace) a guy that's unknown. I've produced for a really long time, and I take great pride in my career path and my work ethic. So I prepared for that as well as I could, as intensely as I could, given a very short turnaround. It was neat to see because it could have gone the other way and been really bad."
Asked if he would take the job if offered, he said: "I mean, it's the greatest job in television, although I may be biased. I would definitely consider it if Sony made that decision and wanted me to do it. It would be amazing."
Several top-level executives at Sony are making the final decision, relying heavily on feedback gleaned in focus groups of viewers, along with ratings and – to a much lesser extent – reactions on social media.
"We want to hear from our fans, and I'm online every day looking at it and checking it out,"
he said. "But we've got to be careful about the 20,000 people or whatever that are screaming the loudest. We're pretty astute in the way that we approach that. What we're going to look for is the best candidate for the show, and we're not going to limit it to anyone based on anything. That would be the "Jeopardy!" way."
But Richards said earlier that while some of the 16 guest hosts, which included several newscasters, were "not actual candidates because of other jobs or whatever, certainly many, I would say most" are interested in the job.
Chief among them: LeVar Burton, the actor and "Reading Rainbow" host who waged a public lobbying effort for the spot and had his turn last month. "I don't want to look back on my life and tick off all of the things that I wish I had said or done," he said in an interview last month.
Thursday, he took to Twitter to say that "No matter the outcome, I’ve won. The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and fans alike has been incredible!"
I have said many times over these past weeks that no matter the outcome, I’ve won. The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and fans alike has been incredible! If love is the ultimate blessing and I believe that it is, I am truly blessed beyond measure. 🙏🏾
— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) August 5, 2021
Contributing: Erin Jensen
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Jeopardy!' search: Mike Richards talks potential hosting gig