Today, I'm talking to you about death. This was originally going to be
written as a State of Play with Gordon helping, but with recent events, it
seemed more apropos to go On the Buzzer with the subject now.
This week, the game show world mourns one of its own from afar, as Richard
Whiteley, the host of Channel 4's flagship program - quiz or otherwise -
"Countdown", passed away after a lengthy bout with illness. This news rocked
British television; "Countdown" is as revered as "Jeopardy!" is on this side of
the pond, and Whiteley, as well-known as Alex Trebek.
Having hosted the show for 23 years straight, C4 did go into Whiteley's
illness period with a contingency plan of guest hosts, much like Allen Ludden's
case during his run as host of "Password Plus". Those plans, however, will have
to be changed or, if C4 deems it necessary, thrown out, along with the entire
I can understand why C4 would make such a last-resort move, I can imagine
the panic and the dread of seeing someone other than the man who made the show
for the last three decades at his desk. After all, could you picture anyone but
Jeff Probst snuffing torches on "Survivor"? Anyone but Ben Stein doling out
thousands of his own money? Anyone but Simon Cowell praising the talented and
berating the talentless on "American Idol"? Most likely, the answer is "no, no,
and hell no." I mean, look what happened to the Doug Davidsons, the Robin Wards,
and the Rolf Benir... Biner... Benish... the Bob Goens of the world.
But at the same time, I think of Rich Fields
on "The Price is Right", coming slowly but surely into his element, picking up
where his antecedent left off. I think of the late great Rod Roddy in the same
position two decades ago, inheriting the mic from the equally-late,
equally-great Johnny Olsen. I think of Tom Kennedy and Bert Convy, both masters
in their field, taking the reigns from "Mr. Password," Allen Ludden. I
think of Ray Combs, certainly no Richard Dawson by ANY stretch of the
imagination, but at least a comparable rival and a worthy heir apparent to the
Feud. Richard Karn... getting there... Not quite there yet. Give him a few
And don't even get me started on Barker's Beauties, which has cycled enough
times to fill a season of "America's Next Top Model."
Even in the off-topic realm of television, guest hosts playing filler is
nothing new. After Craig Kilborn and before Craig Ferguson, we had several
guests hosting "The Late Late Show." When Kathie Lee Gifford bowed, Regis had to
kiss a lot of frogs before finding his diamond in the rough in the form of Kelly
Ripa. The past is riddled with instances when networks and/or production
companies have had contingencies to "keep the knight's line true" as it were.
So then I think about the years to come. The sole active member of the
proverbial old guard, Bob Barker, is taking "The Price is Right" year by year,
but surely he is not long for this world either. With every record-breaking
telecast, he is nearing the end of his era-long story in broadcasting. Would CBS
be as quick to axe one of its daytime draws because its figurehead has been
taken out of the picture through some divine drama?
When I first wrote this draft, I had pictured a hypothetical short-list of
candidates who would fit the bill. While we would love to see Dennis James or
Tom Kennedy in the position, we all know that in our heart or hearts that can't
be the case. For one, Dennis James is dead. For another, Tom Kennedy is
semi-retired (and from what I hear, enjoying it). On this short-list are
candidates that range from the experienced (Michael Burger & Mark Walberg, who
had each hosted a round of The Price is Right Live; and Marc Summers, who can
pretty much host anything he darn well pleases) to the convenient (Ryan Seacrest,
who, like Barker, started out as a DJ and, like Barker, is on the payroll for
FremantleMedia) to those that are conveniently filed under the header marked
"would be nice, but don't count on it... yet" (Brian McFayden, who is
surprisingly good as both gamemaster and quiz master in "Beauty and the Geek",
and J. Keith van Straaten, who excels in both his on-stage shows and his one
season of "Beat the Geeks", fall under this category). No matter who the show
goes on with, the more intelligent of us fans will be pleased as punch just as
long as the show goes on.
No one can predict where we go from here. On that same note, "no one" thought
that Alex Trebek, Garry Moore, Tom Bergeron, or Bob Barker could ever hold a
candle to Art Fleming, Bud Collyer, Peter Marshall, or Bill Cullen. But in this
world, as in the next, the only constant is change.
So let the show continue. Give someone else a chance to take the show further
than it has ever been, be it "The Price is Right", "Countdown", or any other.
The Richard Whiteleys of the world would want it that way.
Chico Alexander knows the correct spelling is B-E-N-I-R-S-C-H-K-E. E-mail him