Jeopardy! was largely trying to avoid controversy with its long string of guest hosts in an attempt to find a replacement for the late Alex Trebek. But the reported selection of Mike Richards as host, however, is exactly what the show’s leadership was trying to avoid and has forced Richards to address the subsequent controversy directly this week.
Last week, Richards, who serves as an executive producer on the show, was reported to be in advanced talks to become the next permanent host of Jeopardy! One of the earlier guest hosts in the show’s long run of spot starts, Richards performed well and got higher ratings than everyone but Jeopardy! GOAT Ken Jennings’ turn at the podium. But controversy followed word of his selection, starting with outcry from anyone who thought one of the other guest hosts (like Jennings or LeVar Burton and definitely not Dr. Oz) deserved the spot more.
Later, though, a more substantial controversy followed after reports reemerged about Richards’ alleged involvement in workplace disputes while on the set of another game show. As the LA Times detailed, Richards became involved in multiple lawsuits alleging workplace discrimination (including accusations involving one employee’s pregnancy) during his time working (as a co-executive producer and executive producer) on The Price Is Right nearly a decade ago:
According to the Hollywood Reporter, in 2010 model Shane Stirling sued producers for wrongful termination, alleging that she was improperly let go in 2008 after she returned from pregnancy leave. That case was dismissed in 2012 after Stirling had trouble bringing sufficient evidence to prove her claims and the judge decided that the statute of limitations had run out.
Also in 2010, model Brandi Cochran sued for wrongful termination, alleging that she got less work after telling producers she was pregnant with twins. She said she hadn’t wanted to reveal her pregnancy because she was afraid she’d be fired. One of her twins died in miscarriage while the other was born three months premature and had health issues. Cochran said producers sent her mixed signals about whether she could return to work; then she found out she’d been fired.
There are other factors in the suits, which also involved another producer on the show and included some serious allegations and workplace misconduct. And as those lawsuits were brought back into the public eye with no official word about his status as Jeopardy! host, Richards apparently addressed the situation to Jeopardy! staff on Monday, as revealed on Twitter by The Ringer’s Claire McNear:
Mike Richards sent the following statement to the Jeopardy! staff today: pic.twitter.com/hDTmXCFThP
— Claire McNear (@clairemcnear) August 9, 2021
First and foremost, Richards said that he was not responsible for the decision to actually pick him despite his leadership role on the show. He also confirmed that he was approached for the full-time role, and while he’s “humbled and deeply honored,” nothing is finalized yet. He also addressed the “complicated employment issues” from his time on The Price Is Right.
“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.”
The note stressed he looked forward to working on the new season, but doesn’t answer any questions about what’s next for the show to say the least. Whether Richards will get a deal finalized to host or the controversy will nix those plans remains to be seen, but it’s clear that he was their pick regardless of the reaction the report caused. All of this stands aside from a lengthy guest-hosting process following his already long career on TV before being brought on board Jeopardy! as Alex Trebek’s career was very publicly winding down. Even before Trebek’s cancer diagnosis, speculation about who would host next had circulated for years, and Richards’ hiring was possibly part of that process.
In other words, that Richards’ messy legal history — which was widely reported and publicly known — either wasn’t considered or wasn’t viewed as damaging enough to take him out of the running for the permanent hosting job. If public outcry about that messy past does make the show’s leadership change their minds, it will make an already messy process that much more complicated.