Newly named 'Jeopardy!' host Mike Richards steps down amid outcry over podcast comments

ByBrian Stelter, CNN Business, CNNWire
Friday, August 20, 2021
Newly named 'Jeopardy!' host Mike Richards steps down
Mike Richards is stepping down "effective immediately" amid resurfaced controversial remarks.

LOS ANGELES -- Mike Richards strategized for years to become the host of an iconic TV game show.

But he lasted as the host of "Jeopardy!" for just one taping day.

The producer-turned-host who positioned himself as Alex Trebek's rightful heir said Friday he has "stepped down," citing the controversy over "past incidents and comments."

The stunning announcement came two days after The Ringer website exposed a litany of offensive comments in Richards' past.

Now the beloved game show is reverting to guest hosts for the time being. But Sony, which runs the show, says Richards will remain the executive producer -- a half-step that has some "Jeopardy!" superfans concerned about the future of the franchise.

The weeks-long "Jeopardy" controversy has become a black eye for Sony and a frustrating sideshow for the local TV stations that depend on the competition's high ratings.

Executive producer Mike Richards opened the show with a message to the audience about the legendary host's death. From November 2020.

During the decades that Trebek led the game show, the drama was almost entirely on-screen. But this summer it has played out off-screen, on social networks and message boards and entertainment websites.

Sony's decision to cast Richards as host roiled the "Jeopardy!" fan community. He was still a relative newcomer to the "Jeopardy" executive producer job and the perception was that he hired himself as host. The reality was more complicated: Numerous Sony executives were involved and the ultimate decision-maker was Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

But Richards was involved from the very beginning when "Jeopardy!" planned a season of guest hosts in the wake of Trebek's death last November.

To viewers it appeared to be a tryout process -- and Richards, who previously hosted game shows on GSN, was the second person to fill in, right after "Jeopardy!" genius and Trebek friend Ken Jennings.

"Mike wanted the job from the very beginning," said a source with knowledge of the tryout process. "And I think he manipulated in such a way so that he was the right choice."

Several television veterans, including guest hosts and people who wanted to audition for the job, expressed the same sentiment to CNN Business.

Richards said, however, in an internal memo that "the choice on this is not my decision and never has been." Sony said it "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" before picking Richards.

Past lawsuits from Richards' time as executive producer of "The Price Is Right" resurfaced in the press. Richards defended himself against allegations that he mistreated colleagues there. Sony went ahead and appointed him the host one week later.

Then came Wednesday's reporting by Claire McNear, a writer at The Ringer and the author of a recent book about the game show.

McNear found Richards' old podcast, in which he made derogatory remarks about little people, Jews, people receiving unemployment benefits and sexist comments about women. He "repeatedly used offensive language and disparaged women's bodies," McNear reported.

Richards took down the podcast episodes and apologized, saying "my attempts to be funny and provocative were not acceptable." He said he intended to live up to his obligations as a "role model" as the new "Jeopardy!" host.

The new season was set to start production on Thursday. Sony went ahead and taped five episodes that will air in September. The company typically tapes five episodes of the game show on a single day.

But while the tapings were taking place, Sony declined to comment on the deepening controversy, raising the specter that Richards' reputation was too sullied for him to continue as host.

After 24 hours, it was clear that his apology was not well-received. The Anti-Defamation League even weighed in, saying that Richards' "disparaging remarks about Jews, women & Asians are no laughing matter. Stereotyping is an entry point to hate and his apology lacks acknowledgment of its harm. This reported pattern warrants an investigation."

On Friday morning, production was put on hold. Richards said in a memo to colleagues that Friday's tapings were cancelled.

He referenced "past incidents and comments" that have "cast such a shadow on Jeopardy! as we look to start a new chapter." He said he had stepped down as a result.

"Over the last several days," he wrote, "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 also wrote in the memo that Sony "will now resume the search for a permanent syndicated host. In the meantime, we will be bringing back guest hosts to continue production for the new season, details of which will be announced next week."

Sony said in a statement that "we support Mike's decision to step down as host," adding, "we were surprised this week to learn of Mike's 2013/2014 podcast and the offensive language he used in the past."

In other words, it appears the company did not conduct basic vetting.

"We have spoken with him about our concerns and our expectations moving forward," Sony said, signaling that he will remain the show's top producer.

Richards wrote, "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."

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