Type keyword(s) to search


Mike Richards briefly became Jeopardy! host by taking advantage of an institutional and power vacuum

  • Sony Pictures Television used to be prepared for the loss of Alex Trebek as host of Jeopardy! In fact, Sony TV chairman Steve Mosko kept a list of who might one day succeed Trebek. "His plan was to make sure Jeopardy!’s exec producer at the time, the legendary Harry Friedman, would not have to start the search process from scratch," says Josef Adalian. "This effort almost surely intensified after Trebek suffered a heart attack in 2012 and began broaching the subject of retirement during interviews. But Mosko left Sony in 2016, and his institutional knowledge of the Jeopardy! business walked out with him." Sony ended up with the kind of executives who weren't experienced in shepherding TV shows, including CEO Tony Vinciquerra, who spent his career in operations, sales and distribution roles. In 2020, Friedman, who oversaw Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune for more than two decades, stepped down as executive producer. Mike Richards succeeded him amid the pandemic. So, says Adalian, "the folks charged with running the search for Trebek’s replacement did not have the same depth of experience and understanding of the franchise as Friedman or past Sony execs....In addition to this power vacuum in the Sony exec ranks, as the Ringer’s Claire McNear reported in her definitive story last week, there was a similar leadership void at the show itself: Not only was Friedman gone, but Jeopardy! also lost a couple of key on-set staff members, and many folks worked remotely during the pandemic. You couldn’t script a more perfect scenario for a newbie such as Richards to seize control of the host-replacement process and engineer it so he emerged with the job." Adalian adds: "But why did nobody at the studio ever think to bring Friedman into the process? I get why Richards didn’t reach out: It’s clear he has coveted a big-time hosting gig for years, and he (rightly or wrongly) figured Friedman would not agree....Vinciquerra and his underlings should have realized their collective lack of experience regarding all things Jeopardy! (including its quasi-spiritual connection to its audience) might be a problem. It’s possible they figured Richards, whose tenure as EP of The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal saw both shows thrive creatively, possessed all the game-show gravitas they needed. Or maybe they simply believed that focus groups and data-filled spreadsheets would be their salvation — that a new host could be chosen the same way Netflix decided to green-light two seasons of House of Cards based on metrics showing its subscribers liked Kevin Spacey movies. But whether due to hubris or negligence, not involving the man who helped shape the modern-day incarnation of Jeopardy! cost the replacement search some much-needed legitimacy...Most inexcusable, perhaps, is Sony announcing that Richards will stay on as Jeopardy! executive producer, and, presumably, oversee the search for Trebek’s replacement once again. 'It is our hope that as EP he will continue to (lead Jeopardy!) with professionalism and respect,' the studio said last week in a statement accepting his resignation as host. This decision had industry insiders I spoke with incredulous. 'Why would they let history repeat itself by putting the guy who manipulated the first process in charge of the second one?' one source said. A half-dozen or so observers I’ve talked with in recent days think it’s a given that Richards will be sacked as EP, and that the delay is just about settling his contract. But even if so, Sony has already done further damage to the show’s brand by not moving decisively."


    TOPICS: Mike Richards, Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, Harry Friedman, LeVar Burton, Mayim Bialik, Steve Mosko, Tony Vinciquerra, Game Shows, Sony TV