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Mayim Bialik wants to 'decrease the drama factor' as 'Jeopardy!' host

"I'd like to be as much of a neutral to pleasant presence as host," the actor says.
The Kelly Clarkson Show - Season 2
Mayim Bialik, pictured here on "The Kelly Clarkson Show" in December, begins her co-hosting duties on "Jeopardy!" on Monday.NBC

Mayim Bialik is used to wearing many hats. She is a neuroscientist, a four-time author and a four-time Emmy nominee for her supporting role on "The Big Bang Theory."

Bialik adds yet another line to her résumé Monday night with the premiere of a new batch of "Jeopardy!" episodes that put her behind the lectern. She and former champion Ken Jennings will split hosting duties for the rest of the year, Sony Pictures Television announced last week.

"Jeopardy!" producers are still searching for a permanent replacement for the late Alex Trebek. In the meantime, longtime fans hope Bialik, 45, and Jennings, 47, can help steady the proverbial ship after the drama around Mike Richards, the producer-turned-emcee who exited the show last month under scrutiny of his past comments about women, Jewish people and poor people.

In a brief Zoom conversation Monday, Bialik laid out her goals for "Jeopardy!" in the wake of a grueling news cycle, responded to criticism over her past remarks about vaccines and discussed the origins of her Fox sitcom, "Call Me Kat," which has been renewed for a second season.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You and Ken Jennings are splitting "Jeopardy!" hosting duties through the end of the year. What do you see as your mandate at the show, and how closely do you expect to work with Ken?

If you want to do the math, I think I'm technically doing more than half [of the episodes], so my mandate is to do basically as many episodes as I can given my schedule.

To be honest, there's been a lot unfolding over the last month, much of which the public knows about and a lot of which the public doesn't necessarily need to know about. What I can say is that when Mike [Richards] stepped down as host, what I said was, "How can I help?" because I already had been welcomed into the "Jeopardy!" family as someone who was going to be doing prime-time stuff and the college "Jeopardy!" specials.

We're kind of in that sort of mode: trying to get some stability and consistency back for our wonderful staff and crew, many of whom have been there for decades without any sort of drama or turmoil. That's what I think Ken and I are both focusing on right now.

I've only gotten to meet him [Jennings] once. Covid is really a bummer in so many ways. It's devastating on a global level, but when you think of interpersonal things — he and I really haven't been able to meet and spend time together. I got to meet him at the press conference, [but] otherwise, I don't get to do a lot of face-to-face time with him. But I'm hoping that I get to, especially now that we're being tested so regularly.

Do you think the backlash to Mike Richards' hiring was valid? What's one thing you would say to longtime viewers of "Jeopardy!" about the show's future in the wake of this summer's controversies?

I think for sure there's validity to the concerns. I think we're all kind of dealing with how much [does] the court of public opinion play a role in decision-making, and again, I think that's something we're all trying to figure out as an industry.

Like I said, my interest right now is for the viewers to not think much about what's going in terms of hosting, meaning I'd like to be as much of a neutral to pleasant presence as host of what's going to be a lot of episodes between now and several months from now. I really don't want to make it about me, because it's not. I don't think anyone who guest-hosted was trying to make it about them, per se.

Really, [I'm] just trying to decrease any drama factor going on and kind of go back to this incredible, iconic show, which has a very long, long streak going right now, as well, with Matt Amodio.

Over the summer, there was renewed scrutiny on your comments about vaccines. I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond to that criticism. Do you feel your views have been mischaracterized?

Again, this is kind of court of public opinion. I made a very public video on my YouTube channel [uploaded on Oct. 1], which has over a million subscribers, saying that my children are vaccinated. We were all, at that point, going to get vaccinated for Covid; we are all [now] vaccinated for Covid. At the time when I wrote a book [the 2012 parenting guide "Beyond the Sling"], when my kids were young, they had not received all their vaccines. That's absolutely true.

It doesn't feel good when you're a liberal who's accused by liberals of not being liberal enough or when you're a feminist who's accused by other feminists of not being feminist enough because I support breast-feeding.

I think there's a lot of drama circulating, but I've been pretty clear, as I said, especially very recently, about us and vaccines. I don't think there's a lot of confusion there by people who are doing the appropriate, timely research.

"Call Me Kat" starts filming its second season soon. What drew you to that project?

We go back next week. The project was actually brought to me by Jim Parsons from "The Big Bang Theory." His company had the rights to "Miranda," and that was a British show about a very unusual woman. And what Jim said is "If anyone can pull off annoying but also adorable, it's probably you." That's how we started working together on an American version of "Miranda," as it were.