The ghost of Alex Trebek cannot rest until Jeopardy! is placed safely in the hands of a sufficiently entertaining and persnickety host. And after a seemingly endless, highly public talent search, the New York Times is reporting they’ve picked two people: actress Mayim Bialik and the show’s own executive producer, Mike Richards. The choice of Richards is already inspiring a backlash for multiple reasons.
First, there was that big audition process, which saw a diverse lineup
of stars like LeVar Burton, Robin Roberts, and Aaron Rodgers stand behind the sacred podium. When it was first announced that Richards was in consideration for the hosting position, fans felt they had been duped. While the famouses were attempting their best impersonation of Trebek, Richards was behind the scenes as the show’s executive producer. If the plan was to promote from within, why bother with the dog and pony show? Richards wrote in an internal email to Jeopardy! staff that, “The choice on this is not my decision and never has been,” the Times reports. Weird that he apparently had no option to say “no.”
Even more serious are allegations of gender discrimination from a decade ago, stemming from Richards’ time as executive producer of The Price Is Right. After Richards was identified as a front-runner for the gig, the Daily Beast reported that Richards was one of the defendants named in lawsuits brought by former employees, claiming that he and other producers discriminated against some of the models who worked on the show. One woman, in particular, Brandi Cochran, claimed she had delayed getting pregnant because “she’d witnessed producers harassing two fellow models who had become pregnant while making the show and firing another.” Variety reported:
Cochran’s suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against “Price” producer FremantleMedia, Richards and others on the show went to trial, where a jury awarded her damages of $8 million. That decision was overturned on appeal in late 2014 and the sides eventually reached a settlement.
Court filings from the Cochran case paint Richards as callous about her pregnancy to the point of expressing dismay after learning that she was expecting twins. “Price” producers opted not to rehire Cochran in early 2010 after she had been on leave since January 2009.
Richards also allegedly pushed for the models to wear shorter skirts and appear in bikinis more frequently.
In a memo to Jeopardy staff obtained by Variety, Richards wrote:
“These were allegations made in employment disputes against the show. I want you all to know that the way in which my comments and actions have been characterized in these complaints does not reflect the reality of who I am or how we worked together on ‘The Price Is Right,’ ” Richards wrote. “I know firsthand how special it is to be a parent. It is the most important thing in the world to me. I would not say anything to disrespect anyone’s pregnancy and have always supported my colleagues on their parenting journeys.”
Mayim Bialik has a doctorate in neuroscience and will be the first woman ever to host Jeopardy! outside of a guest-hosting capacity. She is currently preparing for the show’s college tournament and hopefully putting together a research paper on why Jeopardy! does not need two hosts.