The search for a permanent “Jeopardy!” host is back on.
On Friday — just nine days after Sony Pictures Television announced that Mike Richards, the executive producer of “Jeopardy!”, would be filling the show’s coveted host position — Richards has announced he is “stepping down as host effective immediately.”
“As I mentioned last week, I was deeply honored to be asked to host the syndicated show and was thrilled by the opportunity to expand my role, Richards said in a statement. “However, over the last several days it has become clear that moving forward as host would be too much of a distraction for our fans and not the right move for the show.”
In a statement sent to the Deseret News on Friday, a spokesperson for Sony Pictures Television said Richards would continue on in his role as executive producer of “Jeopardy!”
“Mike has been with us for the last two years and has led the ‘Jeopardy!’ team through the most challenging time the show has ever experienced,” Sony said in the statement. “It is our hope that as EP he will continue to do so with professionalism and respect.”
But how did Richards’ rise to “Jeopardy!” host fall so rapidly?
Mike Richards immediately drew backlash
When Richards, who was initially leading the search for a host, was declared the new host of “Jeopardy!” on Aug. 11, the announcement immediately drew suspicion — and in some cases, even anger — among “Jeopardy!” fans, the Deseret News reported.
On social media, the moment drew comparisons to Dick Cheney, who famously led George W. Bush’s vice presidential search before assuming the position himself. Although Richards guest-hosted the quiz show for two weeks, he had claimed to be simply filling in due to a conflict in the guest-hosting schedule, according to Claire McNear, of The Ringer.
According to the report from The Ringer, that conflict in schedule — involving Ken Jennings’ obligations with the game show “The Chase” — could’ve been worked around. “Jeopardy!” staff were reportedly willing to accommodate Jennings, but Richards insisted on stepping in and hosting.
“I didn’t know I was going to be doing it until three days before, and so I had not prepared myself to host in the way that I know other guest hosts are,” Richards told USA Today at the time.
During his debut game as “Jeopardy!” host, Richards stated that it was his job as executive producer to follow the mantra “the show must go on,” the Deseret News reported.
By that logic, he was never really considered by fans to be a front-runner for the hosting gig, although The New York Times reported last week that Richards did step down in leading the search “after he emerged as a candidate.”
Richards had his supporters — people who believed he slipped naturally into the hosting role — but for the most part, the news that he would become the show’s permanent host generated outrage, especially when there were fan favorites like Jennings — who had the highest ratings of any guest host — and LeVar Burton, who got the chance to guest host largely thanks to a fan petition that garnered more than 260,000 signatures, the Deseret News reported.
Following the news that Richards was in “advanced negotiations” to become host, some of Richards’ past disputes on other game shows resurfaced, including discrimination lawsuits that emerged during his time as executive producer of “The Price Is Right.”
On that show, Richards was involved in conflicts with former models Brandi Cochran, who claimed she was treated differently after becoming pregnant before ultimately being fired, and Lanisha Cole, who claimed she faced harassment when Richards stopped talking to her and communicated to her through notes passed on by other models and staff members, the Deseret News reported.
Both of those cases were settled out of court, and Richards addressed the lawsuits in a recent statement to “Jeopardy!” staff.
“I want you all to know that the way in which my comments and actions have been characterized in these complaints does not reflect the reality of who I am,” he said in a statement on Aug. 9.
Two days later, he was named the permanent host of “Jeopardy!”
But the backlash wasn’t over.
With Mike Richards, was ‘Jeopardy!’ in jeopardy?
“Last week, Mike Richards wrote that lawsuits from ‘The Price Is Right’ didn’t ‘reflect the reality of who I am,’” The Ringer’s Claire McNear tweeted on Aug. 18. “I went looking for who he is, talking to current and former colleagues and listening to a podcast he hosted at ‘Price.’ What I found was troubling.”
After what was already considerable backlash, McNear’s report was likely the final straw that led to Richards stepping down as host.
In her report, McNear interviewed a number of people who have worked with Richards over the years — former employees who claimed Richards could be “exclusionary and dismissive of longtime show employees,” and described him as a person who “wasn’t shy about wanting to move in front of the camera.”
McNear also reviewed all 41 episodes of “The Randumb Show,” a podcast Richards hosted from 2013 to 2014. Throughout those episodes — which have since been taken down — Richards consistently “used offensive language and disparaged women’s bodies,” McNear wrote.
“I think that one reason why ‘Jeopardy!’ was aspirational for many of its contestants was its sense of integrity,” Kristin Sausville, a 2015 “Jeopardy!” champion, told The Ringer. “There was something intrinsic to the show and Alex Trebek’s hosting of it that elevated it above other game shows.
“The baggage Mike Richards has brought from his previous experience as an executive producer, as well as the optics of what comes across as his self-selection as host, have tarnished that,” she continued. “I think there’s a real danger of ‘Jeopardy!’ becoming just another syndicated game show, and that makes me concerned for its longevity and standing.”
What happens to ‘Jeopardy!’ now?
Now, two days after McNear’s report in The Ringer, Richards has stepped down as host.
“It pains me that these past incidents and comments have cast such a shadow on ‘Jeopardy! ‘as we look to start a new chapter,” Richards said in a statement that was shared by McNear on Friday. “I want to apologize to each of you for the unwanted negative attention that has come to ‘Jeopardy!’ over the last few weeks and for the confusion and delays this is now causing. I know I have a lot of work to do to regain your trust and confidence.”
In a statement sent to the Deseret News on Friday, a Sony Pictures Television spokesperson said the company supported Richards’ decision to step down as host.
“We were surprised this week to learn of Mike’s 2013/2014 podcast and the offensive language he used in the past,” Sony said in the statement. “We have spoken with him about our concerns and our expectations moving forward.”
So what happens to “Jeopardy!” now?
Production on the show’s 38th season — which premieres on Sept. 13 — began Thursday, with Richards presumably taping a few episodes on that day. The show canceled production on Friday, and Richards announced that as the show resumes its search for a host, “Jeopardy!” will be bringing back guest hosts to continue production for the new season. Details on those guest hosts will be released next week, according to Richard’s statement.
This could mean that other guest hosts who were somewhat vocal about their interest in hosting full time — including Jennings, Burton and Aaron Rodgers — could still have a shot.
According to The Ringer, many “Jeopardy!” staffers and former contestants figured Jennings would be Trebek’s successor — an expectation that grew when he was named as consulting producer for the show’s 37th season. On top of that, just two days before his death, Trebek reportedly called Jennings to talk about guest hosting. He even left a pair of his cuff links for Jennings at the studio.
And then there’s neuroscientist and “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik, who “Jeopardy!” has already named to host prime-time and spinoff specials of “Jeopardy!” — including the “Jeopardy! National College Championship” that will air on ABC next year. Perhaps Bialik will now expand her role into the show’s nightly slot.
Amid all of the current chaos, though, this much is certain: “Jeopardy!” has a number of guest host contenders who would gladly take on the hosting position full time.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with how this process played out, but I’d rather look ahead,” Jennings told The Ringer. “I plan to be with the show as long as they’ll have me, no matter who’s hosting.”