What is “An Extra Half-Hour of Free Time Every Weeknight?”

(Final (!?) Update 8/31/21: And now Richards is even out as the EP of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Someone is going to write a crazy adaptation of all this some day: Mike Richards attempts to shove Ken Jennings out of the way as the new host of Jeopardy and ends up costing himself not just the hosting job but his entire career. Whew. You might have screwed something up lately, but whatever it was, I bet you didn’t screw it up this badly.)

(Update 8/20/21: Holy crap, he stepped down after one day of taping as the host. I’m shocked, but pleased. But what a mess Sony has to clean up now.)

(Update 8/18/21: Claire McNear of The Ringer has been keeping on top of this story and published an absolutely brutal piece today: https://www.theringer.com/tv/2021/8/18/22631299/mike-richards-jeopardy-host-search-process-past-comments. This guy is a hell of a lot worse than I thought. And I was hardly a fan to begin with.)

Fasten your seatbelts. It’s Rant Time, and we’re going to be experiencing some turbulence today.

A while back, I told Bill I thought the new host of Jeopardy had been chosen well before Alex Trebek died. The guest host parade came about to keep the new host from having to take over right away and suffer from the inevitable comparisons to Alex. 

I’m pretty sure I was right about that, but I was convinced the new host was Ken Jennings. And after Ken’s guest host stint, I thought it should be him. He did a great job, and something about him being there just felt right. After all, there’s no person other than Trebek himself more associated with Jeopardy. 

Little did I know that Jeopardy’s answer to Dick Cheney had been lurking in the studio wings the whole time. 

Jeopardy’s executive producer Mike Richards was my least favorite of the guest hosts I watched (I didn’t watch Dr. Oz). He claimed his hosting stint was a spur of the moment thing when the scheduled host couldn’t make it due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Richards struck me as a lab-created game show host, phony and saccharine, the antithesis of what Alex Trebek had been. When I got to see Alex at work, during my episode and then at a Teachers Tournament filmed in DC a while later, he was in full “Old man gives zero fucks” mode when it came to speaking his mind. There was nothing fake about him. 

I can’t think of a better contrast between Ken and Mike than the way they both signed off every night. Ken’s “Thank you, Alex,” was short, simple, and sweet. 

Mike chose to sign off with an Alex quote that was long, convoluted, and felt more so every night he used it. “I just want to say, as Alex said, we’re trying to build a kinder and gentler society, and if we all pitch in just a little bit, we’re going to get there.” It’s not a bad sentiment, but it’s not a natural sign-off, and the way Richards delivered it felt awkward and fake, like the rest of his persona. It’s as if he heard Ken’s sign-off and figured he had to do one too but WAY BETTER than Ken’s. 

And then last week, I heard about the discrimination lawsuits. https://variety.com/2021/tv/news/mike-richards-jeopardy-price-is-right-brandi-cochran-1235035652/

Oh, and? The origin story Richards tried to sell the press—Plucky Understudy steps in when the star can’t make it and steals the show!—was bullshit. Surprise! I was right; the dude is a total phony, on top of treating pregnant women in his employ like cattle. https://www.theringer.com/tv/2021/8/5/22611962/jeopardy-new-host-mike-richards-sony

Now Jeopardy is pretending they’ve chosen two hosts, and a lot of the media is running with this misdirection. Don’t buy it. Mike Richards is the new host of the syndicated version, also known as “the version everyone actually sees every day.” Mayim Bialik, who’s got her own issues, will be hosting primetime Jeopardy specials. The last primetime Jeopardy special was in early 2020. Bialik’s not going to be terribly busy, I don’t think. 

I’m not sure Jeopardy could have bungled this process and squandered a fandom’s goodwill this badly if they’d actually planned to nuke their reputation from outer space. No, they never claimed the guest hosts were auditioning for the permanent spot, but they certainly didn’t dissuade anyone from seeing it that way. If I’m right that the guest hosts were meant to take pressure off Alex’s eventual successor, boy did that ever backfire. Even if Richards is telling the truth that he had nothing to do with selecting himself (sure, Jan), this whole disaster sure as hell made it look otherwise.

I was planning to watch next season if super champ Matt Amodio was still playing (which is looking highly probable right now), but I have zero interest in watching Mike Richards after all this nonsense. Have it your way, Jeopardy. You can shit in the swimming pool, but you can’t make me dive in. 

And for the record, this is not because I’m upset LeVar Burton didn’t get it. I like and respect Burton, and anyone who devotes so much time to getting kids to enjoy reading has a special place in my heart. But at the risk of causing half the Internet to fall on my head, I wasn’t impressed by his hosting stint, or by his fans’ annoying insistence that he alone deserved to be the new host.

Which guest hosts did I enjoy? Ken, Buzzy Cohen, Aaron Rodgers (who I did not expect to like), Robin Roberts, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Bill Whitaker, and David Faber (who I’d never even heard of before his hosting stint) were all especially strong. A lot of people in r/Jeopardy were complaining about Joe Buck before he hosted this week, but I like him too. I don’t know if I’d want to watch him as the full-time host, but after a long and emotional season, it’s been good to laugh a little.

I’m not calling for a boycott. I’m not expecting the show to die. I don’t want the show to die; plenty of people enjoy it and want to be on it. I hope Matt has a long and legendary run and that everyone who wants to be a contestant gets a chance. Seriously, send Matt some love. On top of all the other messes Jeopardy made with this botched announcement, they’ve managed to step on news of Matt’s run, which would be big Jeopardy news in any other time. This man has managed to adjust to four different hosts and counting, something Ken Jennings and James Holzhauer never had to do. 

As for me, I’ve got an extra thirty minutes every weeknight. Maybe I didn’t win my Jeopardy game, but I got a photo with Alex Trebek and not Mike Richards. Money gets spent, but this is forever. 

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