Sidestepping backlash, ‘Jeopardy!’ taps Mike Richards and Mayim Bialik to host
Looks like it’s Double Jeopardy! time for Mike Richards and Mayim Bialik, who have been named as host of the syndicated “Jeopardy!” program and host of its prime-time shows and spinoffs, respectively.
Amid online controversy about Richards taking the role, Sony Pictures Television, which distributes the top-rated quiz show, announced the news Wednesday.
Richards, who was an executive producer for years on “The Price Is Right” before joining the “Jeopardy!” team in 2018, will take over the position that opened in November after legendary host Alex Trebek died from pancreatic cancer.
Richards, 46, has also been a producer on shows including “Wheel of Fortune” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” and will continue as a “Jeopardy!” producer.
When speculation surfaced last week about Richards getting the job, his past workplace behavior came under scrutiny, including three lawsuits alleging discrimination and gender-based harassment when he was at “The Price Is Right.”
Richards addressed the old suits, which were filed by former “Price Is Right” models, in a recent memo to “Jeopardy!” staff.
“These were allegations made in employment disputes against the show,” he said in the memo, which was obtained by The Times. “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.’”
Executive producer is the leading candidate to replace Alex Trebek but is drawing backlash over his past.
Sony Pictures Television made the final casting call after it “pored over” footage from every episode, reviewed research from multiple panels and focus groups, and got input from viewers and corporate partners, said Ravi Ahuja, chairman of Global Television Studios and Corporate Development for Sony Pictures, in a statement.
Ahuja said they knew early on they wanted to split the hosting duties, and “it became very clear that Mike and Mayim were the undeniable choices. They were both at the top of our research and analysis.”
Bialik, an actor with a neuroscience PhD, will lead efforts including the all-new “Jeopardy! National College Championship,” set to air in 2022 on ABC and featuring 15 colleges from across the country going head-to-head for two weeks of competition.
First known as a child star with roles in the movie “Beaches” and the TV show “Blossom,” the 45-year-old has more recently been seen in CBS’ long-running hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” and Fox’s “Call Me Kat,” which she executive produces.
With ‘Jeopardy!’ executive producer Mike Richards in the lead to replace the game show’s late host Alex Trebek, lawsuits filed during his ‘Price Is Right’ years resurface.
“We took this decision incredibly seriously,” Ahuja said in Wednesday’s statement. “A tremendous amount of work and deliberation has gone into it, perhaps more than has ever gone into the selection of hosts for a show — deservedly so because it’s ‘Jeopardy!’ and we are following the incomparable Alex Trebek.”
“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined being chosen to step into a role of this magnitude,” Richards said in a statement. He has previously hosted a handful of shows, including “Beauty and the Geek” for the WB and the CW and “The Pyramid” for the Game Show Network.
Bialik was similarly thrilled.
“What started out with my 15-year-old repeating a rumor from Instagram that I should guest host the show has turned into one of the most exciting and surreal opportunities of my life!” she said in a statement, noting she’s “just so ready to get started” and excited to work with Richards.
Ken Jennings? Katie Couric? Mike Richards? Sony is casting a wide net for one of TV’s top jobs.
Meanwhile, former “Jeopardy!” winner James Holzhauer joked on social media Wednesday, “Also new for next season: contestants can submit two Final Jeopardy responses in case the first one causes public backlash.”
Others on Twitter lamented that fan-backed guest host LeVar Burton had been passed over, while some criticized Richards’ lawsuit history and Bialik’s past statements that she delayed vaccinations for her kids. (She has since said she’d be getting the COVID-19 jab and a flu vaccine, and was never anti-vax.)
Before Richards and Bialik were locked in, “Jeopardy!” had featured a rotation of celebrity guest hosts, including Burton, Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, Robin Roberts, Joe Buck, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and NFL star Aaron Rodgers, among others.
In his decades on “Jeopardy!” Alex Trebek, who died Sunday from pancreatic cancer, became more than a TV host: He was, in his way, a leader.
And Trebek clearly was not forgotten amid Wednesday’s announcement.
“Alex believed the game itself and the contestants are the most important aspects of the show,” Richards said. “I was fortunate to witness his professionalism, intensity and kindness up close and that will serve as the ultimate blueprint as we continue to produce the show we love.”
The 38th season of “Jeopardy!” will begin production this month, with new episodes coming Sept. 13.
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