Jeopardy!’s multi-month quest to find a new host in the wake of Alex Trebek’s death ended earlier this week, when executive producer Mike Richards was selected as Trebek’s ultimate replacement for the regular business of the series. Meanwhile, Mayim Bialik was also announced as host on the show, although in a weird, compromised sort of way where she’ll pop in only for tournaments or big events. Meanwhile meanwhile, the four-days-and-counting public response to pretty much every aspect of this news—from long-running criticisms of both hosts, to the weird hybrid hosting structure, to questions about how much input Richards had on his own selection—has been underwhelming, bordering on righteously pissed.
To start: Reports that Richards had emerged as the frontrunner immediately led to the resurfacing of complaints and at least one lawsuit issued against the former Beauty And The Geek host during his long tenure as a producer on The Price Is Right, alleging that he was dismissive and disrespectful toward women on the set. (Richards has issued a statement asserting that those labor disputes do not “reflect the reality” of his time on the series.) Bialik, meanwhile, is a subject of controversy for her public statements on a wide variety of topics, including Israel, vaccinations, and wider conversations about public health. (Mother Jones has a run-down of many of Bialik’s past statements, including her willingness to serve as a pitchwoman for naturopathy and nootropic products, comments that have been read as victim-blaming in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, and a complicated track record on vaccines.)
Meanwhile, the fact that Richards was originally tapped to lead the new host search—and yet wound up with the job himself—has come under increased scrutiny, too. The New York Times posted a new report earlier today, in which Sony Pictures Television asserts that Richards “moved aside [from the search] after he emerged as a candidate.” However, that same report quotes sources that say Richards still had input on parts of the selection process, including helping to pick which clips of each guest host were shown to focus group to help in the selection.
And while the show’s ratings do demonstrate that Richards’ 10-episode run in February came in second out of all the guest hosting stints (after Ken Jennings’), and compared pretty well with Trebek’s ratings from the previous year, Richards also happened to snag a pretty prime spot for good performance—since the show’s viewership typically goes up in colder months. (Fan favorite LeVar Burton, meanwhile, had to contend both with summer heat and the Olympics, which likely contributed to him scoring the lowest ratings out of all the show’s guest hosts.)
In the wider sense, there’s also just an inescapable feeling that Jeopardy! sort of shot itself in the foot here, launching an attention-grabbing audition campaign (even if no one at the show ever explicitly referred to it as such) that focused on big personalities—while that same criteria doesn’t seem to have factored much into the ultimate choice. The show publicly courted questions about how it might evolve, and what it might look like, going forward, even as Richards’ succession, a pretty clear effort to shove “personality” back in the box, seems more and more like it was always a looming possibility. If nothing else, the response over the last week has demonstrated a pretty clear squandering of the enormous amount of goodwill the series has built for itself over the last few years.