‘Jeopardy!’ Host Frontrunner Mike Richards’ Alleged History of Harassment, Discrimination
Multiple women sued ‘The Price Is Right’ during Mike Richards’ tenure as executive producer, and their stories paint an unsavory picture of Alex Trebek’s presumptive successor.
Sorry, Reading Rainbow fans, but it appears LeVar Burton will not be the new host of Jeopardy! Neither will franchise stalwart Ken Jennings, Big Bang Theory alum Mayim Bialik, or Anderson Cooper—all of whom enjoyed popular runs as guest hosts in the late Alex Trebek’s stead. According to Variety, the long-running game show is eyeing an in-house replacement for its 36-year emcee—executive producer Mike Richards.
Richards has not been officially named yet; Variety reports that he is in advanced negotiations, and a source told The Daily Beast that discussions with potential hosts remain ongoing. Still, Richards’ selection has proven frustrating to fans who saw the parade of celebrity guest hosts as an indication that the show was committed to reviewing diverse candidates for the role.
Even worse, however, are the allegations from Richards’ past with The Price Is Right—where models accused producers of discrimination and harassment.
In 2010, model Shane Stirling sued CBS and Price Is Right producer Fremantle Media North America on the grounds that she’d been let go from the show in 2008 as a result of her pregnancy. As The Hollywood Reporter notes, however, Stirling struggled to present sufficient evidence to support the claim in court.
Richards and his fellow producers claimed that they’d cut the modeling pool from 10 to five in order to concentrate on those with the best modeling chops and on-screen chemistry with newly named host Drew Carey. Stirling countered that had she been forced to take less time off after her pregnancy, she would have had a better shot at retaining her job—but that was also not enough to sway the judge, who noted the statute of limitations on such a claim had already run out.
In the same year that Stirling filed her suit, however, her fellow model Brandi Cochran alleged in her own complaint that the show’s producers engaged in discrimination after she became pregnant. (Shegarian & Associates represented both Stirling and Cochran.)
Cochran’s suit alleged that she’d delayed trying to have a child because she’d witnessed producers harassing two fellow models who had become pregnant while making the show and firing another. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Richards denied unfavorable treatment toward Cochran at trial.
When she got pregnant for the second time in 2008 after a miscarriage in 2007, the complaint alleges, Richards responded to the news she was having twins by “[putting] his face in his hands.”
“He asked her twice, in an annoyed tone, ‘Twins? Are you serious? ... You’re serious?’”
As an executive producer, the suit adds, “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. At his suggestion, models wore bikinis on the show more frequently.”
Richards communicated with Cochran less frequently and eventually implied to her that had the show known about her pregnancy, she would have been fired, the complaint alleges. Cochran claimed that colleagues made fun of her weight gain and eating habits during the pregnancy—and that once she announced she was having twins, she received less work on the show.
Cochran lost one of her twins due to an in-utero heart defect, and the other was born three months premature; as the model struggled to process the loss and care for her infant’s special needs, she also tried to lose weight so that she could return to work. It was only after months of trying to get an answer from producers that she allegedly found out her contract had been terminated.
A jury awarded Cochran $8.5 million before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Kevin Brazile overturned the results. (Two months after Cochran won her case, a Supreme Court ruling had bolstered the defense’s argument that Brazile should have asked the jury to decide whether the pregnancy was a galvanizing factor in her dismissal.) Cochran and producers eventually settled out of court.
In 2011, model Lanisha Cole sued Richards, fellow producer Adam Sandler (not the comedian), and Fremantle Media North America for sexual harassment and wrongful termination. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Cole’s complaint alleged that her first six years with the show after signing on in 2003 unfolded without incident.
Toward the end of 2009, however, Richards allegedly began refusing to speak with Cole—about work-related matters or anything else. He allegedly only communicated with her through colleagues. She later discovered that Richards had entered a “close, personal and intimate” relationship with one of her fellow models, the complaint alleges.
On another occasion, the lawsuit claims, Sandler burst into her dressing room despite a sign calling for guests to knock. He allegedly berated her in front of her peers for not wearing a microphone as she stood there half-naked, clad only in a sheer thong bikini bottom.
Cole complained about the alleged dressing room incident during a meeting about sexual harassment involving another model. She claims that months later she was told she could not work for a week because she had to miss a day of work due to a family commitment. Cole said she quit the show after production failed to properly investigate any of her claims. The suit was settled in 2013, after Richards had been dismissed as a defendant.
A representative for Sony Pictures declined to comment on the casting negotiations and Richards’ involvement in the lawsuits.
Richards’ unsavory history only compounds the frustration that’s emerged among a healthy contingent of fans. They wonder why Jeopardy! made such a big show of vetting a diverse set of candidates to succeed Trebek only to choose someone from in house.
Although Richards performed well during his guest-hosting slot, he only signed onto the show as an executive producer last year. Richards’ credentials do not seem like enough to vault him above, say, Burton or Bialik, but instead indicate that Sony is sticking to business as usual.
As Salon TV critic Melanie McFarland put it in a Twitter thread about the decision, Richards’ selection represents “a ‘smooth transition’ strategy in which the show’s calm and comforting familiarity isn’t entirely upended... Richards was selected despite the many cases made for ‘Jeopardy’ to display some commitment to diversity by selecting a woman or a person of color because...the job was always his.”
Ken Jennings, who maintains the record for most consecutive wins and has guest-hosted in the past, seemed like the most obvious choice to take over from Trebek. As The Wrap notes, he’s also the only guest host who outperformed Richards in ratings—although Nielsen ratings for Burton’s run are not yet available. According to Variety, both Bialik and bespectacled Jeopardy! champ Buzzy Cohen have also been “strongly considered” for the gig.
Although fans are already disappointed on Burton’s behalf, the Star Trek alum seems to be taking it in stride. “I have said many times over these past weeks that no matter the outcome, I’ve won,” he wrote on Twitter Thursday. “The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and fans alike has been incredible! If love is the ultimate blessing and I believe that it is, I am truly blessed beyond measure.”