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How The Latest ‘Jeopardy!’ Controversy Might Ruin The Show Forever

By Kristin Myers
New jeopardy hosts
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How The Latest ‘Jeopardy!’ Controversy Might Ruin The Show Forever

As “Jeopardy!” G.O.A.T. Ken Jennings told the New York Times in a recent interview, choosing the next host is “a little like choosing a pope. If you don’t wach ‘Jeopardy!’, you don’t understand, but people take this very seriously.”

After months of different guest hosts ranging from CNN’s Anderson Cooper to Green Bay Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Sony Pictures Television announced last Wednesday that the show’s executive producer, Mike Richards, would become the new face of “Jeopardy!”, alongside “The Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik, who will host special “Jeopardy!” tournaments, such as the upcoming National College Championship.

A Rigged Contest

LeVar Burton stands behind the "Jeopardy!" podium.
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Many fans immediately took to social media to express frustration with the decision, especially when many wanted “Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton to become the new host. After a fan petition gained over a quarter of a million signatures, “Jeopardy!” finally added Burton to the guest host roster, but he was playing against a stacked deck.

Although guests like Mehmet Oz of “The Dr. Oz Show” received a two-week, 10-episode audition, Burton was only given one week to show his stuff. Not only that, but the apparent frontrunner to take over the hosting position was forced to watch his episodes air during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Due to the Olympics replacing standard programming on several networks, many fans were unable to watch Burton’s run.

Celebrity Response

Yvette Nicole Brown speaking at Wondercon 2012 in Anaheim, California on March 18, 2012.
Wikimedia | https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/16/Yvette_Nicole_Brown_by_Gage_Skidmore.jpg/640px-Yvette_Nicole_Brown_by_Gage_Skidmore.jpg

Even celebrities stepped in to decry Sony’s decision. Conservative columnist Meghan McCain tweeted, “Why couldn’t they just give it to @levarburton like literally everyone on the planet wanted?”

BAFTA-award winning actress Rosanna Arquette stepped in to say, “I would have watched jeopardy with Levar Burton otherwise I’m not interested.”

It was really “Community” actress Yvette Nicole Brown who wasn’t afraid to say exactly what she thought of the competition.

In a long Twitter thread, Brown wrote, “The playing field was NEVER level. Never. His ‘tryout’, the lobbying it took to get it along with the scheduling of it against the freaking #Olympics , it being ONE week and ending a DAY before the leak of a host being chosen?! C’mon, Son! What ya NOT gon’ do is spit in our faces and tell us it’s rain.”

She continued, "It all felt like a 'tell us how many marbles are in this jar and you get a ‘shot’ at hosting @Jeopardy' kinda thing. And we all know how ‘fair’ that mess is. Yeah, I said it. And I meant it." She capped off the post with the hashtag #JusticeForLeVarBurton.

Allegations Of Harassment & Discrimination

Mike Richards and Wayne Brady celebrate their wins: Wayne Brady for best host for "Let's Make a Deal" and the entire staff and crew won for "The Price is Right" for Outstanding Game Show.
Instagram | mrichtv

Richards, who has previously served as the producer on “The Price is Right,” has been named in several lawsuits where models accused the producers of the show of discrimination and harassment during their pregnancies.

In 2010, model Shane Stirling sued CBS, claiming that she had been fired from the show in 2008 as a result of her pregnancy. Later that same year, model Brandi Cochran also sued the show, claiming that she had faced discrimination on the show after becoming pregnant. She also claimed to have witnessed the firing and harassment of other models who had become pregnant.

The suit alleges that Richards “decided that the models’ skirts should be shorter and said that he liked the models to look as if they were going out on a date. At his suggestion, models wore bikinis on the show more frequently.”

In 2011, model Lanisha Cole sued Richards and other producers for sexual harassment and wrongful termination, alleging that one of the producers barged into her dressing room unannounced, and Richards allegedly refused to speak to her directly after she learned he was in a “close, personal, and intimate relationship” with another model.

Honoring Alex Trebek

A look back at Alex Trebek through the years, from 2004-2009.
Instagram | jeopardy

The string of allegations against Richards are likely to cast a shadow over the legacy left by late host Alex Trebek, who was once ranked as the eighth most trusted person in America.

Trebek was well-aware of the role that he had in the lives of his fans. “I’ve been on the air for fifty years,” Trebek once said, “so I’m like a member of the family. Oh, there’s Alex. Well, we’d better get him a drink and get him some French fries or potato chips or whatever. They just want to know if I am in reality the way they perceive me on television. Is he a nice guy or not? Is he aloof or not?”

Despite his popularity, Trebek was a down-to-earth, charitable individual who often participated in charity works hands-on, such as his participation in World Vision’s effort to deliver food during the Ethiopian famine in the 1980s.

His wife, Jean Trebek, recently told Savannah Guthrie that “one of Alex’s gifts was that he could be very resolute and know that the truth will not hurt you, and he wanted to empower people to move through whatever challenge they had in life with a sense of inner strength, inner dignity, and love.”

Fans always knew that no one would be able to replace the humble Trebek behind the “Jeopardy!” podium, but it seems Sony might be missing what really matters to their audience: trust. Fans want a “Jeopardy!” host that they can trust enough to invite into their homes five days a week, and with Richards’ previous lawsuits and the suspicious circumstances surrounding Burton’s tryout means they’re already falling short of that mark.

But will they be able to get it back? That’s the Final Jeopardy question that doesn’t yet have an answer.

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