Final Jeopardy: What Is a Self-Inflicted Hosting Disaster?
Welcome to the Lean Out era, when bland white guys are finally facing consequences for behavior that nobody should be getting away with.
I’ll take “Flying too close to the sun for 1,000,” LeVar.
The answer is: This previously obscure stand up comedian-turned-game show executive was announced as the new host of Jeopardy! after leading a months-long search, only to step down when troubling past comments he made on his old podcast came to light.
Who is Mike Richards?
That’s correct. And that’s a great question.
On Friday, after several days of grumbling from disappointed fans and a couple rounds of embarrassing stories in the press that made it seem like the vetting committee hadn’t really vetted him at all, Jeopardy! Executive Producer/Host Mike Richards announced that he was going back to being plain old Jeopardy! Executive Producer Mike Richards.
On The Randumb Show, a podcast he hosted back in 2013-14 when he was Executive Producer on The Price is Right, Richards made disparaging comments about women and Jewish people. He was also involved in a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by one of the game show’s models, who alleged she was mistreated by Price and others after announcing her twin pregnancy. All of this stuff was out there for the finding and the knowing, and should have been caught by whoever had the job of vetting the new Jeopardy! host for skeletons. But it wasn’t.
Richards bowed out voluntarily, after bowing in months ago when he made himself a candidate for the coveted job without really letting the public know. By the time Jeopardy! fans even began to ask themselves, “Who Is Mike Richards,” they’d already seen several possible replacements for former host Alex Trebek who were much more interesting and beloved.
News coverage says that Richards will be “returning” to his job as Executive Producer of Jeopardy!. But will he? Now, instead of an EP that his staff quietly grumbled about—according to The Ringer, “employees were blindsided by Sony’s announcement” and “staff morale has deteriorated under Richards’s watch as EP—Richards will resume his EP role with all this out in the open. So, just like how things were before, except worse.
Richards’ ascent probably evoked familiar feelings in a lot of people who have been passed over for jobs in the past, or seen qualified candidates rejected in favor of a spicy vanilla guy who goes golfing with the boss. There’s a Dick Cheney or a Mike Richards in every office, who may be outwardly committed to pushing things in an exciting new direction but is always inwardly committed to staffing the top jobs with people as similar to themselves as possible. It’s just easier to hire yourself over and over, rather than move over to make space for people who shouldn’t have been shut out in the first place.
Mike Richards went for the Jeopardy! hosting job with the hubris of a Jeopardy! contestant betting all their winnings on a Final Jeopardy topic they knew nothing about. He could have left well enough alone. He could have leaned out. Richards had a plum job as executive producer of one of the most enduring game show brands in the U.S. Had he simply stayed in his lane and picked a new host from the stable of qualified candidates, all that embarrassing stuff out there about him would have stayed obscure. How hard is it to not try to get a job? But he, as they say on TikTok, chose violence. He either remembered what he’d said on his old podcast and in the lawsuit and was confident that nobody would ever find out or care, or he’d forgotten about it. One day, Mike Richards will be a business school case study that helps MBA students learn how not to conduct an executive search.
Welcome to the Lean Out era, when bland white guys are finally facing consequences for behavior that nobody should be getting away with—like leading a long executive search only to hire yourself for a job over the protests of your staff, like assuming you’ll skate through a hiring process without being vetted, or like believing yourself fit to fill iconic shoes when nobody even knows who the fuck you are.
It’s not that the rest of us should strive to have the confidence of an unremarkable man. It’s that unremarkable men are finally having their unearned confidence shaken.