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Mike Richards, the executive producer and frontrunner 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.
While Jeopardy producers Sony Pictures Television has yet to officially confirm that Richards will take over for the late Alex Trebek as the syndicated show’s full-time host, news broke Wednesday that he is the leading candidate for the job. Sources say Sony is still considering other options but an announcement regarding a permanent host is imminent.
Richards was but one of many guest hosts to effectively audition for the job. Others included fan favorite LeVar Burton, former Jeopardy champs David Faber, Buzzy Cohen and Ken Jennings, as well as Savannah Guthrie, Sanjay Gupta, Anderson Cooper, Mayim Bialik, Aaron Rodgers, Dr. Oz, Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulos, Robin Roberts and Joe Buck. Of the group, Bialik and Cohen are also said to be among those still in consideration to replace Trebek, who hosted the beloved trivia show for 36 years. Sources previously told THR that Burton was a frontrunner to earn the role full time. Burton appeared to acknowledge that he wouldn’t be getting the full-time job in a tweet Thursday.
As for Richards, he arrived at Sony with an overall deal in 2019 after spending a decade each on The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal. He has hosting experience on Sony-backed Game Show Network’s Divided and The Pyramid as well as The CW’s High School Reunion and The WB Network’s Beauty and the Geek.
During his tenure as a co-executive producer of The Price Is Right, Richards’ alleged views on his female workers came into focus because of a discrimination lawsuit filed by Brandi Cochran in 2010 against CBS and FremantleMedia.
Cochran was a model on the show, but after taking time off for her pregnancy, she wasn’t invited to rejoin Price Is Right. She claimed being the victim of pregnancy discrimination.
Richards, who had taken on producing responsibilities at Price Is Right in 2008, attempted a more active role for models on the TV game show. Unlike when Bob Barker fronted the game show, Richards wanted the models to interact with new host Drew Carey and the show’s contestants. Richards even envisioned having microphones on the models so that audiences could hear them speak.
But as a California appeals court would later note, there existed some evidence that Richards harbored pregnancy-based animus. In particular, there was a holiday party in 2008 when he bemoaned the effect of Cochran’s pregnancy on staffing. “Go figure, I fire five models, what are the odds one of the ones that I keep gets pregnant?”
Cochran said she originally kept her pregnancy secret because she didn’t want to be fired. Later, she did tell others that she was pregnant with twins. When Cochran did so, she testified, Richards “put his head in his hands.” The next day, Richards allegedly stormed up to her and said, “Twins? Are you kidding? Are you serious?”
Richards defended not rehiring Cochran (who had a miscarriage with one of the twins and pointed to the stress she endured) because of the show’s evolving format. At trial, he testified the show was relying upon fewer models and while Cochran was a “good model,” she “would not take us to great.”
A jury sided with Cochran and awarded her $8.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. It was a landmark verdict at the time, but one that was short-lived as a judge then wiped out the verdict for bad jury instructions. (The judge was confused about standards in discrimination cases — something that would eventually be addressed last year by the Supreme Court in a big case against Comcast.) FremantleMedia wanted more from the trial judge. The producer insisted that based on the evidence, including Richards’ testimony, the judge should have delivered a loss for Cochran. So FremantleMedia appealed. In a victory for Cochran, the appeals court ruled there was sufficient evidence for a second trial. The case then settled.
While Richards was exec producing the show, it faced additional pregnancy discrimination claims beyond those made by Cochran. They weren’t successful.
Sony declined to comment.
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