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‘Jeopardy!’ executive producer Mike Richards is the rumored front-runner to replace Alex Trebek, and online reaction is … not great

Mike Richards accepts the award for Outstanding Game Show for “Jeopardy!” during the 2021 Daytime Emmy Awards. (Daytime Emmy Awards 2021/Getty Images)

After months of speculation and intrigue, the rumored front-runner for new “Jeopardy!” host is … the show’s executive producer.

Mike Richards, the longtime game show producer and host who took the helm of the quiz show last year when executive producer Harry Friedman stepped down after 25 years, is in “advanced negotiations” to replace the late Alex Trebek, according to trade publication Variety, which broke the story Wednesday evening. Richards was one of the 16 guest hosts whom “Jeopardy!” enlisted while searching for a permanent host after Trebek died in November.

Turns out, the search apparently didn’t go far. A publicist for “Jeopardy!” parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment declined to comment on Variety’s report, which stated that Richards “impressed Sony Pictures brass with his command of the fast-paced game and easy on-air manner.” The story also said that “discussions were ongoing with several potential candidates” and that while nothing is final, Richards appears to be the No. 1 choice. Thursday afternoon, CNN reported Richards is “effectively a done deal,” though it could be a few weeks until it is made official.

Reaction from fans? Not so enthused — at least judging from the report’s explosion across social media, where responses quickly veered toward negative. (And where, admittedly, a great swath of “Jeopardy!” viewers might not be found.)

Richards, 46, did seem quite comfortable onstage and impressed some viewers during his two-week guest hosting stint in late February and early March, which makes sense given his literal job is running the show. But the decision struck quite a few people as lame, especially given the highly hyped run of celebrity guests hosts.

“Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton, actress Mayim Bialik and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers have been among the fan favorites; Variety reported that Bialik and Buzzy Cohen, a former “Jeopardy!” star who hosted the Tournament of Champions, were “standouts” and “strongly considered” for the role.

There were plenty of jokes about Richards taking cues from former vice president Richard B. Cheney (as head of the search committee for George W. Bush’s vice president, who chose himself) as well as “Who is: Mike Richards?” jabs. A few sample reactions:

In a podcast interview with the Wall Street Journal in April, Richards said he made a bullet-point list of important things to take into consideration for the new host.

“The host of ‘Jeopardy!’ is the person who delivers all of the content, who calls on every contestant … who makes the ruling on every clue, gets you to break, speeds up when you’re slow, is the play-by-play person and the color commentator,” he said. “And oh, by the way, it’s 61 clues in what is basically 22 minutes.”

This list included credibility, vocal tone and “a good visual aesthetic.” “Alex was a matinee idol, especially in early ‘Jeopardy!’ promos,” Richards said. “They actually portrayed him as that, a James Bond-type character that could save people that were in jeopardy.”

Before you think, “Well, that Mike Richards thinks an awful lot of himself!” Richards stressed the decision will mainly come down to Sony executives, and they are scrutinizing viewer reaction and reaction from focus groups. “It’s very extensive. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of, as far as testing, in its size and scope,” he said.

Richards has years of prior experience on-camera, as he hosted the WB’s “High School Reunion” and CW’s “Beauty and the Geek” in the early 2000s, as well as GSN’s “Pyramid” revival in 2012. He climbed the ladder on game shows behind the scenes, spending a decade as executive producer of “The Price is Right” and “Let’s Make a Deal,” and was recently the EP on the latest version of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”

As news broke about Richards, a story from 2011 started circulating on social media that reported Richards was one of the producers named in a sexual harassment lawsuit from a former “Price is Right” model, Lanisha Cole, who said she was wrongfully terminated. (Richards was dismissed as a defendant before the case settled.) He was named in another “Price is Right” lawsuit around the same time when model Brandi Cochran claimed producers discriminated against her when she got pregnant; she was awarded $7.7 million in 2012.

Richards, who had stepped into the role of “Jeopardy!” producer only several months before Trebek died, was a last-minute substitute after debut guest host Ken Jennings. “We have some amazing guest hosts coming that I can’t wait for you to see, but with the covid outbreak here in L.A., folks were understandably a little reticent to shoot,” Richards told the audience in his first episode in February, adding that Jennings had to leave to film the game show “The Chase” for ABC. “So as the producer, my job is to quite literally live the mantra ‘the show must go on.’ ”

The “Jeopardy!” team is a “pretty cerebral group,” Richards told the WSJ podcast, and they pay attention to analytics and audience testing. Social media will play a part in the decision, too — but perhaps not a big one.

“There are a lot of loud voices, as you guys know, on social media,” Richards said on the podcast, noting that “Jeopardy!” can average 70 million-plus viewers a week. “That doesn’t mean they carry the spirit of the fans.”

Read more:

An oral history of how Alex Trebek became America’s most beloved game-show host

In the dumbest and darkest of times, Alex Trebek maintained a safe space for intelligence

LeVar Burton wanted to host ‘Jeopardy!’ for years. Thanks to an online movement, he’s getting his chance.