Mike Richards stepped down as the new permanent host of Jeopardy! less than two weeks after he was confirmed for the role. On Aug. 18, The Ringer reported that the game show’s executive producer repeatedly made sexist and fatphobic comments toward women as well as offensive remarks toward the Jewish and Asian communities, little people, and mentally disabled people on his podcast The Randumb Show from 2013 to 2014. Richards swiftly issued an apology, but on Aug. 19, the Anti-Defamation League called for an investigation, claiming that his statement failed to acknowledge the harm he’d caused. Despite the controversy, Richards was set to continue as the executive producer of Jeopardy! — until he officially stepped down on Aug. 31.
Possible Jeopardy! Hosts Included Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton
Richards was set to become the legendary game show’s first permanent host since Alex Trebeck passed away last November at age 80 due to pancreatic cancer. In a now-viral interview with TMZ conducted in 2018, Trebek listed L.A. Kings hockey announcer and Alex Faust and CNN anchor Laura Coates as two potential successors for his position. However, neither candidate was selected for the show’s rotating list of individuals that assumed hosting duties after Trebek’s final episodes aired in January 2021. Such guest hosts included memorable Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings, Richards, Katie Couric, CBS’s Bill Whitaker, Savannah Guthrie, Sanjay Gupta, Anderson Cooper, NFL star Aaron Rodgers, Dr. Oz, The Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts, Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton, CNBC’s David Faber, Fox Sports’ Joe Buck, and Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions winner Buzzy Cohen.
According to The Ringer, 74-time consecutive Jeopardy! winner Jennings taped six weeks of episodes before a minor conflict led Richards to step in and assume hosting duties himself. Richards reportedly exaggerated the nature of the conflict and blamed the switch on the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking to the publication, Jennings said, “Obviously I’m disappointed with how this process played out, but I’d rather look ahead. I plan to be with the show as long as they’ll have me, no matter who’s hosting.”
On Aug. 11, Sony Pictures announced Bialik would host the series’ primetime specials as well as a spinoff show, while Richards would become the game show’s new permanent host. Fans immediately began expressing outrage at the announcement, speculating that his executive producer role allowed him the final say on the guest-hosted episodes given to focus groups for testing. The New York Times confirmed the theory on Aug. 14, reporting that Richards alone selected the episodes with no input from Lisa Broffman and Rocky Schmidt, the show’s supervising producers of four decades.
According to a Morning Consult poll published on Aug. 17, Richards was not the top-choice host among Jeopardy! viewers. In fact, Burton was the clear frontrunner with 14% of the votes, and Bialik ranked second with 13%. Richards only received 3%. Shortly after Richards stepped down from the gig in the wake of the controversy, Burton tweeted what fans perceived as shade towards the executive producer: “Happy Friday, y’all!”
Mike Richards’ Offensive Podcast Comments & Apology
While he was an executive producer on The Price is Right, Richards hosted The Randumb Show from 2013 to 2014, as reported by The Ringer. Advertised as a behind-the-scenes look at the daytime game show, the podcast was co-hosted by his former assistant Beth Triffon. During a discussion of her time working as a CES model, Richards was recorded calling her a “booth ho,” “booth slut,” and “boothstitute.” Talking about a photo of Triffon and her friends in another episode, the Jeopardy! executive referred to the group as “really frumpy and overweight” and said, “They all look terrible in the picture... They look fat and not good.”
The Ringer’s report also noted that during his time at The Price is Right, Richards was sued multiple times for discrimination and harassment toward women. One suit was filed by Brandi Cochran, a model at the show whose contract was allegedly terminated after Richards made disparaging comments about her pregnancy, claiming that he would’ve laid her off if he’d known about it sooner. She also claimed that he dictated what the models would wear onscreen, choosing to put them in shorter skirts and bikinis. On Aug. 9, he dismissed the accusations by saying, “These complaints [do] not reflect the reality of who I am.”
Over The Randumb Show’s 41 episodes, which were erased from the internet on Aug. 17, The Ringer reported that Richards made other offensive comments about women’s bodies as well as frequent use of the derogatory terms for little people and mentally disabled people. He also claimed to be “horrible at all trivia” and said he “never would have gotten on Jeopardy!” Additionally, he praised multiple television hosts for simply being white and male, speculating that their success could help him nab a hosting gig.
“Jeff Probst had a daytime talk show, which I was cheering for because I like, you know, the average white-guy host,” Richards said. “I cheer for him to succeed because I feel like through his success, I could have some success hosting.” Then later, when discussing former American Idol host Ryan Seacrest: “I think he’s actually made the world a safer place for what I like to call the skinny white host, like George [Gray] and I.”
On Aug. 18, Richards issued a public apology for his past comments, noting that it was “humbling to confront a terribly embarrassing moment of misjudgment, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity from nearly a decade ago. Looking back now, there is no excuse, of course, for the comments I made on this podcast and I am deeply sorry.” He continued, saying The Randumb Show was “intended to be a series of irreverent conversations between longtime friends who had a history of joking around.”
“Even with the passage of time, it’s more than clear that my attempts to be funny and provocative were not acceptable, and I have removed the episodes,” concluded the statement. “My responsibilities today as a father, husband, and a public personality who speaks to many people through my role on television means I have substantial and serious obligations as a role model, and I intend to live up to them.”
