A year after the “Jeopardy! The Greatest of All Time” tournament, Seattle’s Ken Jennings is back in ABC’s prime-time lineup alongside fellow GOATs James Holzhauer and Brad Rutter. This time, they’re on “The Chase” (debuting 9 p.m. Jan. 7), another attempted Americanization of the hit British quiz show of the same name that’s aired in the U.K. since 2009.
“The unique angle we have with this reincarnation is people come in with established admiration, relationships and knowledge of these three guys,” says host Sara Haines (“The View”).
Indeed, the trio takes turns in the spotlight, with one filling the “chaser” role each episode while the other two watch and offer commentary from a backstage lounge. In one episode, Holzhauer mocks a nervous contestant and Rutter wordlessly walks out after a bad Jennings pun. (“[He’s] played ‘College Jeopardy!,’” Jennings says of one contestant, “but he’s entering the pro game now. This is the KenFL.”)
Gameplay is similar to the British version and a previous American iteration that aired on GSN from 2013 to 2015. (Holzhauer competed on the GSN iteration during its run.)
The first round features one of three contestants building up cash by answering as many trivia questions as possible in one minute.
In the second round, the contestant faces off against the chaser, who sits atop a game board. The contestant must answer trivia questions, advancing with each correct answer while trying to avoid being caught by the chaser in an effort to bank the money won in the first round. If the contestant gets an answer wrong but the chaser gets the answer correct, the chaser comes closer to catching up to the contestant.
Contestants who avoid getting caught in the second round advance to play together as a team in a final, nail-biting speed round, answering as many questions as possible in two minutes. Their goal is to outpace the chaser, who answers a different set of questions over two minutes after the contestants’ turn. (If no contestants survive the second round, there is a mechanism in place for the third round to happen, Haines says, but details of what that will look like are being kept under wraps until the episodes air.)
“I think all of us bring our own spins to the thing,” Holzhauer says of the nine-episode first season during a group interview via Zoom in mid-December. “Ken is a nicer guy than either Brad or I seem to be and you get the sense that he feels really bad when he has to eliminate the contestants. I did not have this problem, shall we say.”
Adds Rutter, “The ‘dad joke’ quotient with Ken was either excellent or terrible, depending on your stance.”
Haines introduces each of the chasers with a nickname at the beginning of each episode, dubbing the Seattleite Ken “The Professor” Jennings. “I don’t mind being ‘The Professor,’” Jennings says, “though it’s stolen valor.”
The look of “The Chase” follows what’s become standard for prime-time trivia competitions since “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” — a mostly black stage with lighting effects and dramatic music — but Rutter says the show’s distinguishing characteristic is its pace.
“We have 116-questions-in-a-show-type pace, which is what a lot of people like about ‘Jeopardy!,’” he notes.
Holzhauer says “The Chase” takes “the best elements” of trivia and sports competitions while also giving chasers the chance to explain their thought processes during the second round of play.
Jennings says “The Chase” will be particularly appealing to fans of the “Jeopardy!” GOAT tournament.
“You’re probably rooting for the contestants — even I’m rooting for the underdog contestants — but you’ve got these familiar faces from ‘Jeopardy!,’” Jennings says, “and if you watched the GOAT tournament, you remember how fun that is when you put that back-and-forth and riffing on top of a strict, serious quiz show format.”
Filmed in November before Jennings’ stint taping “Jeopardy!” episodes as an interim guest host following the death of host Alex Trebek (those Jennings-hosted episodes start airing Jan. 11), Rutter and Holzhauer offered “no comment” when asked if they would also be fill-in “Jeopardy!” hosts.
“Given the pressure that’s involved in anyone not named Alex Trebek having the job, I’m glad it’s not me up there,” Holzhauer says. “I think [Ken] will do the best job he can. That’s all we can ask of him.”
“We would all rather see Alex, I think it’s fair to say,” Rutter adds, “but if it’s going to be anyone else, I’m glad it’s [Ken].”