Just days after Sony and Jeopardy! producers hired Mike Richards as Alex Trebek’s replacement, Richards stepped down from the role over several controversies. Here’s the full story.
After eight months of guest hosts, Jeopardy! finally has a permanent replacement for the late Alex Trebek. Game show veteran and current Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune executive producer Mike Richards will fill the role when the syndicated series’ 38th season begins later this year. The producers have also hired neuroscientist and The Big Bang Theory actor Mayim Bialik, who guest-hosted earlier this year, as the host of a new prime-time version of the series as well as upcoming championship specials.
“We are thrilled to begin the next chapter of America’s Favorite Quiz Show with Mike hosting our daily show and Mayim hosting new versions of Jeopardy!,” said Ravi Ahuja, chairman of global television studios and corporate development for Sony Pictures, in a news release. “We took this decision incredibly seriously. A tremendous amount of work and deliberation has gone into it, perhaps more than has ever gone into the selection of hosts for a show — deservedly so because it’s Jeopardy! and we are following the incomparable Alex Trebek. A senior group of Sony Pictures Television executives 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.”
Trebek died of pancreatic cancer in November 2020 at the age of 80. Many dedicated viewers wondered if Jeopardy! could go on without the host, who read answers from behind the podium for 37 years, but the producers found a unique way of propping the show back up as they embarked on a search for a new host. On Jan. 11, 2021, Jeopardy! returned with recently appointed consulting producer Ken Jennings at the helm, with the promise of regular guest hosts throughout the rest of the season. They included Bialik, broadcaster Katie Couric, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker, CNN host Anderson Cooper, often-discredited TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, Today show host Savannah Guthrie, neurosurgeon and journalist Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and LeVar Burton, who was championed by fans and eventually got his moment in the Jeopardy! spotlight.
But in the end, the producers and Sony Pictures Television went with Richards, who himself became an executive producer on Jeopardy! at the beginning of season 37, succeeding Harry Friedman, who had shepherded the show since 1999 and retired in 2019. Richards is no stranger to game shows, having previously hosted Game Show Network’s Divided and The Pyramid, and produced revivals of Let’s Make a Deal and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He currently acts as an executive producer for both Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, which he’ll continue to do as host of the trivia series. Richards’ work in the game show space has been a success to the tune of 17 Daytime Emmy nominations, though it’s also tinged with controversy; over the years, several lawsuits from models who worked on The Price Is Right named Richards in claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination, though the cases were all settled out of court.
“I am very proud of my time on The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal,” Richards told the Jeopardy! staff in an internal memo last week. “During my tenure, our female cast members welcomed seven beautiful children. We embraced and celebrated each pregnancy and birth both in front of and behind the camera. It was a joy to watch their families grow and highlight their happiness as part of the show.”
Many Jeopardy! fans hoped to see Burton or another nonwhite host step up into the predominantly white game show landscape — which has diversified in recent years thanks to revivals like The $100,000 Pyramid, hosted by Michael Strahan, and Supermarket Sweep, hosted by Leslie Jones. But Richards’ hiring is part of a tradition of game show hosts leveling up. Trebek himself spent the 1970s and ’80s hosting The Wizard of Odds, High Rollers, and Card Sharks before landing the show he would become known for. The syndicated version of Jeopardy! will continue to be a game show hosted by a career game show host.
Richards first guest-hosted in January 2021. At the time, when asked by Broadcasting+Cable if he was gunning for the permanent position even as his fellow producers were searching for a full-time Trebek replacement, Richards could only say he was dedicated to finding the best person to lead Jeopardy!:
We are going to look at everyone and consider the data and analytics, testing and focus groups and ultimately who we think the correct person is in the long term. My role is not to choose the person, my role is to make everyone as great as they can be in the role [...] Ultimately, the team at Sony will decide what they think is the right thing for the show. We aren’t looking for a three-year host, we’re looking for a 10-year or a 20-year host. Stability is one of the show’s strengths, so we need to consider who’s got a 20-year horizon and who can focus on the show and make it great over that time. As for me hosting, I was never meant to be a part of that process — I was just meant to manage — but COVID had other plans. Sony will ask me how people are in the studio and how their days on set went so I will be part of that conversation but there’s a bigger group of stakeholders who will weigh in. My job is really to make everyone really good at this.
Jeopardy! currently airs in syndication. Season 38 will premiere in September.