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Mike Richards is weighing in on Jeopardy‘s host search and the newly resurfaced bias lawsuits in which he was involved during his time as exec producer on The Price Is Right.
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 last week 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.
“It is true that I was asked if I would consider hosting the show. I was humbled and deeply honored. No final decisions have been made and discussions with me and other potential hosts are still ongoing,” Richards wrote in a lengthy memo to Jeopardy staff Monday morning. (Read it in full, below.)
Richards, who 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, serves as Jeopardy‘s exec producer. While 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, his role as exec producer and involvement in discrimination lawsuits has taken the spotlight since news of his frontrunner status leaked last week.
“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,” Richards noted in his memo to staff.
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.
Here’s Richards’ full memo to staff:
Recently, Jeopardy!, our host search and the possibility of me hosting has been all over the news. I want to take a moment so that you can hear directly from me. The last year has been the most challenging in the history of the show. I know we are all still dealing with the loss of our hero, Alex, while at the same time continuing to produce amazing shows for our millions of fans through the pandemic. Our success over that time with our guest-host rotation, including the more than $3 million we raised for charities, is a singular achievement and a testament to your talent and dedication. I’ve produced a lot of television over the years, and I could not be more impressed with team Jeopardy!
It is true that I was asked if I would consider hosting the show. I was humbled and deeply honored. No final decisions have been made and discussions with me and other potential hosts are still ongoing. I know I have mentioned this to you all before, but the choice on this is not my decision and never has been. Throughout this search, Sony’s top priority has always been to continue the incredible legacy you and Alex built. As you know, Alex always believed the game itself and the contestants are the most important aspects of the show, and that will continue to be the guiding principle as the decision is finalized.
I want to address the complicated employment issues raised in the press during my time at The Price is Right ten years ago. 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. I know firsthand how special it is to be a parent. It is the most important thing in the world to me. I would not say anything to disrespect anyone’s pregnancy and have always supported my colleagues on their parenting journeys.
I am very proud of my time on The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal. During my tenure, our female cast members welcomed seven beautiful children. We embraced and celebrated each pregnancy and birth both in front of and behind the camera. It was a joy to watch their families grow and highlight their happiness as part of the show.
For us, I realize there is a lot going on right now as we ramp up for the new season. Please do not hesitate to reach out of you have any questions or concerns.
It is truly an honor to get to work with all of you to produce this amazing show, and I look forward to the days ahead as we get back into production.
Eriq Gardner contributed to this report.
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