Variety’s Cynthia Littleton reports that Mike Richards, the executive producer of “Jeopardy!” is “in advanced negotiations with Sony Pictures Television to become permanent host of the venerable quiz show.”
If true, I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed. When Richards guest-hosted for a couple of weeks early this year, I thought he came off as, well, a sterotypical TV game show host — slick, smarmy, and somewhat robotic. Sure, he was good at the show’s formatics and timing (which he damned well should be as its EP) but, as I’ve written repeatedly, so were many of the other temporary fill-ins, which proved how well the show runs regardless of who’s at the helm.
That is by no means an insult to the late Alex Trebek, who masterfully emceed the game for more than three decades. It’s actually a tribute to him, because it’s his style, delivery, and demeanor that influenced everyone who has tried to fill his shoes this year.
With Richards both as a potential full-time host and as the guy leading the replacement search, he was effectively the Dick Cheney of “Jeopardy!” Sony might see him as the in-house guy who would keep their cash cow running smoothly while costing them a much smaller salary than Trebek earned — especially if they also keep Richards as showrunner of both “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel Of Fortune,” responsibilities he’s had since last year.
As I said, I’m not surprised that Richards has shoe-horned himself into the position — and somehow gotten Sony to overlook the $7.7 million dollar lawsuit won by “The Price Is Right” model Brandi Cochran in 2012. At the time, Richards was a producer of the show, named in the legal action as one of those who illegally fired her when she became pregnant.
It’s been long apparent the guest-host stints — organized by Richards — were public relations opportunities, not auditions. After all, the lineup included several TV newscasters who already have high-paying TV jobs they’re not about to give up (Anderson Cooper, Robin Roberts, Bill Whitaker, Savannah Guthrie, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and George Stephanopoulos). Same for CNBC’s David Faber, who’s behind the podium this week and has been very good (because he’s a longtime broadcaster who understands television). As for the others, Aaron Rodgers was always going back to his career with the Green Bay Packers, while Katie Couric and LeVar Burton are in their sixties and thus too old to steer the show for the next two or three decades (and weren’t very good, either).
That left two “Jeopardy!” personalities (Ken Jennings and Buzzy Cohen) and actress Mayim Bialik. I had them ranked as my top three, and hoped that Jennings would get the job. But the more I thought about it, perhaps Bialik would have been the best choice, because there would have been something satisfying about seeing a woman who’s obviously a fan as the full-time face of the show.
Yet it appears we’ll be stuck with Richards who, among his other sins, has overseen a dumbing-down of the clues on “Jeopardy!” since taking over as executive producer. I wouldn’t put it past him to have “leaked” the story to Variety, either.
Which may be why the response that best fits him won’t appear anywhere on the game board: “What is Machiavellian?”