Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards will soon become Jeopardy! host Mike Richards, taking the mantle from the late Alex Trebek as full-time host when the show’s new season airs later this year. And while Richards and Sony have made it clear the former did not pick himself to host the show, there are some reports that he may have at least tipped the scales a bit.
Richards was made the official full-time host last week, with Mayim Bialik taking the prime-time duties for editions of the show airing on ABC. That decision was made amid a mess of controversies about who the show’s leadership picked, who they did not pick and how that selection was made. The most obvious issue with the selection process for many is the idea that Richards helped the powers that be decide he was right for the gig given his leadership role in the show. That’s been denied several times in a variety of ways, but there are reports that he did have some power to play with.
In a New York Times report that features two bylines and a quote from Ken Jennings comparing the selection to “choosing a pope,” sources said that Richards had more control over at least one part of the process than anyone at the game show had previously admitted publicly.
Sony said that while Mr. Richards initially led the hunt for Mr. Trebek’s replacement, he moved aside after he emerged as a candidate.
But as executive producer, Mr. Richards retained a key role in selecting which appearances by each prospective host would be screened for focus groups, whose reactions weighed heavily in Sony’s decision-making, according to three people familiar with the show’s internal deliberations. The other supervising “Jeopardy!” producers were excluded from that process, the people said.
Sony stressed to the Times that “he was not part of” the selection process, echoing a memo Sony’s TV chief, Ravi Ahuja, shared with staff when Richards’ selection leaked to the press. But that cherry-picking was previously unknown, and given the weight of many factors that influenced their decision — ratings, test audiences and overall comfort on camera among them — getting to pick which episodes to show test audiences is a pretty big deal. Especially if he’s hand-picking his favorite episodes from his own tapings.
There are a lot of indicators that Richards was a likely choice for the role all along, of course, so perhaps he didn’t need the help. And despite a report that Jennings was widely believed internally to be the heir apparent to Trebek, there was no signs of frustration from the self-described “company man” when speaking to the Times about the pick.
Mr. Jennings, who remains a consulting producer at “Jeopardy!,” praised Mr. Richards’s performance. “Mike was the only person up there with any game show hosting chops, and it showed,” he said.
That fact is certainly true, but it also seems true that Richards was the only candidate with any actual influence on that decision, too.
[via NY Times]