Just days after Sony Pictures Television and Jeopardy! producers named Mike Richards host of the nightly version of the long-running trivia show, the newly appointed face of the series has stepped down from the job. A swell of controversy, from previous lawsuits to comments made on Richards’ old podcast, led to his removal, according to Sony.
“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 wrote in a note to the staff, shared with Polygon by Sony. “I know I have a lot of work to do to regain your trust and confidence.”
“We support Mike’s decision to step down as host,” a Sony Pictures Television spokesperson said in a statement. “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.”
Richards will remain at the series in his role of executive producer, according to Sony. “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, who made a career out of producing game shows like Wheel of Fortune, The Price Is Right, and the recent revival of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, joined Jeopardy! as an executive producer at the beginning of season 37. When Alex Trebek died of pancreatic cancer in November 2020, Richards found himself in the mix of a bevy of guest hosts — while also overseeing the guest booking and long-term replacement search. But when word got out that the Jeopardy! team might hire Richards for a permanent tenure at the podium, the producer’s controversial past also took the spotlight. Several lawsuits involving Richards’ behavior on past shows, involving gender discrimination and sexual harassment, were resurfaced, forcing the producer to defend his actions to the Jeopardy! staff.
“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 earlier this month. “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.”
The gaffes began to pile up when a report from The Ringer published this week detailed multiple instances of Richards making disparaging remarks aimed at Jews, women, and people of color on his podcast, The Randumb Show, which ended in 2014. The news prompted the Anti-Defamation League to call for an investigation.
“It is humbling to confront a terribly embarrassing moment of misjudgment, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity from nearly a decade ago,” Richards told The Ringer. “Looking back now, there is no excuse, of course, for the comments I made on this podcast and I am deeply sorry. The podcast was intended to be a series of irreverent conversations between longtime friends who had a history of joking around. Even with the passage of time, it’s more than clear that my attempts to be funny and provocative were not acceptable, and I have removed the episodes. My responsibilities today as a father, husband, and a public personality who speaks to many people through my role on television means I have substantial and serious obligations as a role model, and I intend to live up to them.”
While Richards began taping episodes of Jeopardy! this week, Variety’s report suggests Sony “concluded that Richards’ image was too battered for him to take the helm of one of television’s most prestigious and popular brands.”
Along with Richards, Sony Television and the Jeopardy! producers also set The Big Bang Theory actor Mayim Bialik to host of a new prime-time version of the series as well as several planned championship specials. Whether Bialik will step into the regular slot or producers will seek out a new host for syndication remains unclear.
Update (Aug. 23): Richards stepped down Friday after taping a week’s worth of Jeopardy! episodes on Thursday. Those five episodes will still air as scheduled, The Wrap reported. The new season of the show is set to premiere Sept. 13.