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Alex Trebek speaks on stage at the 40th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards.
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Who is Laura Coates? Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek names a potential successor

By Lila MacLellan

“Let’s meet our contestants” took on a new meaning this week when Alex Trebek, longtime host of the trivia game show Jeopardy! hinted in an interview that he may retire in 2020. When his current contract to host the show ends, he may not renew, Trebek told a host from the celebrity news outlet TMZ yesterday (July 30).

That bit of gossip alone would have been enough to set his fans reeling. Trebek has hosted Jeopardy! for 34 years. His name is synonymous with the weekly syndicated show.

But he had had more. Trebek named two potential candidates to be his successor: Alex Faust, the play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, and Laura Coates, an attorney and legal analyst who appears on CNN regularly and hosts an eponymous interactive SiriusXM radio show on the network’s UrbanView channel.

What is “dropping a bomb,” Alex?

The star’s decision to think aloud—apparently off the cuff—about a changing of the guard at one of the most popular, and lucrative, TV game shows of all time was an odd one. Typically organizations like to turn these kinds of announcements into a moment, controlling the message to build excitement and enthusiasm.

By contrast, even Trebek’s two candidates reportedly did not realize that they were on his radar until news of the interview surfaced. They responded on Twitter with remarkably different statements. Faust joked about “worse ways to randomly see your name show up on TMZ,” while Coates celebrated the surprise, stating that her children would now think she was a genius.

I’ll take “over-qualified”

It seems, though, that Coates’s children had reason to believe their mother was a genius long before this. She’s a former assistant US Attorney for the District of Columbia, and has “prosecuted a wide range of felony offenses from drug trafficking and armed offenses to domestic violence and sexual assault,” according to her bio for George Washington University Law School, where she’s a lecturer.

A graduate of Princeton and the University of Minnesota’s law school, Coates also worked as a civil rights attorney for the Department of Justice, during the Bush and Obama administrations. In 2016, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, she self-published a book on the rights of citizens when dealing with police, You Have the Right: A Constitutional Guide to Policing the Police.

And she began her career in private practice, specializing in cases involving intellectual property rights and first amendment law.

Karen Hunter, a SiriusXM radio host, former journalist and social activist, endorsed Coates on Twitter, sparking a debate about whether it’d be a loss for the public discourse if Coates became a game show host. Her argument: Why can’t Coates “walk and chew gum?”

In an email, Hunter also told Quartz that Coates is a complex woman who can “break down any topic with power.”  She’s a “quirky, funny, open, and very real human being who is relatable to everyone,” she wrote.

“In our current climate, she could also be a bridge,” Hunter added. “She is from Minnesota and grew up loving the Back Street Boys. She has two kids under the age of five, and she’s a wife who handles all of those duties AND does her show and commentary on CNN without missing a beat. She is an inspiration.”

“Diversity” for $200

In an interview with the New York Times, the head of a Jeopardy! fan site named some of the more obvious personalities discussed as possible heirs to Trebek’s throne. His list proved the point that people need to see diversity in high-profile roles before they can imagine it: all the potential successors were much like Trebek—white and male.

CNN journalist Anderson Cooper has been called a favorite.  So, too, was Matt Lauer, the former co-host of NBC’s Today show who was brought down by allegations of sexual harassment.

While Faust, the hockey broadcaster, would be in keeping with tradition, Coates would be an overdue change. It’s not clear whether Trebek was inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but it would make sense for both he and his producers to embrace an opportunity to break from the past and, possibly, appeal to a broader audience, including younger viewers who’d like to see popular culture more accurately reflect the country’s demographics.

Whatever the case, Coates would undoubtedly be an entertaining host. On CNN, she breaks down complex legal matters with ease, and refers to herself as an “edutainer” on her personal site. Plus, she has a killer eye roll (5:32):

Coates’s Instagram feed also suggests she has a decent sense of humor. Next to posts featuring Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, clever Women’s March signs, and her adorable children, she ribs her sister’s fashion sensibility:

So far, only one one person on Twitter has raised a red flag, but even that warning was qualified: