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‘Jeopardy!’: Start & End Of Host Search Tainted By Controversy As Past Comes Back To Haunt Frontrunners

Ken Jennings Mike Richards

(L-R) Ken Jennings and Mike Richards
Sony Pictures TV

Replacing an icon on a beloved show is a daunting task. For Jeopardy!, it has become virtually a mission impossible as a legion of passionate fans, still grieving over the death of host Alex Trebek, has been measuring up potential successors against their idol.

The high stakes led to intense scrutiny where candidates’ present — and past — were put under a microscope as celebrities took turns behind the Jeopardy! lectern in what the audience assumed was an auditioning process. The thorough public vetting resulted in the search taking an early turn when past champion Ken Jennings’ tweets dented his chances, and it may again impact the race in its final stage as old discrimination lawsuits involving Jeopardy! executive producer Mike Richards are taking on a new life as he has been nearing a deal for the job.

Back in November, just two weeks after Trebek’s death, Jennings was announced as the first guest host for the venerable syndicated game show. Already a Jeopardy! legend with his record winning streak and a Greatest of All Time title, the popular — and likable — Jennings was considered a clear frontrunner and the one to beat as Trebek’s successor.

But then in late December, just days before his stint as guest host was to begin, several insensitive tweets by Jennings from years prior surfaced, including a 2014 comment that there is “Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.”

Jennings issued an apology, acknowledging that over the years he has “definitely tweeted some unartful and insensitive things.”

Flash-forward seven months.

Just days from being named new host of Jeopardy!, Richards, who had joined the show as executive producer a few months before Trebek’s death, has been linked to allegations from a decade ago.

During his stint as co-executive producer/executive producer on The Price Is Right, Richards was implicated in discrimination lawsuits by former models on the show, including in a 2010 complaint by Brandi Cochran who was awarded $8.5 million in damages; after an appeal, the case was ultimately settled. A later lawsuit with another model also was settled. (While featured in both complaints, Richards was only named as a defendant in the second lawsuit. It was later removed.)

Richards has yet to comment publicly on the resurfaced allegations that include insensitive comments about pregnant women attributed to him in Cochran’s suit.

There also has been radio silence from Jeopardy! studio Sony Pictures Television, which has been conducting the host search. But days after word of Richards’ pending deal got out, he has still not officially been announced as the new host, triggering more speculation along with questions about the integrity of the search, which Richards, as EP on the show, spearheaded on behalf of Sony TV.

It also gives die-hard supporters of the Jeopardy! permanent host race’s sentimental favorite, LeVar Burton, hope that, despite him practically conceding that he did not get the job, he may still have a chance.

“I have said many times over these past weeks that no matter the outcome, I’ve won,” Burton wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

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