Richards stepped down as host of the show earlier this month amid reports of his alleged history of harassment and discrimination, as well as his penchant for crude and offensive humor. But the New York Times reported last week that Sony’s top TV executive said the company intended to keep Richards as executive producer. Jeopardy! champions, meanwhile, told The Daily Beast that they felt “betrayed.”
On Tuesday, however, Suzanne Prete, the executive vice president of business and strategy for Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, sent the embattled game show’s staff a memo confirming Richards’ exit from both series as executive producer—“effective immediately.”
The memo, which Sony representatives also sent to reporters as a statement, does not make clear whether Richards stepped down voluntarily as executive producer.
“We had hoped that when Mike stepped down from the host position at Jeopardy! it would have minimized the disruption and internal difficulties we have all experienced these last few weeks,” Prete wrote. “That clearly has not happened.”
Michael Davies, from the Sony-owned production company Embassy Row, has temporarily taken over production “until further notice.” Prete told staff that she and Davies will work together in the coming weeks to keep production running smoothly as the series approaches its 38th season.
“I know this has been a challenging time for the entire team, and I want to thank you all for your cooperation and professionalism over these last few weeks,” Prete wrote. “As Ravi mentioned last week, I will be more involved in the day-to-day on our shows moving forward and I am looking forward to working closely with all of you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need anything.”
Representatives for Sony did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for clarification regarding the nature of Richards’ exit. But a source told The Daily Beast that it had become clear to the powers that be that Richards lacked the internal and external support required to effectively run the series.
Easily Google-able skeletons jumped out of Richards’ closet even before he’d officially landed Alex Trebek’s old job. The Price Is Right faced multiple harassment and discrimination lawsuits during his tenure as executive producer. Once he’d been hired, a devastating report from Claire McNear for The Ringer exposed Richards’ old podcast. The Anti-Defamation League responded by calling for an investigation.
Nonetheless, the Times reported that Sony’s top TV executive—Ravi Ahuja, to whom Prete alludes in her statement—made clear to staff that the company wanted to keep Richards as E.P.
In addition to their frustration with Sony’s choice, the Jeopardy! alumni who spoke with The Daily Beast lamented the rapid-fire exits of three crucial members of the show’s production team. Longtime producer Harry Friedman, who holds the Guinness world records for most Emmy nominations and wins as a game show producer, stepped down in 2019; Richards was his replacement. Producer Maggie Speak and coordinator Glenn Kagan both left last year as well.
Eleven-time Jeopardy! champion Arthur Chu described the pair as the “mom” and “dad” of the Jeopardy! family. Kagan alleges in an age discrimination lawsuit that producers sidelined him for years even before Richards came aboard, and that he was ultimately pushed out. Five-time champ Kristin Sausville suggested that producers ask Harry Friedman to consult as the series transitions to a new host.
“They were the personalities that made our experience so good,” four-time champ Anneke Garcia said. “This is just the Richards era, and it’s like, ‘OK, the suits are the ones calling the shots and it’s not the same show.’”