Mike Richards Is Out as ‘Jeopardy!’ Executive Producer
Three weeks after naming him as Alex Trebek’s replacement to host the show, Sony cited “disruption and internal difficulties” in its announcement that he will leave the program entirely.,
Sony said on Tuesday that Mike Richards would immediately exit his job as the executive producer of “Jeopardy!,” completing a stunning downfall for a game-show impresario who just three weeks ago had secured one of the most coveted jobs in television as the replacement for the longtime host Alex Trebek.
“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,” a Sony executive, Suzanne Prete, wrote in a memo to staff on Tuesday. “That clearly has not happened.”
Mr. Richards is also set to leave his role as executive producer of “Wheel of Fortune.”
Sony had named Mr. Richards as the permanent host of “Jeopardy!” on Aug. 11, calling him a “unique talent.” But Mr. Richards quit the hosting job on Aug. 20, days after a report by The Ringer revealed offensive and sexist comments he had made on a podcast several years ago, the latest in a series of scandals that tarred his brief tenure. Executives at Sony had initially signaled support for Mr. Richards to stay on in the production role.
The competition to replace Mr. Trebek, who died in 2020 after serving as the show’s host for 37 years, captivated “Jeopardy!” fans and featured a parade of potential successors including the former contestant Ken Jennings and the actor LeVar Burton.
But it was Mr. Richards who won out, despite having virtually no name recognition among viewers and the fact that, as the show’s executive producer, he had overseen elements of the replacement process. Old lawsuits also resurfaced from Mr. Richards’s last job running “The Price Is Right” that included accusations of sexist behavior.
Mr. Richards taped one week’s worth of “Jeopardy!” episodes in a single day of filming before Sony announced that he had ceded the hosting job. (Those episodes will still air the week of Sept. 13.) The former sitcom star Mayim Bialik is expected to remain as the host of “Jeopardy!” prime-time specials, but Sony has said it would resume the search for a replacement for Mr. Trebek’s weeknight slot. Ms. Bialik will be the first guest host of the regular program in place of Mr. Richards.
Initially, Sony had said Mr. Richards would remain as executive producer even after he had stepped down as host, but his continued presence at the show became untenable. Crew members confronted Mr. Richards in an emotional meeting on Aug. 19 where they expressed dismay at his past behavior and said it had imperiled the show’s reputation.
“Jeopardy!” first aired in 1964 and became a beloved TV institution that still draws millions of weekly viewers. The furor surrounding Mr. Richards pierced the show’s above-the-fray reputation, long cultivated by the understated Mr. Trebek, and subjected it to intense debates about diversity, privilege and behavior in the modern workplace.
Sony’s leadership was also facing scrutiny for the mess. “Jeopardy!” had been a reliable jewel in the studio’s television portfolio, quietly earning tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue. But its messy succession drama roiled fans and raised questions about why Sony had not discovered Mr. Richards’s past offensive behavior before naming him as the new host.
The report in The Ringer revealed offensive comments Mr. Richards made on a podcast, including a 2013 episode where Mr. Richards called his female co-host a “booth slut” because she once worked as a model at a consumer show in Las Vegas. He described women who wear one-piece swimsuits as looking “really frumpy and overweight” and referred to stereotypes about Jews and large noses, prompting outrage from the Anti-Defamation League.
Some “Jeopardy!” fans had said they were confused as to why Mr. Richards was being allowed to stay on as executive producer. “It feels like he doesn’t quite realize the gravity of his mistake and thinks that if he just stays behind the scenes, then everything will blow over,” Andy Saunders, who runs the website The Jeopardy! Fan, said in an interview.
Mr. Richards, in a memo to the “Jeopardy!” staff on Aug. 20 announcing he would step down as host, wrote that “it pains me that these past incidents and comments have cast such a shadow on ‘Jeopardy!’ as we look to start a new chapter.”
He closed the memo by writing, “I know I have a lot of work to do to regain your trust and confidence.”
He will no longer have the chance.
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