Past discrimination allegations against reported Jeopardy host frontrunner Mike Richards resurface
Past discrimination allegations have resurfaced regarding Jeopardy executive producer Mike Richards, who is also the frontrunner to take over as the new permanent host of the show, according to a report this week by Variety. Richards, who guest-hosted the beloved quiz show for two weeks starting in late February, was named in multiple discrimination lawsuits during his decade-long tenure as executive producer of the The Price Is Right.
Richards became executive producer of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune after the shows' longtime EP Harry Friedman stepped down in 2020. Prior to that, he executive-produced Let's Make a Deal and The Price Is Right after trying out to replace longtime Price host Bob Barker, and hosted the CW reality show Beauty and the Geek from 2006 to 2008 in addition to several short-term hosting gigs.
This year, Richards was the second guest host of Jeopardy after the death of beloved emcee Alex Trebek, following former champion Ken Jennings. According to Variety, Richards "impressed Sony Pictures brass with his command of the fast-paced game and easy on-air manner." His run also scored higher ratings than any other guest host besides Jennings, though this may have had more to do with the timing of Richards' turn as host than anything else.
EW has been unable to confirm Variety's report about Richards' frontrunner status, which Jeopardy studio Sony Pictures Entertainment declined to comment on. (Discussions are reportedly ongoing with multiple potential hosts.) Nevertheless, the public reaction to the possibility of Richards as the show's new host was swift and, at least on social media, overwhelmingly negative. Some users mocked Richards' anonymity relative to such guest hosts as LeVar Burton, Mayim Bialik, and Aaron Rodgers ("Pretty on brand that everyone will be saying 'Who is Mike Richards?'" writer and artist Nick Ross tweeted), and others remarked upon the irony of Richards, as Jeopardy's executive producer, seemingly bestowing the role of host on himself. Several compared him to Dick Cheney, who headed George W. Bush's vice-presidential search before landing the job himself, and one EW commenter remarked, "So this whole thing was some version of Willy Wonka except at the end he awards the chocolate factory to himself?"
To be fair, it's unclear how much of a role Richards has played in selecting Jeopardy's new host. But on a more serious note, discussion of Richards' legal history began to emerge online in the wake of Variety's report. In 2010, The Price Is Right model Brandi Cochran sued CBS and the show's producer FremantleMedia, alleging in her complaint that Richards and other producers discriminated against her due to her pregnancy.
Cochran's lawsuit claimed that Richards "did not talk to her as frequently as before" and treated her callously when he learned she was pregnant, and that she "was booked to work less often" after announcing she was pregnant before ultimately being fired. (The complaint also alleged that "Richards decided that the models' skirts should be shorter and said that he liked the models to look as if they were going out on a date," and "at his suggestion, models wore bikinis on the show more frequently.") According to court documents, Richards claimed that Cochran was simply not rehired after her maternity leave because the show made changes to the lineup of models. Cochran won the suit in 2012 and was awarded more than $7 million in damages, but the decision was overturned the next year and the case was eventually settled.
Another Price Is Right model, Lanisha Cole, sued Fremantle, Richards, and another of the show's producers in 2011, alleging sexual harassment and wrongful termination. Cole's complaint alleged that Richards "began to treat [Cole] differently" than the show's other models "in or about December 2009," refusing to directly speak with her at all. The lawsuit claimed that Richards "had entered into a close, personal and intimate relationship" with another model and "engaged in improper favoritism as a result." Richards was later dismissed as a defendant, and the suit was settled in 2013.
Sony declined to comment on the allegations. Richards could not be reached for comment.
The resurfaced allegations have only added to the negative buzz around Richards potentially taking over the hosting job. It should be noted, however, that despite his vocal detractors, Richards has fared well in polls of who should take over the show, usually ranking among the top five choices.
Before Variety's report, it was widely assumed that Jennings, whose long history with Jeopardy dates back to his 74-game winning streak in 2004 (still the longest streak in the show's history), was the frontrunner for the job. A handful of the other guest hosts, most notably Rodgers and Burton, also expressed interest in hosting permanently. Burton, who amassed considerable fan support online endorsing his bid for the gig, thanked those supporters in a tweet Thursday.
"I have said many times over these past weeks that no matter the outcome, I've won," he wrote. "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."
Jeopardy's current season will wrap up next week, with Fox sportscaster Joe Buck hosting. The new permanent host is expected to be announced shortly thereafter.
America's favorite answer-and-question game.
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