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Mike Richards steps down as ‘Jeopardy!’ host in wake of resurfaced offensive comments

Mike Richards, executive producer of “Jeopardy!," is now stepping down as host. (Carol Kaelson/Via Reuters)
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On Aug. 11, Sony Pictures Television proudly made the announcement: Mike Richards, executive producer of “Jeopardy!," would take over as host of the iconic quiz show. Actress Mayim Bialik was named host of “Jeopardy!” prime-time specials and spinoffs, but Richards would be the daily replacement for the legendary, late Alex Trebek after a seven-month in-depth search.

One week later, everything imploded.

The beginning of the end arrived Wednesday, when Ringer reporter Claire McNear, who last year wrote a book about the history of “Jeopardy!,” published an explosive report about Richards’s former podcast, “The Randumb Show,” in which he made offensive remarks about women, Jewish people and Haiti. When McNear asked for comment, the podcast was deleted (though it’s still archived online), and Richards released an apology: “It is humbling to confront a terribly embarrassing moment of misjudgment, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity from nearly a decade ago,” he said.

But the public backlash was too much. The Anti-Defamation League also spoke out on Twitter, saying that “stereotyping is an entry point to hate and his apology lacks acknowledgment of its harm,” adding the “reported pattern” of Richards’s comments warranted further investigation. On Friday morning, one day after “Jeopardy!” started taping its 38th season at its Culver City, Calif., studios, Richards wrote in a note to staff that he was stepping down.

“It pains me that these past incidents and comments have cast such a shadow on Jeopardy! as we look to start a new chapter. … I was deeply honored to be asked to host the syndicated show and was thrilled by the opportunity to expand my role,” Richards wrote. “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.”

Richards added that Friday’s production would be canceled. Sony will continue its search for a permanent host and, in the meantime, will be bringing back guest hosts to fill in starting 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,” he concluded. “I know I have a lot of work to do to regain your trust and confidence.”

Richards taped five episodes on Thursday that will air as scheduled when the new season begins Sept. 13. At least one episode will feature Yale PhD student Matt Amodio, who finished the 37th season on an 18-game winning streak and is currently the third-highest-earning winner in show history.

In a separate statement, a Sony representative confirmed that Richards will stay on as executive producer.

“We support Mike’s decision to step down as host. We were surprised this week to learn of Mike’s 2013/2014 podcast and the offensive language he used in the past. We have spoken with him about our concerns and our expectations moving forward,” the statement read. “Mike has been with us for the last two years and has led the ‘Jeopardy!’ team through the most challenging time the show has ever experienced. It is our hope that as EP he will continue to do so with professionalism and respect.”

Richards’s week-long stint as host got off to a rocky start even before the news was official. In early August, Variety reported that Richards — who joined the show in 2020 to replace longtime executive producer Harry Friedman — was the front-runner amid a string of guest hosts since January that included Ken Jennings, Aaron Rodgers, Robin Roberts and Anderson Cooper. Hosts such as former “Jeopardy!” champion Buzzy Cohen and “Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton earned praise from viewers on social media, so quite a few fans made their displeasure known after rumors began circulating that Richards would be the replacement for Trebek, who was beloved as host for 36 years.

Alex Trebek, who was with "Jeopardy!" for more than three decades, announced his Stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis in March 2019. He died on Nov. 8. (Video: Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

Shortly after the news broke, fans resurfaced articles on social media about Richards’s decade-long tenure as executive producer at “The Price is Right,” where he was named by the show’s models in two lawsuits. Lanisha Cole sued for sexual harassment and said she was wrongfully terminated; Richards was dropped as a defendant before the case was settled in 2011. Brandi Cochran, who filed a lawsuit claiming pregnancy discrimination, was awarded $7.7 million in 2012. In a statement, Richards said the characterization of the complaints “does not reflect the reality of who I am.”

Plus, Richards’s selection as host at the same time he was an executive producer prompted quite a few eye-rolls and “Who is Mike Richards?” jokes on social media, as well as comparisons to former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who was the head of the search committee for George W. Bush’s vice president and chose himself. Although the choice was up to Sony executives, Richards gave multiple interviews early on about his involvement in the search process. The New York Times reported that Richards played “a key role” in choosing episodes for focus groups, which were a big factor in ultimately deciding the new host.

Andy Saunders, who has run the Jeopardy! Fan website since 2015, said although fans were irritated by what they perceive as a “rigged” process with Richards, many believed that nothing would change and that they would just have to get used to the idea.

But when McNear reported on some of Richards’s comments — calling women promiscuous and criticizing their bodies; making a joke about Jewish people and big noses; asking whether someone’s apartment was in Haiti because of “the urine smell, the woman in the muumuu, the stray cats” — it became clear, Saunders said, that “it was just too much for everyone to ignore.”

“I think the turning point yesterday was when the ADL put out their statement on Twitter,” he said. “I think anytime they come out and say something, that’s what gets Sony and ‘Jeopardy!’ to act, essentially.”

Saunders gauged the mood of many “Jeopardy!” fans as “pleasantly surprised” that Richards stepped down so quickly. But he’s wary of how things will progress with Richards as executive producer, especially with future contestants who are a part of the groups that the onetime host disparaged.

Now, as the attention turns to the new guest hosts and Richards’s replacement, the skewering of the whole debacle will continue online. Famed “Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer was one of the first public figures involved in the show to offer his thoughts when the news broke Friday. He tweeted, “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.”