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MEDIA VIEWS

Media Views: Cards-Cubs ends Buck's Fox schedule lull, in which he found time to host 'Jeopardy!' Could he permanently replace Trebek?

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Fox Sports' Joe Buck (left) and John Smoltz are to call the Cardinals-Cubs game  Saturday night at Busch Stadium. (Fox Sports photo)

Joe Buck is about to do something he hasn’t done in more than a year and a half — broadcast a Major League Baseball game in a home team’s stadium, and with fans present.

And when the Fox Sports broadcaster calls the Cardinals-Cubs matchup Saturday night at Busch Stadium, he also be doing something he rarely has done since the football season was winding down in January — working in any capacity.

Because of the pandemic, Buck worked remotely during the last MLB regular season. Then when he was on hand in the postseason, all games starting in the division series round were played at neutral sites. Although a limited number of fans were allowed for some games, it was not a normal feel. And he has not broadcast from a baseball stadium this year.

“It will be awesome to be back at the ballpark, to have a home crowd rooting for their team,” Buck, who will be making the short dive from his St. Louis area home, said this week. “I’m really looking forward to that.”

In fact, the entire Fox lead baseball broadcasting team is to be on hand. That includes the production crew, analyst John Smoltz and reporter Ken Rosenthal. (KTVI, Channel 2, has the game locally, at 6:15 p.m.) It is one of three contests Fox is televising regionally at that time, and is to be shown in 30% of the nation. (Red Sox-Phillies goes to 38%, Dodgers-Giants to 31%.) The crew also will do Cards-Cubs contest June 12 in Chicago, as they prepare to call the All-Star Game — July 13 in Denver.

“We all need the reps,” Buck said.

The same could be said for work in general for Buck, who also is Fox’s top NFL play-by-play broadcaster. Since calling the NFC championship contest in late January, he has broadcast a grand total of one game. That was an Atlanta-Philadelphia matchup on the opening weekend of the baseball season that he did from the KETC (Channel 9) studios in St. Louis.

Buck, 52, was ready for a break. Last fall he was on site for NFL and postseason baseball contests, and said he called 39 games from mid-October through the third week of January. He was bouncing from sport to sport and city to city, all while “dodging COVID” for several grueling weeks in October.

“I was all over the place,” he said.

So a respite has been welcome, especially with the young twins he and wife Michelle Beisner-Buck have at home.

“It has been a lot of time off, but it has been great with the boys just turning 3,” he said. “But I don’t like sitting around like this.”

‘Jeopardy!’ jaunt

Buck has not been totally off, though. A couple weeks ago he taped five episodes of the iconic “Jeopardy!” quiz show, at the Sony Pictures compound in suburban Los Angeles. The programs are scheduled to air Aug. 9-13 (4:30 p.m., KSDK, Channel 5 locally) and will be the culmination of a high-visibility short stretch for Buck.

On Aug. 5 (a Thursday) he will have Fox’s call of the Hall of Fame game, which opens the NFL’s exhibition schedule and pits Pittsburgh against Dallas in Canton, Ohio. Then that weekend Buck is to be presented with the Pete Rozelle Award, for excellence in broadcasting pro football, as part of the Hall induction festivities. His “Jeopardy!” shows air the next week.

He is the final one of 16 celebrates who have hosted the show this season in the absence of Alex Trebek, who died in November after orchestrating the program for 37 seasons.

“I’m going to form every play-by-play call (Saturday) as a question in honor of ‘Jeopardy!,’” Buck said, apparently at least partially kidding. “Hard-core fans will get it. I’ll earn points with them.”

To do the shows, he compacted a lot of work then into a brief period. There was rehearsal on a Monday, then the five shows he did all were taped the next day.

The first day was spent “getting the mechanics down, then I slept on it.”

He awoke to the Tuesday marathon.

“I had done a lot of homework, I felt at ease and was myself,” Buck said. “That’s all I can ask. But I have no idea what it will look like on the air.”

He called the experience “great” overall.

“It was fun, it was a lot different than doing a live event like the Super Bowl or World Series,” he said. “It is far different doing a quiz show that’s taped.”

What he might be most happy about is the charitable contribution his stint fueled. Each fill-in host designates a charity to receive an amount equal to the winnings of all contestants on those shows. Buck picked KidSmart, a local organization that provides basic school materials to children whose families have financial difficulties.

While he was not at liberty to say how much was raised (“you’ll have to watch to find out,” he said), he did add it was “a bunch of money.”

Permanent gig?

Taping for the new season is expected to begin in mid-summer, probably before Buck’s episodes air, and all indications are that program’s executives want to hire a full-time replacement for Trebek rather than continue with fill-ins.

Mike Richards, executive producer of the show — and one of the fill-in hosts — recently said on “The Journal,” The Wall Street Journal’s podcast, that the decision will be made by the hierarchy of “Jeopardy!” owner Sony Entertainment.

And testing — focus group evaluations — will be relied on heavily.

“It’s going to come down to the heads of Sony to make that decision, ultimately, and it’ll come down to testing,” Richards said on the podcast. “They’ve been a part of it. They know what’s going on in the studio. They’re watching the feed, the tapings. It’s very extensive. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of, as far as testing in its size and scope.

“You want to make an informed decision,” he added. “In the end, we’re a pretty cerebral group, the ‘Jeopardy!’ team. We want to go at this with real analytics and real testing and not just go, ‘Hey, how about this guy?’ which is kind of how a lot of these decisions have been made historically.”

Richards also said the goal is to find someone agreeable to devoting his or her entire work time to the program, not be a moonlighter.

“I feel like it worked out pretty well for Alex as one job,” he said. “It’s not a side hustle to me, and we’ve been clear about that.”

If that is the case and Buck would be under consideration, would he be willing to give up his Fox duties if offered the position?

“I’m not even talking about it, I have no clue,” he said. “It’s out of line to even think like that.”

He said he is just enjoying his brief contribution, and thought about his late father — legendary Cardinals and national sportscaster Jack Buck.

“I had fun with it — not just doing it, but injecting a little humor,” he said. “I wanted to do it my way. I got into this (broadcasting) business trying not to be my dad, to not sound like him exactly.”

In other words, he wanted to make it on his own — something he certainly has done — after getting a big boost from his father early in his career.

Hosting “Jeopardy!” for a week’s worth of shows is just his latest accomplishment, and he is pleased with his performance.

“I walked out of there very happy,” Buck said. “And they were happy with me. I did everything I wanted to do.”

Up next

“Media Views” returns June 4.

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