As many of you have already seen by now, Mike Richards, according to Variety, is in “advanced negotiations” to take over for Alex Trebek as the new host of Jeopardy!. Richards, a producer on Jeopardy!, was also leading the search for a new replacement, so if he is ultimately selected, it would be something of a Dick Cheney situation (Cheney, recall, led the effort to find George W. Bush a vice president before ultimately choosing himself).
The choice of Richards is frankly an odd one. Richards boasted at the beginning of the process that he would take into account the wishes of fans, and Richards — the second person to take a turn as a guest host (after Ken Jennings) — was hardly a favorite. He is polished, and he does have experience hosting (he hosted Beauty and the Geek and a GSN revival of Pyramid) and more knowledge of game shows (he’s worked on them most of his career) but among the fan community, he barely qualified as an also-ran.
The decision is also inscrutable given the other choices, which might have been able to bring another generation of viewers into the fold. LeVar Burton was the clear favorite among fans, although the Reading Rainbow host came under some criticism for a slow start to his week. Mayim Bialik also emerged as a leading contender after a stellar stint as guest host (in fact, it was Mayim Bialik who was trending on Twitter when it was leaked that Richards was in advanced negotiations).
I would not consider myself a frequent viewer, although I have watched the show fairly often in the last year, both to see Trebek’s final days, as well as to keep up with the guest hosts. If they were hoping to convert casual viewers into die-hards, the selection of Richards is certainly not the way to go about that. I can’t imagine, either, that most of the other candidates (save for Dr. Oz) were polarizing choices that might have alienated long-time viewers. Then again, to give the show the benefit of the doubt while conceding that Twitter is not the real world, there were probably some internal metrics that supported Richards as the new host.
It just seems so … unfair. Why did the series pretend to care about fan feedback if they weren’t going to listen to it? Alex Trebek was beloved. Why replace him with a Seacrest? It just feels like the least interesting choice among the bunch, Richards’ extensive game-show resume notwithstanding.
It might be worth noting, too, that Mike Richards — who has worked as a producer on a number of game shows (and is currently the executive producer of both Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! — was involved in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed in 2011. As a producer on The Price is Right, one of the show’s models (one of “Barker’s Beauties,” a label that I hope to God they’ve retired by now) sued two of the show’s producers, including Richards. In the suit, Lanisha Cole claimed that Richards stopped speaking to her and “communicated only through notes, messages and intermediaries,” while also showing favoritism to another model, with whom he was allegedly in a relationship. At some point, another producer on the show, Adam Sandler (no relation), also walked into her dressing room without permission and berated her as she stood in her underwear, according to the suit. The working environment was such that Cole eventually quit what she called her “dream job.” It is also worth noting, however, that Richards was dismissed from the suit before it was eventually settled (the terms of the settlement agreement, naturally, weren’t disclosed).
You know who has never been sued by a former employee? Mayim Bialik and LeVar Burton.
For what it’s worth, there is some idle Twitter speculation that Richards leaked that he was in “advanced negotiations” himself, or that another producer did so, perhaps in an effort to negotiate a more favorable deal with their top choice. Given the state of America, however, elevating another mediocre white guy into this position sounds about right. Nevertheless, a Jeopardy! spokesperson said that negotiations with a new host are “still ongoing.”