Prospective Jeopardy! host Mike Richards addresses past allegations as some fans cry foul

Replacing the legendary Alex Trebek as host of Jeopardy! is likely a tough role for anyone to fill, but some of the beloved quiz show's fans are seemingly already unhappy with the reported front-runner for the job.

Executive producer of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune is reported front-runner to replace beloved Alex Trebek

Mike Richards, executive producer for Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, is currently a front-runner to become Jeopardy!'s permanent host. (Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

Replacing the legendary Alex Trebek as host of Jeopardy! is likely a tough role for anyone to fill, but some of the beloved quiz show's fans are seemingly already unhappy with the reported front-runner for the job.

Last week, Variety reported that Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards is in advanced negotiations with Sony Pictures Television to become the show's permanent host.

After Trebek's death last November, Sony brought in a series of guest hosts to step in after the former host's final episodes had aired.

Richards — who joined the show last year as its executive producer and previously hosted High School Reunion and Beauty and the Geek and was the executive producer of the game shows Let's Make a Deal and The Price Is Right — impressed Sony with his stage presence and ability to chat with contestants when he filled in as guest host in February, according to Variety.

But some fans of the show have taken to Twitter to show they aren't as impressed, especially in light of reports that Richards was among the defendants named in multiple lawsuits filed during his 10-year career as executive producer of The Price Is Right.

Past lawsuits trail Richards

In 2010, a lawsuit filed by former Price model Brandi Cochran accused Richards of firing her because she was pregnant while another lawsuit filed in 2011 by model Lanisha Cole claimed she was subject to harassment on the set of the game show, Variety reported.

Both suits eventually resulted in settlements, the magazine said.

According to court filings, Richards said the reason Cochran was not brought back was because the show made changes in the on-air lineup of models, Variety reported. And Richards was dismissed as a plaintiff in Cole's suit in 2013 and the case was settled out of court. 

In an internal note sent to Jeopardy! staff on Monday, Richards addressed the allegations.

"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 said in the note.

"I would not say anything to disrespect anyone's pregnancy and have always supported my colleagues on their parenting journeys."

Still, those lawsuits make Richards the wrong person to replace a beloved host like Trebek, says Stacy Lee Kong, founder of the pop culture newsletter Friday Things.

Richards doesn't feel like the person to 'take this brand into the future,' said Stacy Lee Kong, a writer, cultural critic and founder of Friday Things, a pop culture newsletter. (Submitted by Stacy Lee Kong)

"He can't step into Alex Trebek's shoes. He doesn't feel like he's a worthy successor or the person to take this brand into the future," said Lee Kong.

"None of the things that I've learned about Mike Richards makes me think that he deserves that role."

Ken Jennings, LeVar Burton among fan favourites 

A July online poll by OnePoll that surveyed 1,003 Americans about their opinions on recent guest hosts put former Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings as the favourite to succeed Trebek, followed by Richards and LeVar Burton, the previous host of the PBS Kids educational television series Reading Rainbow.

LeVar Burton is an actor and former host of the educational television series Reading Rainbow. Burton guest hosted Jeopardy! from July 26 to July 30, and some of his fans say he is the best person to replace the late Alex Trebek. (David Livingston/Getty Images)

Burton was a guest host on Jeopardy! from July 26-30. In 2013, he tweeted that hosting Jeopardy! would be his "dream job," and in April, fans started an online petition to nominate him as host, garnering more than 200,000 signatures.

Unsurprisingly, Burton's supporters say they felt let down by news that Richards was the leading candidate.

Burton's background as an educational television series host makes him the perfect fit for Jeopardy!, said Yolanda Machado, a news editor with the pop culture website Nerdist.

"To me, the only natural change from Trebek would be to someone that highlighted education and learning — and that someone is LeVar Burton," said Machado.

"So many of us grew up with him being our link to our education outside of school."

Yolanda Machado is a news editor at Nerdist. She says LeVar Burton is the best fit for Jeopardy! because he was a key figure in children's education and highlights a demographic of Jeopardy! fans who are perhaps overlooked. (Submitted by Yolanda Machado)

Branching out from the traditional

Choosing Burton as host would also allow the show to better represent its viewers, said Machado. Moving forward with one of the other leading candidates is a missed opportunity, she said.

"This says that the network clearly does not care about an audience demand, or they're refusing to recognize that the people that are speaking out and saying 'Hire LeVar Burton' are their demographics as well," she said.

"It's clear that they don't even consider that marginalized groups are part of their audience."

Claire McNear is the author of Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider's Guide to Jeopardy! She spoke with Trebek while writing her book. (Submitted by Claire McNear)

Claire McNear, author of Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider's Guide to Jeopardy!, spoke with Trebek a number of times as she worked on her book.

"What he did say to me is that he was very aware of the fact that game-show hosts have historically [been] and are today overwhelmingly white men," said McNear.

"I think he was interested in at least having Sony look very seriously at somebody who was not white or not a man, just to branch out from this traditional mould."

In response to the support he's received from fans, Burton recently tweeted: "I have said many times over these past weeks that no matter the outcome, I've won."

"The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and fans alike has been incredible! If love is the ultimate blessing and I believe that it is, I am truly blessed beyond measure."

Examining the promotion from producer to host

Richards acknowledged in his internal staff note that he was asked if he would consider hosting Jeopardy! He said no final decisions have been made and discussions with both him and other potential hosts are ongoing.

Richards also said that choosing the permanent Jeopardy! host is not — and has never been — his decision.

But McNear says some eyebrows will inevitably be raised if Richards were to make the jump from show producer to permanent host.

"It was kind of jarring to see the executive producer be the one who is reportedly going to become the host," she said. 

Some fans on social media compared Richards to Dick Cheney, who led George W. Bush's vice-presidential search before being named vice-president himself.

Without knowing the details of how a host is chosen, Lee Kong says the prospect of Richards stepping into the position does raise the public's suspicions.

"None of the optics here are good," said Lee Kong. "We don't know the details, [so] it opens the door for us to see these maybe innocuous things in a more sinister light."

In his note, Richards said that Sony's top priority has always been to continue the legacy built by Trebek and Jeopardy! fans, saying the game and its contestants will continue to be guiding principles as the decision for a permanent host is made.

This week marks the final week of the current season of Jeopardy!, with sportscaster Joe Buck serving as guest host. 


Jessica Singer is a journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador. You can reach her at jessica.singer@cbc.ca

With files from Christina Romualdo