When Alex Trebek died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer in 2020, fans and executives were at a loss for how the beloved host’s work on Jeopardy! would be able to continue without him. A new temporary plan was set in place, recruiting a few famous faces to replace Trebek in the meantime, but recent developments from behind the scenes of the game show are stirring up major controversy, particularly around the show’s new permanent host Mike Richards.
While hosting the past few seasons of Jeopardy!, Trebek had been dealing with increasingly severe health issues related to his pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, he passed away in November 2020, leaving a massive hole in the hearts of generations who grew up watching the popular game show for decades. In the months that followed Trebek’s death, the team at Jeopardy! began searching for his replacement, knowing that whoever they would bring on would have big shoes to fill. Rather than just selecting one person, producers rounded up a group of unique celebrities to host the show in the meantime including Robin Roberts, Anderson Cooper, and
Shailene Woodley's fiancé NFL star Aaron Rodgers. LeVar Burton was among the guest hosts, and became a fan favourite for Trebek’s permanent replacement. (Who better to take on the responsibility of quizzing America on obscure trivia than the very man who taught America how to read?)
As fate would have it, Burton wasn’t chosen to be the full-time host of Jeopardy! — Mike Richards would be passed the baton instead, splitting duties with The Big Bang's Mayim Bialik going forward.
Then and now, Richards seemed like a random pick given the star power of the guest hosts before him. However, he has been connected to Jeopardy! for quite some time; in addition to working as an executive producer on the show for years, Richards also spearheaded the campaign to find Trebek’s replacement.
Obviously, there are warranted concerns about the person responsible for picking Trebek’s successor being awarded the role after such a rigorous search — just how unbiased could the recruitment process have been if the person in charge of it threw his hat in the ring? — but Richards insists that he “never imagined” being picked for the gig. (Sure!) On top of the shady circumstances surrounding his hiring, the new host’s background is also marked by controversy. Before he worked at Jeopardy!, Richards served as an executive producer on The Price Is Right, and during that time, he was named in a few different lawsuits launched by models on the show alleging sexual harassment, wrongful termination, and insensitivity around an employee’s pregnancy.
“These were allegations made in employment disputes against the show,” Richards wrote in an internal memo to the Jeopardy! team about the accusations. “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.”
Given all the drama swirling around Richards now, longtime fans of the show aren't sure that he's worth the controversy, especially when Burton proved that he was a perfect candidate during his run on Jeopardy!. Though it doesn't look like the quiz show will be recasting the new host any time soon, we don't even have to mourn the missed opportunity on Burton's behalf — the bag may be on the way sooner than we know, courtesy of filmmaker Ava DuVernay. Upon hearing the news about Jeopardy!'s new host, DuVernay revealed that she's dreaming up a project just for the Reading Rainbow legend.
"Me trying to create a show right in this moment for @levarburton to host and make an international hit," DuVernay tweeted on August 11. And if you know Ava, you know that she's the type to get things done. Jeopardy! who?