Jeopardy! And the PR Nightmare that Sony Enabled

The death last November of legendary Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek, left a huge void. The search for the person to fill that void generated considerable publicity. Several distractions appeared along the way to the beginning of season 38, the first without Trebek, that have overshadowed the excitement of the start of a new era. The carryover of reigning champion Matt Amodio’s 18-game winning streak into the new season was also pushed to the back page.

The Start of the Search

The search that led to the rise and fall of Mike Richards as Jeopardy host, was a huge story in the television world. When Alex Trebek passed from cancer at the age of 80, the buzz started as to who would replace him. The search for the new host of the beloved game show was highly publicized and took months. A series of guest hosts helmed the program while Sony Pictures hunted for the permanent replacement.

Focus groups were brought in, Sony executives weighed in and many candidates were vetted. As the executive producer of Jeopardy, Mike Richards headed the search process. Naturally, when Richards was named the new host, controversy erupted. The media questioned whether Richards hired himself, overlooking the fact that he may well have been the best choice for the job. Sony themselves mentioned he wasn’t part of the process once he was eligible.

Controversy

As Sony prepared to shoot the first week of the new season with Richards as host, a story came out concerning a wrongful termination suit filed against The Price Is Right while he was executive producer of. Sony was aware of the suit when Richards was named host but did nothing to get out in front of it.

After the news came out about a podcast show Richards had been a part of nearly a decade before. It was reported that Richards had perceived negative comments in a failed comedy attempt. Although this story made a splash, Sony most likely became aware of it during the vetting process. Production of the first week of episodes went ahead with Sony refraining from publicly addressing the issue. Richards issued a public apology and agreed to sensitivity training. He nevertheless decided to step down as host after the first week because he wanted the attention to be on the show and not himself.

The Firing

Mike Richards took himself out as Jeopardy host almost as soon as he began. Sony once again took a quiet approach until deciding to fire Richards as executive producer. The season continued production with former Big Bang Theory star, MayimBialik and former Jeopardy contestant, Ken Jennings sharing hosting duties. The damage, however, had already been done.

The Aftermath

Though Jeopardy will continue, the big story surrounding it has been the controversy the have allowed to continue. During his turn at the podium, Richards did an outstanding job, but Sony’s failure to get in front of this caused it to be to focal point instead of an upbeat story of the next phase of a legendary game show becoming the story of yet another celebrity that is being attacked by Twitter. A real opportunity was lost.

Only the executives who run Sony know why the studio chose to let the Mike Richards saga play out with no input from them. They may have feared a public backlash, but perhaps, should have considered that before making their choice. In the end, Jeopardy will continue its legacy, but without a man who may have proved to be an excellent permanent host.

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