By Lynn Elber
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Producer Mike Richards stepped down from his brief tenure as host of “Jeopardy!” after a report about past misogynistic comments surfaced this week and following a drumbeat of criticism about his selection and how it was made.
Richards was chosen last week as the successor to Alex Trebek, a decision that was seen as divisive from the beginning after the show had embarked on a search that included actors, sports figures, journalists and celebrities.
Earlier this week, The Ringer website revealed demeaning comments about women, the homeless and others that Richards had made on a 2013-14 podcast, “The Randumb Show.” The clips were removed online after the report was posted.
“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,” Richards said in a note to the “Jeopardy!” staff on Friday.
Richards said a search for a new host will begin, with guest hosts returning to continue production for the new season.
But viewers will get to see the short-lived emcee in action. The episodes that Richards taped Thursday will air when the show returns for its 38th season starting Sept. 13 a do-over with a substitute host would be a slap at the contestants and further undermine the show.
Richards’ note indicated that he will remain the show’s executive producer — an awkward situation for whoever replaces him.
Sony Pictures Television, the studio that makes “Jeopardy!” and which released Richards’ memo, said it was surprised to learn of his podcasts and offensive language and spoke with him “about our concerns and our expectations moving forward.”
“It our hope that as EP he will continue to do so with professionalism and respect,” Sony said in a statement Friday.
The podcast content would have dogged anyone taking over a high-profile Hollywood position but was especially difficult for Richards, said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor.
They were “the opposite of what we thought of in Alex Trebek. `Jeopardy!’ and Trebek were kind of this place you escaped from the scandal and the tweets and all the other stuff that was going on in the world,” Thompson said Friday.
“Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer, who holds the record for single-game winnings and is No. 3 for all-time winnings, offered a sarcastic reaction to Richards’ exit.
“I was really looking forward to the season premiere where after an exhaustive 61-clue search for the next Jeopardy champion, the show looks past the three obvious candidates and declares Mike Richards the winner,” Holzhauer tweeted.
When Richards was tapped to host the popular game show last week, Sony also announced that actor Mayim Bialik would emcee “Jeopardy!” prime-time and spinoff series, including a new college championship.
Giving the flagship show to Richards, who’s firmly in the cookie-cutter host mold of a white, square-jawed young man, struck some as proof of an insincere effort by the studio to consider a woman, a person of color or someone from the LGBTQ community. More than half of the guest hosts fall into one or more of those groups.
While the report of Richards’ podcasts immediately preceded his exit, there had also been renewed attention to his 2009-18 tenure as a producer on “The Price is Right.” Several lawsuits had been filed by former models against the show alleging discriminatory behavior, including one which named Richards. He reportedly was dropped from it before a settlement was reached.
Doubts also grew about the fairness of the selection process, with reports finding holes in Richards’ repeated assertion that the decision was Sony’s and he had no role in it. Volleys of memes were launched comparing Richards to Dick Cheney, whose search for George W. Bush’s 2000 vice presidential running mate ended with Cheney in the spot.
Sony’s decision to crown the “Jeopardy!” executive producer as Trebek’s successor — after a pageant-style parade of celebrity contenders — had stirred ill-will and suspicion toward what had been a remarkably trusted institution. Trebek, who hosted the show for 37 seasons, died last November.
There was “tentative celebration” among “Jeopardy!” fans Friday, said Andy Saunders, a longtime Canadian viewer and administrator of The Jeopardy! Fan website. He expressed deep reservations about Richards staying on as the show’s producer.
“With his comments about so many marginalized groups becoming public knowledge, how are any of the staffers on the show that might be in those groups going to trust Mike Richards as a manager?” he said.
On the podcast, Richards used derogatory, crude language about women and their bodies. At one point he says his female co-host and former assistant was a “booth ho” and “booth slut” when she worked at a trade show. He also made mocking remarks about Jews and Asians and disparaged the homeless.
“It is humbling to confront a terribly embarrassing moment of misjudgment, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity from nearly a decade ago,” Richards said in a statement to The Ringer staff writer Claire McNear, who first reported on the podcasts. He called the remarks inexcusable, adding, “I am deeply sorry.”
McNear, author of the 2020 book, “Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider’s Guide to Jeopardy!” said Thursday that “Jeopardy!” had become an unimpeachable part of pop culture.
“Everybody knew `Jeopardy!’ and everybody loved `Jeopardy!’ and Trebek was not controversial. It was just this great trivia show. And now it is controversial and that’s not going away,” she said.
Filling the host’s job was never easy. Affection for Trebek made finding a replacement both a gesture of regard for him as well as a business decision.
The immediate reaction to the largely unknown Richards’ hiring was befuddlement, although he ably handled a two-week stint as a fill-in host. There were also howls of protest from fans of other candidates, including Ken Jennings, LeVar Burton and Aaron Rodgers.
Richards signed an overall development deal with Sony in 2019, and became executive producer of “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” in May 2020, positions he was to retain while hosting the quiz show.
While ratings rose and fell during the various guest-host stints, “Jeopardy!” remains among the top-ranked syndicated programs and a valuable asset for Sony.
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