Richards, who is also executive producer of “Jeopardy!,” saw his hold on the job undone with astonishing speed after unflattering and downright ugly details surfaced about his past conduct and statements he made on an eight-year-old podcast series. He will remain the show’s executive producer.
On Friday, Sony Pictures TV confirmed that Richards had agreed to step aside as host. In a statement, Richards said the backlash had created “too much of a distraction for our fans and not the right move for the show.”
Richards’ hasty exit as host came a day after the Anti-Defamation League called for an investigation after a report surfaced in The Ringer that Richards made disparaging remarks about Jews, women and other groups in episodes of the comedy podcast “The Randumb Show” recorded in 2013 and 2014.
In the podcast, Richards had asked his female assistant and his female co-host whether they had ever taken nude photos, or in his words, “booby pictures.” In another episode, he called his co-host a “booth ho.”
In the end, Sony concluded that Richards’ image was too battered for him to take the helm of one of television’s most prestigious and popular brands. The irony is that the studio moved in his favor because he was seen as a neutral personality rather than an established name that might overshadow the show and its famously rapid fire, answers-in-the-form-of-a-question format.
“We support Mike’s decision to step down as host,” Sony Pictures TV said. “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.”
But the studio also voiced support for him remaining in his role as executive producer. A new round of guest hosts will be tapped to tape episodes to launch the show’s 38th year in syndication next month. Richards began his first day of taping as permanent host on Aug. 19, which turned out to be his last day in the 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,” Sony said.
Sony learned the hard way how much America loves “Jeopardy!” The search for the host to follow in the footsteps of Trebek, who died last November at age 80, was a long series of guest host turns by such notables as Mayim Bialik, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, Bill Whitaker, Dr. Mehmet Oz, George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts, LeVar Burton, Savannah Guthrie, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Aaron Rodgers and former contestants Ken Jennings and Buzzy Cohen.
When Richards was named as the permanent successor, vocal “Jeopardy!” fans complained loudly on social media that the fix was in from Richards. The nitty gritty details of the behind-the-scenes selection process was scrutinized on the level of a Supreme Court appointment. Internet-fueled speculation proliferated about Richards’ ability to sabotage other hosts by editing episodes to make them look bad. There was outrage that Richards as executive producer had the final say on the guest-hosted episodes sent for focus group testing. Richards added fuel to the fire with more than a few examples of sophomoric behavior that made him seen by the “Jeopardy!” faithful as unfit to follow Trebek behind the lectern.
Sony was caught by surprise by the news of Richards’ past podcast work and the edgy comments that fueled more outrage against his selection as host. A source close to the situation said there was concern that Richards was cavalier enough to use such language and attitude toward women in a public forum of a podcast even after he’d been involved in two discrimination lawsuits a few years before.
In 2010 and 2011, multiple models working on “Price Is Right” accused Richards and others of discriminating against them for becoming pregnant while working on the show. He was accused of making disparaging remarks about some of the women and for taking steps to freeze them out of the series. Richards issued a statement last week disputing the characterization in the lawsuit as “not who I am.”
Richards’ role as executive producer may become awkward as Sony begins the search for a host anew, given that his desire for the job has been made crystal clear.
Richards was named permanent host on Aug. 11, six days after Variety reported he was in advanced negotiations for the coveted job. At the same time, Sony Pictures named Bialik, who was a fan favorite during the guest host run that began in January, as host of “Jeopardy!” primetime specials and a spinoff series.
Here is Richards’ full statement:
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.