Jeopardy! host Mike Richards abruptly stepped down Friday, just nine days after he was tapped to replace the late Alex Trebek as host of Sony Pictures TV's venerable syndicated game show.
It appears, however, that Richards will remain executive producer of Jeopardy! and its Sony sibling Wheel of Fortune.
Richards said controversy that has emerged since his appointment has become “too much of a distraction for our fans and not the right move for the show.” Richards' full statement, in which he apologizes for the "distraction" but not comments he made years earlier that drew scrutiny after he was selected as Jeopardy! host, is below.
Backlash surrounding Richards, already beyond a simmer on the social internet, exploded this week when The Ringer reported comments he made about Jews, Haitians, women and other groups on a 7-year-old podcast called The Randumb Show.
Sony released this statement: “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 Anti-Defamation League also weighed in: "ADL welcomes Mike Richards’ decision to step down but, based on his note to staffers, it doesn’t appear he understands how hurtful and problematic his past behavior was."
Richards previously served as executive producer of Jeopardy! and its longtime lead-out sibling, Wheel of Fortune, stepping into the role last year when longtime EP Harry Friedman retired.
Sony seemed to offer support for Richards continuing in that EP role: "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," the Sony statement added.
Sony originally said it chose Richards based on his neutrality--unlike other popular Jeopardy! host candidates, including LeVar Burton, Richards' personal brand wouldn't compete with that of the 57-year-old quiz program.
But Richards' selection has been controversial from the start. Before The Ringer report, a decade-old employment dispute re-emerged related to his tenure on The Price Is Right, causing the new Jeopardy! host to defend comments he allegedly made about a pregnant coworker at the time.
On Twitter and other internet transoms, meanwhile, information and misinformation buzzed about how Sony allegedly rigged an unpopular internal hire.
Here's Richards' full statement from this morning:
It pains me that these past incidents and comments have cast such a shadow on Jeopardy! as we look to start a new chapter.
As I mentioned last week, I was deeply honored to be asked to host the syndicated show and was thrilled by the opportunity to expand my role. 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. As a result, we will be canceling production today.
SPT will now resume the search for a permanent syndicated host. In the meantime, we will be bringing back guest hosts to continue production for the new season, details of which will be announced 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. I know I have a lot of work to do to regain your trust and confidence.
Among the numerous guest hosts who tried out for the permanent Jeopardy! host role--a list that included Burton, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik and former Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings--Richards had the best overall ratings performance.
Richards averaged 2.26 million viewers for the 10 episodes of the Sony Pictures Television syndicated strip he guest hosted between Feb. 22 - March 5, according to data generated by LG Ads' sampling of 20 million smart TVs. That was less than the 2.33 million viewers averaged in 30 appearances by Jennings from Jan. 11 - Feb. 19. However, Richards' performance matched up better when compared to the year-ago performance rendered by Trebek, who hosted the show through 2020 while battling pancreatic cancer.
Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. His reliable mid-range jump shot, deft ambidextrous post-up game and tough interior defense have been criminally overlooked.
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