It’s hard to watch what’s going on with “Jeopardy!” right now.
And you wonder how many people will continue to tune in now that they’ve mucked this up so bad?
Replacement-host-turned-terrible-person Mike Richards resigned his position as newly minted “Jeopardy!” host Friday morning after a report surfaced this week about misogynistic comments he’d made in a podcast in the past. His resignation came a day after he’d completed his first taped “Jeopardy!” episodes — though inexplicably he’s been retained as executive producer. The move leaves the long-running syndicated trivia show in disarray with the new season set to start Sept. 13.
It looks like there will be a few guest hosts again, but fallout over what happened — and what will happen — in the quest to replace Alex Trebek will be far more attention-grabbing than the new episodes we will see on television.
There’s a growing air of distrust around the way Sony Pictures Television executives mishandled … well, everything in relation to their search for a host. As more information leaks out about the process, it sure looks like this was another example of cynical backroom cronyism rather than what was portrayed as an openhearted attempt to replace a beloved pop culture figure.
And now, after eight months of what ultimately turned out to be a colossal waste of our time, the producers of one of America’s most bankable entertainment institutions not only have to find a new host, they have to make it up to the large portion of their audience who gives a damn.
And there are a lot of us out here.
Let’s review, in case you’ve missed the latest news:
Trebek died last November after a long, graceful fight with pancreatic cancer that gave the producers of the show more than a year after the announcement of his illness to plan what came next. They came up with a scheme in which several guest hosts would hold down the job in what appeared to be an open tryout with a lot of popular celebrities involved.
It started with megabuzz and Seattle’s resident trivia genius Ken Jennings doing a pretty damn admirable job in circumstances that would be tough for even a longtime professional. Along the way, Richards, who had previous hosting experience on the Game Show Network, sitcom star (and neuroscientist) Mayim Bialik, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and beloved actor LeVar Burton got a little positive attention as well (Dr. Oz, not so much).
Frankly, the search lasted longer than the average life span of most sitcoms and the public began losing focus about midway through. But it also set up a false hope for many of us that the show would do something special, head in a new direction that makes the old boys’ club of the trivia world a platform for change and inviting to all.
When news of Richards’ hiring along with Bialik in a weird, subordinate role — she will host “Jeopardy!” prime-time specials — leaked out last week, there was an immediate backlash from the show’s long list of champions and contestants (if not necessarily the bulk of its older, white and largely unplugged audience). Many felt the fix was in (and it probably was, since Richards was quietly moved into the executive producer role in 2020 as these plans were being formed).
Then we discovered that Richards had been something of a jerk on the set of “The Price Is Right,” where as executive producer from 2010-18 he was part of three lawsuits claiming fairly horrible decisions and comments regarding the show’s models, some of whom made the awful, terrible, no-good mistake of having children while employed by him.
Then earlier this week, news leaked of a podcast in which Richards made remarks offensive to just about everyone. He tried to play it off as comedy, but clearly no one found any of this funny.
It’s also not surprising. There appeared to be minimal vetting of Richards’ background — or if there was, it was ignored by people who should know better. It shows that despite calls for change in Hollywood and society in general in the post-#MeToo world, we take a step back for every two forward.
So how can “Jeopardy!” producers fix this? First, start by making a show of good faith and push Richards all the way out. No matter how much it costs. How can it continue with such a shadow lurking in the background?
Next, let’s forget all this guest host foolishness and simply install Bialik as the host — with a one-year contract. The “Blossom” and “The Big Bang Theory” star has had a delightful career, brings a wholesome, positive energy to the job and would be an inspiration to millions of girls and women in a pop cultural niche that hasn’t always been kind to them. At the very least, the show’s producers must treat her with respect. Richards’ failings shouldn’t take her down as well.
Then lets move Jennings into the role that was originally created for Bialik. The “Jeopardy!” G.O.A.T. did a fine job hosting the show under the most difficult of circumstances and is widely respected in the community of contestants much in the way Michael Jordan is respected in the basketball world.
If Bialik proves she’s not up for the job or doesn’t want it after a year, Jennings would be ready with far more experience to move into the role.
At the very least, this would give everyone a chance to chill.
In the end, whatever producers decide to do, the big question is: Will all those millions of viewers return?