By Terrance Turner
Aug. 11, 2021 (updated Aug. 20)
“Jeopardy!” host Mike Richards is stepping down.
After quitting the hosting job on Aug. 20, Richards is now out as executive producer of the game show. He is also leaving his post as executive producer of “Wheel of Fortune”, according to a memo to staff that was confirmed by Sony Pictures Television, which produces both shows.
“Dear Team, I’m writing to let you know that Mike will no longeer be serving as executive producer 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,” Suzanne Prete, an executive with the game shows, said in the memo.
After starting filming on Aug. 20, Richards released a statement that read, in part:
“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. 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.
SPT 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. 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.”
Richards’ resignation comes after the Anti-Defamation League called for him to be investigated. An article in The Ringer revealed that, while host of The Randumb Show podcast in 2013-14, Richards made offensive remarks about women, Jews, and the homeless. Sony Pictures Television (SPT) said in a statement today that it was “surprised” by Richards’ comments. But Richards will remain executive producer of the show (even though The Ringer cites multiple sources describing how staff morale has deteriorated under Richards’s watch as EP).
“Jeopardy!” executive producer Mike Richards was named the new permanent host of the show on August 11. Sony Pictures Television announced the news in a statement. Actress and neuroscientist Mayim Bialik will host “primetime and spinoff series, including the upcoming all-new Jeopardy! National College Championship set to air on ABC next year, as the studio looks to extend the Jeopardy! franchise to new platforms,” Sony said in a statement.
Richards replaces beloved “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, who died from pancreatic cancer last November. (He had hosted the show for 36 years.) After seven months of rotating weekly hosts that included Aaron Rodgers, Anderson Cooper, and Katie Couric, the daily quiz show finally has a new permanent host. When the show begins its 38th season on Sept. 13, Richards will be at the helm.
“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined being chosen to step into a role of this magnitude,” Richards said in a press release. Bialik separately tweeted: “Been waiting a long time to tell you all. Really really honored and astounded and excited for this – it’s beyond anything I ever imagined could happen.”
But not everybody is happy. Many are lamenting that actor LeVar Burton, who had campaigned for the job and served as a weekly host, did not get the job:
There are also concerns about the pasts of both hosts. According to the Associated Press, Richards served as executive producer of “The Price Is Right” and “Let’s Make a Deal” for over a decade. But his tenure on “Price” was marred by a discrimination lawsuit. Brandi Cochran, who served as a model on the show, filed suit against CBS, the “Price” production, and Richards in 2016 for sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, among other things. According to the complaint:
“Plaintiff Cochran was employed by defendants from July of 2002 through February 23, 2010, as a TV game show model. After she announced her pregnancy in late 2008, defendants discriminated against, harassed, and retaliated against Cochran, including making remarks about her pregnancy, her appearance, her weight, and her eating habits; removing her from the show’s web site; and not allowing her to return to work after her pregnancy leave. After refusing to schedule her to work again for months, defendants terminated her employment.
“When Cochran got pregnant in early 2007, she did not tell defendants or any of her co-workers because she was afraid of being fired. She suffered severe stress, and that pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Cochran had delayed trying to conceive from early 2005 through early 2006 out of fear for her job. Cochran had seen another model discharged because of her pregnancy in December of 2006,” the suit says.
After learning of Cochran’s pregnancy, defendants’ executive producer Mike Richards did not talk to her as frequently as before. Unlike other co-workers, he did not congratulate her on being pregnant.
One of defendants’ models asked Richards if she would get more work because Cochran was pregnant and would be taking maternity leave. Richards answered, “You’re absolutely right. You’ll work more.” The model took it to mean that she would work more even before Cochran’s leave. The same model told Cochran that Richards had said to her, “Go figure! I fire five girls . . . what are the odds?” Cochran understood this comment to mean that Richards would have selected her for layoff if he had known that she was going to get pregnant. […]
When the host of the show made the public announcement of her pregnancy on the air, Cochran revealed that she was carrying twins. Richards put his face in his hands. He asked her twice, in an annoyed tone, “Twins? Are you serious? . . . You’re serious?” After that, Cochran was booked to work less often and was repeatedly taken out of acts she would have appeared in before. Previously, she worked more than most of the other models; after she announced her pregnancy, she was given less work.Original Complaint – Brandi Cochran Case
Richards addressed the allegations in a memo to “Jeopardy!” staff: “I want to address the complicated employment issues raised in the press during my time at The Price is Right ten years ago. These were allegations made in employment disputes against the show. 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 or how we worked together on The Price is Right. I know firsthand how special it is to be a parent. It is the most important thing in the world to me. I would not say anything to disrespect anyone’s pregnancy and have always supported my colleagues on their parenting journeys.”
Bialik has come under fire, too. She told People in 2009, “We are a non-vaccinating family, but I make no claims about people’s individual decisions. We based ours on research and discussions with our pediatrician, and we’ve been happy with that decision, but obviously there’s a lot of controversy about it.” Indeed. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many observers took issue with what they saw as anti-vax stances by Bialik.
Bialik addressed the concerns in a video. In October 2020, she announced that she and her two children would get both the COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine. “I have never, not once, said that vaccines are not valuable, not useful or not necessary — because they are,” she told her nearly 1 million subscribers. But then she said what Skepchick blogger Rebecca Watson called “a bunch of anti-vax s–t”:
“Now, do I think we give way too many vaccines in this country compared to when I was a vaccinated child? Yes. Do I think most people don’t even know what Hepatitis B is but vaccinate their newborns for it anyway because they’re simply told to? Yes. Do I think there’s a tremendous profit that is made from vaccines and specifically from making sure that kids show up in school? Yes.”
That, too, is getting lots of commentary online: