Replacing the late, great Alex Trebek was never going to be easy. But the search for a permanent Jeopardy! host has gotten far trickier following the emergence of executive producer Mike Richards’s reported front-runner status last week. Since then, multiple bias lawsuits that occurred during his time producing The Price Is Right have resurfaced. Richards addressed both the allegations and Jeopardy!’s ongoing host search in a staff memo on Monday.
“It is true that I was asked if I would consider hosting the show. I was humbled and deeply honored,” Richards wrote early in his memo, which was published in its entirety by The Hollywood Reporter. “No final decisions have been made and discussions with me and other potential hosts are still ongoing.” He added that, despite rumors to the contrary, “the choice on this is not my decision and never has been.”
Richards went on to acknowledge his complex legal past as a game show executive producer. Prior to joining Jeopardy!, he spent a decade each on Let’s Make a Deal and The Price Is Right. During his time on the latter program, the 46-year-old was implicated by former models on the show in pregnancy discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits filed between 2010 and 2011.
“I want to address the complicated employment issues raised in the press during my time at The Price is Right ten years ago,” Richards wrote. “These were allegations made in employment disputes against the show. I want you all to know that the way in which my comments and actions have been characterized in these complaints does not reflect the reality of who I am or how we worked together on The Price is Right.”
A 2010 complaint by Brandi Cochran alleged that Cochran was discriminated against by CBS and FremantleMedia North America after she disclosed that she was pregnant with twins, and that she was wrongfully terminated after giving birth. (Cochran miscarried one of the twins and cited her career stress as a contributing factor.) According to THR, Richards said at a 2008 holiday party, “Go figure—I fire five models, what are the odds one of the ones that I keep gets pregnant?” The producer testified that Cochran was let go from the show because though she was a “good model,” she “would not take us to great,” as reported by THR. Cochran was awarded $8.5 million in damages, but the judge later overturned the verdict, and the case was ultimately settled in 2016.
Another discrimination suit filed that same year by model Shane Stirling—who claimed she was fired from the show because of her pregnancy—was dismissed in 2012 due to insufficient evidence and the statute of limitations. Former model Lanisha Cole alleged wrongful termination, sexual harassment, and retaliation in a 2011 suit against Richards, producer Adam Sandler [no relation to the actor], and Fremantle, which was settled out of court in 2013. Richards was removed as a defendant in that case during the course of court proceedings, per the Los Angeles Times. (In Monday’s memo, Richards wrote, “I would not say anything to disrespect anyone’s pregnancy and have always supported my colleagues on their parenting journeys.”)
Variety reported last week that Richards was in advanced negotiations with Sony Pictures Television to succeed Trebek, following Trebek’s death from pancreatic cancer last November. Since Trebek’s passing, the show has welcomed several high-profile guest hosts, including Jeopardy! star Ken Jennings, Green Bay Packers Q.B. Aaron Rodgers, The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik, and Reading Rainbow’s LeVar Burton—who was considered a fan favorite to host permanently after more than 250,000 people signed a change.org petition supporting the move. Sources told THR that “an announcement regarding a permanent host is imminent.”
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