‘Jeopardy!’ saga continues: Mike Richards out as executive producer
The tumult continued at “Jeopardy!” as Mike Richards was ousted as executive producer of the iconic game show.
Sony Pictures Television’s decision to remove Richards from his leadership role comes less than two weeks after he stepped down as the show’s host amid a furor over his past offensive comments on a now-defunct podcast called “The Randumb Show” and alleged mistreatment of models on “The Price Is Right.”
The studio had selected Richards on Aug. 11 as the successor to beloved host Alex Trebek, who died last November.
But the handover was messy. Richards initially helped coordinate the search for a replacement for Trebek, including lining up a series of celebrity guest hosts, but then threw his hat in the ring last spring.
Sony executives said Richards was removed from the selection process at that time — but a perception lingered that he had a hand in his selection as host of the game show, prompting an outcry from loyal “Jeopardy!” fans and some staff members of the show.
After Richards relinquished the on-camera role on Aug. 20, Sony said Richards would continue as executive producer. But that situation proved to be untenable. He also will no longer run the companion show, “Wheel of Fortune.”
“We had hoped that when Mike stepped down from the host position at Jeopardy! it would have minimized the disruption and internal difficulties we have all experienced these last few weeks,” Suzanne Prete, executive vice president for business and strategy at “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!,” said in an email to staff members Tuesday morning.
“That clearly has not happened,” Prete wrote.
Longtime game show producer Michael Davies from Embassy Row will take over the production of the two shows “on an interim basis until further notice,” Prete said.
The British producer — whose recent TV credits include Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” CBS’ “The Job” and AMC’s “The Talking Dead” — has been affiliated with Sony Pictures Entertainment since 2008, when he sold his Embassy Row productions house to Sony. Davies previously served as head of alternative series and specials for ABC Entertainment, where he oversaw the development of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Nearly two decades ago, Davies built the U.S. version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” into a juggernaut for ABC.
With Tuesday’s executive producer switch, Sony hopes to quell the controversy that has tarnished one of the crown jewels of its TV empire. A Sony executive, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the controversy had eroded Richards’ ability to lead the two shows. Without the support of his staff or of “Jeopardy!” viewers, the studio decided to make a clean break.
Richards taped five episodes as host for the upcoming season of “Jeopardy!” before he and Sony executives decided it was best for him to step down as the face of the show. Those episodes are scheduled to run the week of Sept. 13.
He became executive producer in mid-2020, taking over for Harry Friedman, who had run “Jeopardy!” for more than two decades and had carefully guarded the show’s reputation. Sony executives had an affinity for Richards, believing that he had done a superb job holding the production together after Trebek’s death from complications of pancreatic cancer.
Sony executives have said that, although Richards had been vetted, they were unaware of the podcast that he hosted in 2013 and 2014 in which he used offensive language and made crass remarks in an attempt at comedy. According to a report in the Ringer, Richards made comments disparaging Jews, little people and women in the podcast “The Randumb Show.”
The report in the Ringer led to a public outcry, including a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League, which called for an investigation.
Early in his career, Richards hosted a handful of TV shows, including “Beauty and the Geek,” “Divided” and “The Pyramid.” But for much of his career, Richards had worked behind the scenes as a game show producer. He did not have a high public profile before his “Jeopardy!” fill-in stint earlier this year.
He apologized 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. I know I have a lot of work to do to regain your trust and confidence.”
Richards, through a spokesman, declined to comment on Tuesday. .
The show has been on hiatus this week, and production was scheduled to resume after Labor Day. It was not clear who might host upcoming episodes.
Mayim Bialik, one of the stars of the popular Warner Bros. sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” stepped in this month to shoot three weeks of episodes of the show as the Culver City studio resumed its search for a permanent host.
Sony’s struggles underscore the difficulty of replacing a broadcast legend, particularly at a program that is known for high-minded excellence.
“Michael and I will work together with all of you in the weeks ahead to ensure that production remains on schedule and we do not miss a beat as we head into the new season,” Prete said in the memo, which noted she would take a more hands-on role in the production.
“I know this has been a challenging time for the entire team, and I want to thank you all for your cooperation and professionalism over these last few weeks,” Prete said.
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