Judging by the outrage, you’d think the new host of “Jeopardy!” is Mike Lindell.
I just gave myself chills imaging that lunatic MyPillow guy trying to fill the shoes of Alex Trebek. He’d insist every correct response was one of: “Who is Jesus?” “What is the election was stolen?” “What is the vaccine is the Mark of the Beast?”
But as much as I’d love to tee off on Lindell today — has anyone checked his briefcase for a bong or moustache comb laced with PCP? — this column is about a different Mike.
Mike Richards is the executive producer of “Jeopardy!” and, according to Variety, the front-runner to become the permanent host of the venerable quiz show next season. This is not sitting well with some viewers. Just look at the followup stories this week.
Esquire: “What is Total B. S.? Jeopardy! Producer Mike Richards May Become the Show’s Permanent Host.” New York Post: “Jeopardy! Fans Are Buzzing Mad Mike Richards Could be Show’s New Host.” Good Housekeeping: “Jeopardy! Fans Are Fuming After Hearing Mike Richards Will Likely Be the New Host.”
Total B. S.? Buzzing mad? Fuming? Really?
As a “Jeopardy!” fan myself — and someone who talked to Trebek and interviewed several champs over the years — I don’t get this anger. It’s weird.
First, as Variety makes clear, no final decision has been made. Other candidates are still in the running. In this day and age, there are also skeletons in any closet that can suddenly break the backbone of any ambition. I point you to a Hollywood Reporter story this week, which began: “Mike Richards, the executive producer and front-runner to become the permanent host of Jeopardy, was involved in a discrimination lawsuit a decade ago that focused on his decision to fire a former Price Is Right model who became pregnant.”
If Richards is indeed the heir apparent to Trebek, there are also reasonable concerns about process. Again, he is the show’s executive producer. As such, he’s on the hiring committee for the new permanent host. But if you’re on the hiring committee, and you end up hiring yourself, many people will conclude the fix was in. The carousel of “Jeopardy!” guest hosts this year — including Ken Jennings, Katie Couric, Aaron Rodgers, Anderson Cooper, Bill Whitaker, Mayim Bialik, Savannah Guthrie, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Robin Roberts and LeVar Burton — was seen as a kind of reality show within a game show. We thought we were watching public auditions.
And when you have this many high-profile names vying for one coveted gig, viewer factions are inevitable. Burton seems to be the sentimental favourite to succeed Trebek, at least based on social media posts this week. Me, I don’t get it. I adore LeVar Burton. Just as mayors hand out keys to the city, Burton has won the key to the hearts of successive generations. He’s a living legend. But when he guest hosted this month, forgive me, something was amiss. He was too affected, too stiff, too preoccupied with the trappings of being the host of “Jeopardy!” It felt wrong.
By sharp contrast, when Richards guest hosted in February — and people might not realize this was a last-minute decision because the show had nobody else — he killed. He had an intuitive grasp of the show’s rhythms. I recall Trebek once telling me the real stars of “Jeopardy!” are the contestants. His job was to stay out of the way.
It was obvious Richards shares this philosophy.
YouTube comments are generally a hotbed of psychosis and anti-social rage. But here are some of the first comments on the “Jeopardy!” channel following Richards’ stint as guest host: “I thought this man would be a great host the night he announced Alex’s passing. I really like him.” “I have to give Mike credit. He has a smooth talking voice and has nice energy.” “Mike Richards is doing a FANTASTIC job as host. He’s a natural!” “This guy is very cool. He’s super charismatic, and his reverence for Alex and the game is endearing. This guy is a gem.” “This guy should be the permanent host.”
It’s hard to reconcile all of that with total B.S., buzzing mad and fuming.
Personally, if I were on the hiring committee, my vote would go to Jennings, the show’s GOAT. But since that does not appear to be in the offing, I can see no good reason why Mike Richards is now worthy of such disdain. I’m sorry, he’d make a great host.
His bona fides in the genre are unmatched. He hosted “Divided” and “The Pyramid.” He executive produced “The Price is Right” and “Let’s Make a Deal.” In addition to “Jeopardy!” right now, he is also the EP of “Wheel of Fortune.” He’s produced more than 4,000 hours of game shows. He’s racked up 17 Emmy nominations.
Richards started watching “Jeopardy!” when he was 10. He didn’t get many answers right and, as such, asked his mother for a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. He also started reading Encyclopedia Britannica. What does that have to do with the future of “Jeopardy!” and who becomes the new host? Maybe nothing.
Or maybe everything.
In the last months of Alex Trebek’s life, Mike Richards was as close as anyone else.
He learned from the master. And he has a reverence for that inimitable legacy.
“Jeopardy!” fans should not see him as an enemy, but as an ally who understands their beloved show and, even more, a beloved host who can never truly be replaced.