Mike Richards is out as executive producer of Jeopardy!, days after he stepped down as the quiz show’s newly appointed successor to beloved host Alex Trebek because of past misogynistic and disparaging comments.
Richards also will no longer serve as executive producer of Wheel of Fortune, according to a Tuesday email to staff that was confirmed by Sony Pictures Television, which produces both shows.
“We had hoped that when Mike stepped down from the host position at Jeopardy! it would have minimized the disruption and internal difficulties we have all experienced these last few weeks. That clearly has not happened,” Suzanne Prete, a Sony executive with the game shows, said in the memo.
“That clearly has not happened.”
Anointing Richards as successor to the much-admired Trebek, who died in November 2020 of complications from pancreatic cancer, was a questionable and divisive choice to fans, especially since the studio had conducted a splashy search with guest hosts that included actors, sports figures, journalists — and Richards.
Not long after being named host on Aug. 11, revelations surfaced that Richards had made demeaning comments about women, the homeless and others on episodes of a 2013-14 podcast. Pop culture website The Ringer published an article detailing the comments on Aug. 18.
The lag between Richards’ Aug. 20 decision to step down as host and Sony’s announcement Tuesday was filled with speculation about why the studio was keeping him on as a producer. Jeopardy! fans called him unsuitable for the venerated show, and there were reports of dissatisfaction by staffers.
Richards ‘damaged goods,’ PR expert says
“Richards has been perceived as damaged goods since the moment the scandal broke,” said crisis public relations expert Eden Gillott, referring to Richards’ podcast remarks.
“It’s surprising that Sony kept Richards on as executive producer for as long as it did.”
According to Prete’s Tuesday memo, Michael Davies, the founder of Sony Pictures Television’s bi-coastal production company Embassy Row who produces ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire will act as an interim producer until further notice.
Prete also noted that she herself would be more involved in the day-to-day running of both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune moving forward.
James Holzhauer, a Jeopardy! champion who mocked Richards when he first surrendered the host job, weighed in Tuesday.
“Do I think Mike Richards’s podcast comments were appropriate for polite society? No. But did he deserve the benefit of the doubt for the job he did running Jeopardy? Also no,” Holzhauer tweeted.
Do I think Mike Richards’s podcast comments were appropriate for polite society? No. But did he deserve the benefit of the doubt for the job he did running Jeopardy? Also no
The short-lived Richards era caught the attention of comedian W. Kamau Bell, who hosts CNN’s United Shades of America.
“I really want the Tiger King style documentary on this whole thing,” Bell posted on Twitter.
Bialik filling in as host
Richards had signed an overall development deal with Sony in 2019, and was announced as executive producer of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune in May 2020.
He quickly became controversial when he went from behind-the-scenes to Sony’s pick for permanent host of Jeopardy!
Questions were raised about whether Richards, in his role as producer, had put his finger on the scale in favour of himself, and whether he had the gravitas that was seen in other candidates, such as fan favourite LeVar Burton. Other guest hosts included Savannah Guthrie, Aaron Rodgers and former Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings.
The decision to bypass a person of colour or a woman for the flagship show also was criticized, although actress Mayim Bialik, another celebrity guest host, was named as the host of prime-time Jeopardy! specials and has been filling in as the host of syndicated episodes since Richards’ exit.
Sony announced last week that the actress had been scheduled to tape three weeks of episodes when production resumed for a total 15 episodes. Additional guest hosts will be announced at a later date.
To maintain continuity with the contestants who won during his short hosting stint, the episodes that Richards taped are scheduled to air when the show returns for its 38th season starting Sept. 13.
Renewed attention to past lawsuits
Richards largely had game shows and reality shows on his resume, but Jeopardy! is widely regarded as something more: A contest that adheres to civility and is won on the basis of knowledge, and which had long been stewarded by the dignified Trebek.
After Richards’ comments on his The Randumb Show podcast were reported, the ensuing furor prompted him to step down, saying in a statement that staying on as host would be “too much of a distraction for our fans” and wrong for the show.
On the podcast, Richards used derogatory, crude language about women and their bodies and disparaged the homeless, among others.
There also was renewed attention to Richards and his tenure as a producer on The Price is Right from 2009 to 2018.
Several lawsuits against the show had been filed by former models who alleged discriminatory behaviour, including one that named Richards. He reportedly was dropped from the suit before a settlement was reached.
When Richards exited as host, Sony said the podcasts and their contents came as a surprise, vowing to hold him to a standard of “professionalism and respect” as producer.
That Sony failed to properly scrutinize Richards from the start was unsupportable, said Gillott, the crisis PR expert.
The studio “created turmoil within the organization because it didn’t ask the right questions in its search for a host, hesitated in responding to the controversy, and didn’t sever all ties quickly,” she said.