Editorial: Stop Being So Persnickety, Mike Richards

We knew that we were going to see small changes to Jeopardy! under Mike Richards. However, I’m very concerned about the direction the show is headed, if the early part of Season 37 is to be believed.

At the time of this writing, we are seven episodes into Season 37, and there have been two unusual happenstances (at least by recent standards) by the show in Final Jeopardy!.

Firstly, we have last Tuesday’s ruling on Berry Gordy vs. Barry Gordy, where “Berry” and “Barry” are homophonic for 57% of the American population. It’s a ruling where my most charitable interpretation is that the show applied the wrong rule to the situation. It’s the sort of ruling that sets an uncomfortable precedent going forward and will likely lead to the show getting extra viewer mail unnecessarily when a contestant inevitably spells a response “Steven Crane” and “Katherine Hepburn”. (As, after all, “Steven” is a different name from “Stephen” and “Katherine” is a different name from “Katharine”; just ask the U.S. Social Security Administration when they detail baby names.)

Then, the September 22nd Final Jeopardy! references two books about different Asian countries with an identical title, a problem that should have been seen in the writer’s room, and would have been seen had anyone on the show done a cursory Internet search. Not only that, a contestant gave the name of the wrong one of the countries, a mistake which cost ultimately cost that player the game.

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One “gotcha” moment I can understand; mistakes do happen. Two in Final Jeopardy! in seven episodes, though? This feels incomprehensible to me. These actions seem to be consistent with playing to a thought that being persnickety is going to be the order of the day going forward, and that “ooh, sorry, this hinges on a tiny thing that nobody should be expected to know” is going to become the norm. Even though Jeopardy! has had a reputation in the past about “you could be expected to know about every small minute detail, no matter how minute”, it has done a very good job of keeping its canon to things that a viewer with a solid, well-rounded education would be expected to know. That is why Jeopardy! has been as successful as it has since 1984.

Why am I concerned? This is going to make for a significantly worse product if the show continues down this path. This is going to put doubt in the minds of contestants when they’re already in a stressful situation. Stressed and doubting contestants do not make for an entertaining program, as it leads to more stand-and-stare moments and dead air, as the doubt of “If the show told me I was wrong about a topic I thought I knew a lot about, what exactly do I know?” kicks in. (Former contestants have vocalized these exact concerns on the #JeopardyLivePanel podcast when confronted with problematic in-game clues in past seasons.)

Thus, I have to ask you: stop being so persnickety, Mike Richards. Your viewers are counting on you. Your future contestants are counting on you. The ultimate future of the show is counting on you.

Do you agree, fellow Jeopardy! fans? Or am I way off-base here? Make sure to leave a comment!


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25 Comments on "Editorial: Stop Being So Persnickety, Mike Richards"

  1. Gary Kevin Ware | September 22, 2020 at 8:19 pm |

    Does The Jeopardy! Fan contact Jeopardy!, under these circumstances, or is it up to individuals to do so?

    • It is up to individual contestants.

      • Gary Kevin Ware | September 22, 2020 at 8:37 pm |

        I meant in terms of pointing out potential mistakes to the Jeopardy! staff, not making appeals on behalf of the contestants.

        • I try to limit my contact with the show as much as is possible, as I’ve always worried that it would have a negative effect on my contestant eligibility.

          • I’m a big fan and thought they dropped the spelling rule years ago! Wrong to bring it back now! I saw the Berry answer and didn’t understand the decision! Bad! Bad! Contestants are going to lock up!! Change it now!!

  2. James Vichench | September 22, 2020 at 8:29 pm |

    Hear, hear !!!! Good luck !!!!!

  3. Stuart L Rubin | September 22, 2020 at 10:01 pm |

    I still do not understand why the Gordy answer was disallowed.

    • According to Alex, they are pronounced differently. I don’t think the majority of people pronounce them differently, but Alex pronounced both after proclaiming her answer incorrect, and there was a very slight difference.

  4. I’m guessing that they’re hiding behind the “starting in 1833,” thinking that everyone “surely knows” that India was just a colony at that time.

    I think it’s stupid, and I agree with your post completely. I’m just guessing the logic behind their justification. Again, I agree with you… especially with the idea that the trend of “gotcha” answers is bad for the show overall.

  5. Matthew Yothers | September 23, 2020 at 12:20 am |

    Either Mike Richards will realize his mistake later on in the season, or we’ll have to write a lot of complaint letters if this keeps going.

  6. You’re way off base! Berry and Barry simply ARE NOT the same name – and trying to bolster your argument with Stephen and Steven is not winning you any points. They are different spellings of the same name while Berry and Barry are not!