In a statement issued to The Hollywood Reporter, Sony Pictures’ chairman of global television studios and corporate development Ravi Ahuja said the team took the search for a host “very seriously.”
“A senior group of Sony Pictures Television executives pored over footage from every episode, reviewed research from multiple panels and focus groups, and got valuable input from our key partners and Jeopardy! viewers,” continued Ahuja. “We knew early on that we wanted to divide the hosting responsibilities, and it became very clear that Mike and Mayim were the undeniable choices. They were both at the top of our research and analysis. Mike is a unique talent, at ease behind the podium and a double threat as producer and host.”
Mike Richards’ ADL Investigation, Resignation As Jeopardy! Host, & Response
Richards began filming Jeopardy! as its new host on Aug. 19, but later that day, the Anti-Defamation League called for an investigation into his behavior via a Twitter statement. “New Jeopardy! host Mike Richards’ disparaging remarks about Jews, women & Asians are no laughing matter,” read the post. “Stereotyping is an entry point to hate and his apology lacks acknowledgment of its harm. This reported pattern warrants an investigation.”
On Aug. 20, Sony Pictures TV revealed that Richards would be stepping down from the hosting position. He said in a statement to the show’s staff: “It pains me that these past incidents and comments have cast such a shadow on Jeopardy! as we look to start a new chapter. 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.”
He continued, “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. As such, I will be stepping down as host effective immediately. As a result, we will be canceling production today.”
He concluded, “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.”
Upon his resignation as the show’s host, Sony voiced support for Richards continuing in his role as executive producer. “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 a statement. “It is our hope that as EP he will continue to do so with professionalism and respect.”
Mike Richards Fired As Executive Producer Of Jeopardy!
Less than two weeks after Richards stepped down from the proposed Jeopardy! hosting gig, Sony has fired him as an executive producer on the show as well as Wheel of Fortune. Until the series finds someone to fill the role permanently, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire executive producer Michael Davies will take over Richards’ duties. Suzanne Prete, executive vice president of business and strategy at Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, sent the following memo to both shows’ staff on Aug. 31, per Variety:
I’m writing to let you know that Mike will no longer be serving as EP of Wheel and Jeopardy! effective immediately. 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.
Michael Davies from Embassy Row has agreed to help with production on an interim basis until further notice. Michael and I will work together with all of you in the weeks ahead to ensure that production remains on schedule and we do not miss a beat as we head into the new season.
I know this has been a challenging time for the entire team, and I want to thank you all for your cooperation and professionalism over these last few weeks. As Ravi mentioned last week, I will be more involved in the day-to-day on our shows moving forward and I am looking forward to working closely with all of you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything.
Mayim Bialik’s Response To Mike Richards’ Jeopardy! Controversy
In an essay published via Newsweek on Sept. 20, Bialik detailed her experience joining Jeopardy! and her reaction to Richards’ controversy and exit. After calling her agent and jokingly letting him know she was interested in hosting Jeopardy!, she explained that she received a call from the show mere weeks later with an offer to guest-host. Following her time at the Jeopardy! podium, she was asked to host the show’s primetime specials and the Jeopardy! National College Championship.
“I didn't immediately know who the other host was going to be, and after Mike Richards was announced as permanent host, a couple more weeks passed and then everything changed and Mike stepped down,” wrote Bialik. “As a person who has been acting since I was a kid, I go where I'm pointed and I do the job I'm told to do. I do what's in front of me. I don't really follow the news aspect of my industry too much. That's how I approached what was going on.”
Bialik noted that she was in touch with Richards early in her tenure and doesn’t “wish ill on him, or anyone.” She continued, “But the complexity of these situations is not something that can be summed up easily. My first response, when all of this went down, was to say to the Jeopardy! team: ‘How can I help?’ Because I am part of this family.”
Amid the controversy, the former Big Bang Theory star said she feels “honored” to be part of the show. “I feel very honored to have been given the responsibility and the opportunity to step up into this hosting position. It's been as dreamy as it was for the two days that I guest hosted. I work very long days, but they fly by. We shoot five episodes a day and I get to meet fascinating people from all walks of life,” she wrote. “Of course, I am grateful and honored to carve out so much of my time on behalf of Jeopardy!, because I feel very connected to the show, the legacy and everything that Alex and the team behind the scenes have built.”
Who Will Host Jeopardy! Now?
In his post-resignation statement, Richards said that Sony Pictures “will now resume the search for a permanent syndicated host” and return to the rotating guest host format in the interim, with details to “be announced next week.” So it came as a surprise to fans to see him onscreen on Sept. 13. The ousted host already shot five episodes of Jeopardy! in his first and only day as its host, and with retaping of the live games not being an option, Richards’ episodes will be aired through Sept. 17.
Bialik, who currently remains the face of the series’ prime-time specials and the forthcoming spinoff, will take over the following week until Nov. 5. After that, she’ll be joined by another interim hire. On Thursday, Sept. 16, it was announced that fan favorite Jennings will be coming back, splitting hosting duties with Bialik for the remainder of Season 38, while the search for a permanent host continues.
It’s unclear whether Bialik nor Jennings could be promoted to the game show’s main host after filling in for Richards for the time being. If Jeopardy! fans have any say in the matter, perhaps Sony Pictures will reconsider another fan-favorite, Burton.
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