UPDATE (Aug. 20, 2021, 10:25 a.m. ET): Mike Richards announced Friday he would be stepping down from his gig as "Jeopardy!" host following a series of revelations about his past.
“Really? This guy?”
That was my initial thought when news broke Aug. 11 that Mike Richards would become the new host of "Jeopardy!," succeeding the late Alex Trebek, who was much beloved and iconic. Names like LeVar Burton, Robin Roberts, Aaron Rodgers and Ken Jennings had been floated during the search for the show’s new host.
Richards, unlike many of the guest hosts he was competing against for the gig, isn’t a household name, and he has all the physical distinctiveness of white bread. But he was the show’s (fairly new) executive producer.
Unflattering news about Richards’ history soon began popping up, including mentions of past lawsuits alleging discrimination against female employees from his time as executive producer of “The Price is Right.” Richards has said those allegations do “not reflect the reality of who I am or how we worked together on ‘The Price is Right.’” So on Tuesday evening, when The Ringer published a deeply reported piece about Richards’ history of offensive, discriminatory public comments on “The Randumb Show,” his now-defunct podcast, I couldn’t muster an ounce of surprise.
Just a resigned, exhausted “of course.”
I have spent a decade writing columns and news stories about men who have been thrust into positions of power despite having made a plethora of mistakes — mistakes that suggest a lack of respect for people who don’t look like them and act like them. They consistently fail up through the ranks of corporate America and Hollywood and Big Tech like they’re encased in Teflon. The human collateral damage that might be left in their wake goes largely unacknowledged.
Frankly, I’m tired of these men taking up useful space in our collective brains.
Richards said exactly the type of things on “The Randumb Show” that you might expect from a generic 46-year-old Ken doll who fancies himself an “edgy” amateur comedian. According to the Ringer report, Richards frequently commented on the appearance, height and professional history of his co-host and former assistant, Beth Triffon. He called her a “booth ho” and a “booth slut” for having previously worked as a model at the Consumer Electronics Show (an annual trade show organized by the Consumer Technology Association). He uses a derogatory slur for little people to describe her and suggests that she audition for “Taiwanese roles” because of her short stature.
Richards said exactly the type of things on “The Randumb Show” you might expect from a generic 46-year-old Ken doll who fancies himself an “edgy” amateur comedian.
He also denigrates government assistance programs and unhoused people, invokes the r-word to question other people’s intelligence, uses a stereotype about Jews and big noses, comments on the weight a colleague will gain once she takes up baking, proclaims that women dress like “hookers” on Halloween and says one-piece swimsuits are “genuinely unattractive” and make women “look really frumpy and overweight.”
The fact that he said all of these things — out loud, on a public podcast, recorded on the premises of his workplace, without fear of retribution — signals how little these comments struck him as problematic.
Though Richards made the comments seven or eight years ago, he was already well into his 30s. When we pair that history with allegations of pregnancy discrimination at “The Price is Right,” a picture emerges of someone who is anything but a safe choice for Sony Pictures Television. (CNN's Matt Belloni reported Thursday night that Sony's CEO, Tony Vinciquerra, is under internal pressure to swap Richards out ASAP.)
Richards was a known quantity — or at least assumed to be. He had the privilege of being hired off his familiarity and his potential. Never mind that as the executive producer of “Jeopardy!” Richards had been deeply involved in the audition process for host before he recused himself and stepped forward as a candidate. The New York Times reported that he “retained a key role in selecting which appearances by each prospective host would be screened for focus groups, whose reactions weighed heavily in Sony’s decision-making.” Never mind that, as The Ringer reported, “staff morale has deteriorated under Richards’s watch as EP.”
Even Richards’ podcast appearances betray some awareness of his own privilege. On two different 2013 episodes, he waxes poetic about Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest, who he said represent victory for the “average white-guy host” and “skinny white host.”
“I cheer for him to succeed,” Richards said of Probst, “because I feel like through his success I could have some success hosting.”
In a way, he was absolutely right. When you exist in a body that our culture still automatically equates with authority and promise, so much can be ignored, overlooked and excused.