AILSA CHANG, HOST:
If this were Jeopardy, we might start with an answer like, this man quit one of the highest-profile jobs in TV after about a week. The question - who is Mike Richards? Mike Richards was the new host of the popular quiz show "Jeopardy!" But today he announced that he would step down, though for now it seems he will remain as executive producer. All of this comes after reporting from The Ringer, which revealed sexist and offensive comments that Richards had made while hosting a podcast years ago. In one exchange, he used a demeaning term for a co-host who once worked as a model at a trade convention.
(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE RANDUMB SHOW")
MIKE RICHARDS: Beth got a job being - what was it? - a booth hoe.
BETH TRIFFON: I don't think...
TRIFFON: ...They use the word hoe for that.
CHANG: Well, here to talk through the "Jeopardy!" controversy is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Hey, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.
CHANG: All right. So Richards was just named the new host last week, which was already a controversy in itself - right? - because he was also the show's executive producer and appeared to basically pick himself. So why did he decide to step down now?
DEGGANS: Well, I think the core of this is the question of whether Richards has a problem with sexism. So when news first broke weeks ago that he was the leading candidate for this job, you know, reporters noted that when he was executive producer of "The Price Is Right," the show had some lawsuits from models who said that they were treated unfairly when they got pregnant. And The Ringer story revealed several instances where Richards spoke on the podcast about women with this sort of casual sexism that seemed similar to some of the concerns raised in those lawsuits.
Now, when news of the lawsuits broke, Richards said the allegations don't reflect the reality of who he was. But that's a tougher case to make now. And in his memo to the staff today, you know, Richards acknowledged that moving forward as host might be too much of a distraction for the show.
CHANG: I mean, Jeopardy knew that they were replacing an icon in Alex Trebek. So how did their selection process miss this, you think?
DEGGANS: Well, I think they underestimated how much the wider world, especially people who don't regularly watch the show, would scrutinize the choice they were going to make. And they weren't that transparent about this selection process that might not have been as even-handed as they tried to make it look. You know, Jeopardy spent a lot of time showcasing all these guest hosts, and some of them looked like candidates for the main job, including a public favorite, LeVar Burton. They even hired one of them, Mayim Bialik, to host primetime specials.
So when the daily job went to the executive producer, this middle-aged white guy with these controversies in his past, it kind of looked like the fix was in from the beginning. And it also looked like the show's distributor, Sony Pictures Television, hadn't really bothered to vet a guy who was taking over one of the biggest and most venerated game show franchises on television. Now "Jeopardy!" is trying to find a successor for Trebek, who had this reputation for being fair, humble, down to earth. And selecting a new host with all these ethical questions in a process that seemed kind of rushed and not that fair - that is not a good look.
CHANG: I mean, exactly. But how do you think the show moves forward after something like this? I mean, can Mike Richards just go back to being the show's executive producer?
DEGGANS: Well, I'm going to be honest. I'm a showbiz cynic, right? So I think Richards might end up quietly exiting the show after the dust settles. But if he's too distracting as the host, it seems likely that he might have the same problem as executive producer. But he taped five episodes as host yesterday, which the show says they're going to air as scheduled. And Sony released a statement saying they weren't aware of this earlier podcast, and they've spoken to him about what they expect from him going forward.
Now, in his note to staff, Richards said that the search for a guest host would resume, and they would tape new episodes with a roster of guest hosts that they're going to unveil next week. Ultimately, this situation might be a good example of how, in today's times, if you've got a tangible record of sexism in your past, you can't just ignore it like nothing happened because people are going to hold you accountable.
CHANG: Indeed. That is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thank you, Eric.
DEGGANS: Thank you.
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