So long, Mike Richards — we hardly knew ye. In fact, almost no one had even heard of the Jeopardy! producer until he pulled a Dick Cheney and selected himself as the new host of the game-show institution after heading its celebrity-drenched search. After much fanfare in following the late and beloved Alex Trebek at the lectern, a deep dive into his previous podcasts has forced Richards to step down today.
It’s a classic Milkshake Duck scenario:
Mike Richards, who was named the new host of “Jeopardy!” last week, is abruptly leaving the role as the beloved game show after a report this week resurfaced offensive and sexist comments he made on a podcast several years ago.
Mr. Richards, who as the show’s executive producer helped oversee the search for Alex Trebek’s replacement — before he himself was named to the position — said on Friday in a staff memo that the controversy had made “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,” Mr. Richards wrote.
So what was so bad about Richards’ past? Quite a bit, apparently, reported The Ringer earlier this week, including a couple of hostile-workplace lawsuits that got settled quietly — but not quietly enough, apparently:
One suit was filed in 2010 by Brandi Cochran, who worked as a model on the show. It centered on the discrimination and harassment she said she experienced after becoming pregnant. At the time, The Price Is Right had recently laid off several models; the suit says that after Cochran informed Richards of her pregnancy, he “said to her, ‘Go figure! I fire five girls … what are the odds?’” which Cochran understood “to mean that Richards would have selected her for layoff if he had known that she was going to get pregnant.” After giving birth, she learned that her contract had been terminated.
Cochran’s lawsuit also detailed Richards’s input on what the show’s models should wear. “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,” the suit says. “At his suggestion, models wore bikinis on the show more frequently.”
That would have been tricky enough, but The Ringer started going through old episodes of Richards’ podcast The Randumb Show from several years back. That’s where they hit Milkshake Duck pay dirt:
In an episode published on September 4, 2014, after the iCloud photo hack, which exposed intimate images of numerous female celebrities, Richards asked his assistant and his cohost—both much younger women—whether they had ever taken nude photos. When his cohost said that she had sometimes taken photos of herself when she thought she looked cute, Richards responded, “Like booby pictures? What are we looking at?” Later, he asked to go through her phone; when she declined to share an image with him, he asked whether it was “of [her] boobies.”
On another 2014 episode, Richards said that one-piece swimsuits made women look “really frumpy and overweight,” echoing the portion of Cochran’s lawsuit that mentions Richards’s preferences about swimwear.
And then there’s this episode, which is particularly troublesome for the production in the #MeToo era:
The conversations among Richards, his cohost and former assistant Beth Triffon, and occasionally Jen Bisgrove—the podcast’s producer and Richards’s assistant at the time—are freewheeling, skipping between pop culture news, upcoming TV lineups, and the latest goings-on at Price. Many have a gossipy edge, with Richards displaying a tendency to turn bawdy and sometimes vulgar. In one 2014 episode, Triffon discusses once working as a model at CES; Richards subsequently calls her a “booth ho” and “booth slut.” When the subject comes up again in a later conversation with Let’s Make a Deal announcer Jonathan Mangum, both Mangum and Richards repeatedly call her a “boothstitute.”
Women’s bodies and clothing are recurring subjects for Richards. On a 2013 episode, he says that women “dress like a hooker” on Halloween; on another, he tells a story about a former Price employee who had taken up baking: “We said that we were going to have to saw her out of her room because she was going to be so giant that she wouldn’t be able to fit out the door.” When discussing weight gain, Price announcer Gray says, “There’s a lot of guys that would not be entirely upset with a petite woman that’s curvy”; Richards repeatedly uses the term “huskadoo.” He saves his praise for Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the former cohost of The View and Fox & Friends: “She’s, like, kind of my type. You know—blond, good-looking.” …
There are multiple conversations in which Richards makes remarks about Triffon’s height and appearance. He repeatedly calls her a derogatory term for little people, a word that he also uses to describe the actress Kristin Chenoweth. (Both that word and the R-word, which Richards uses in a January 2014 episode, are considered slurs.) In the podcast’s third episode, Triffon discusses some acting roles she has auditioned for; Richards says she should try out for Taiwanese roles because of her height. In another episode, after Gray makes a nonspecific comment about big noses, Richards jumps in. “Ixnay on the ose-nay,” he says. “She’s not an ew-Jay.”
Aaaaaaand that lands pretty darned close to classic Milkshake Duck territory. It was likely that last comment that finally did in Richards’ hosting gig. Although, read the rest from The Ringer and try to assess for yourselves what might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back on this one. The possibilities really are nearly endless, making one wonder why the Jeopardy! team didn’t perform much due diligence on Richards.
Oh, wait … I forgot who was put in charge of it.
Now that Richards is out, what’s next for the venerable game show? Richards did manage to get Mayim Bialik as an adjunct host, and she could possibly step into the main role without much problem. It seems tough to imagine that the show would put its audience back through the guest-host wringer again after all this time, and perhaps equally unclear that anyone would go through it after Richards’ stunt in this last round. I was rooting for Levar Burton myself, but who could blame him for feeling as though the show took advantage of him to promote Richards?
Update: Guess who gets to choose Richards’ successor? You can’t make this up:
MORE: Mike Richards *WILL* stay as Executive Producer of Jeopardy
Sony: “We support Mike’s decision to step down as host…Mike has been with us for the last 2 years….It is our hope that as EP he will continue to do so with professionalism and respect.” https://t.co/I6VqDzeoFM
— Michael M. Grynbaum (@grynbaum) August 20, 2021
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