  7. Daniel J Oconnell Sr | September 23, 2020 at 4:29 am |

    The name is Berry Gordy not Barry Gordy

  8. The whole tone of the show is making me mad. I keep waiting for Alex to come back and credit the players for a response. Does jerkdom begin to set in at age 80?

  9. After the last contestant revealed his answer all I could do was yell it’s the same thing!

  10. Totally agree w/the “gotcha”.
    Let’s hope they get it together. Peace to all. But, our mouths’ dropped open when contestant spelled Berrie Gourde wrong in Final…

  11. Sharon O'Connor | September 23, 2020 at 8:51 am |

    Jeopardy been one of the stable forces in this country for generations. Because it admits and fixes mistakes it demonstrates its honesty and integrity. Don’t turn it into a gotcha game. It isn’t broken, don’t change it. The updates so far have been positive, don’t ruin a wonderful thing.

  12. Some various thoughts about all this. But first, I agree with respect to both these Final clues; in no way whatsoever are you off base here, Andy.

    I think placing the focus on Mike Richards here is appropriate. After all, it’s not as though there was wholesale turnover among the writers between Seasons 36 and 37. Since I resumed watching the show on a regular basis in September 2014, I can recall three faulty Final clues in six years. And among them, the only one that was a clear miss in writing was the “moon landing” clue in December 2015 (A. Wilson). “Manchester by the Sea” (R. Zoshak) was a tiny missed detail, and “tree hugger” (V. Valenzuela) was an error on the technical side. To have two controversies this close? It makes sense to look at the change at the top. It also comes on the heels of Andy’s remarks about the decision to re-run the GOAT episodes. In retrospect, it makes me wonder if Richards was responsible for that call as well.

    I am, however, also wondering whether changes in the show’s routine effected by COVID-19 have affected things. There’s a minimum of personnel in the studio now; I imagine the writers are largely working remotely. Could there be some element of collaboration missing under the current circumstances that would have flagged the error in the 9/22 final? Would having the full complement of production staff in person at Stage 10 have given someone an opportunity to note the pronunciation similarity in the 9/15 game? In theory, staff should be available remotely to weigh in on these matters, and they should have been called upon to do so.

    It would be most unfortunate if Harry Friedman’s well-deserved retirement portends a downward slide from the high standard and his sterling record at the helm of the program. Hopefully, the current regime heeds the feedback it’s been receiving.

  13. Daniel G Wylie | September 23, 2020 at 1:44 pm |

    You may have a point about 9/22 episode, but the Berry Gordy issue has come up before had she answered Gordy no first name she would have been rule correct but by changing the spelling of the 1st name she answered with a different person.

  14. Christopher Denault | September 23, 2020 at 2:36 pm |

    Due to the small sample size of episodes this season (just seven as of this post), I’m hoping that it’s just been a case of having two unclear FJ clues within close proximity of each other and not a trend. The answer for this only comes through time, so let’s revisit this after a couple of months and hope this turns out to be not an issue or a trend at all.

  15. Marty Cunningham | September 23, 2020 at 3:26 pm |

    I have been trying to keep an open mind as this new season has begun, but I, myself, did think the answer was “Barry” Gordy, and feel it should have been allowed since there always seemed to be a loose rule about spelling, particularly on “Final” that spelling was not as important so long as the judges could determine the name the contestant was trying to write. Variant spellings of Russian or Polish musicians would certainly test this to the limit.
    I am not quick to “blame” Mike Richards, but he does seem to be the freshest face on the production team and, coincidentally, the one who does call the shots on the whole package, but do any of us remember when Harry Friedman took over the show, and began making changes? I do not, and he certainly had not won any Emmys when he started so those things took time to develop. I’m sure Harry took flak when he implemented “Sky’s the limit” especially from the last contestants who only got to play 5 games before retiring before Harry took off that limitation. Similarly, i remember during one taping where they stopped production because of an answer, and Harry appeared immediately from wherever he had been watching the taping and everyone turned to him for a ruling. He conferred a bit with John, the stage manager, then with Maggie, the producer, then he disappeared around the corner into the booth, and, when he came back out, things were cleared up and production returned to normal, but it was very interesting to see the status he had developed with the crew by that point, and Mike Richards may develop that rapport as well, but it will take time. Not only did Harry leave at the end of season 36, but so did Maggie Speak, who had been listed as producer in the credits, and always did the welcome meeting for the new contestants. I also attribute Maggie for my actually getting on the show, as she ran the third audition i went to, and just seemed to put every one at ease, and i think i was more relaxed for that audition. SO, there have been a few more changes in the staff that runs the show, but many of the crew are still there, and they are aware of the traditions that have made Jeopardy! so good for so many years. And, yes, not having an audience does have some bearing on the contestants as they draw upon that energy, especially from family or friends who came with them, but also from the other contestants who they have been with for most of the day, and whom i would guess may be the only people who get to watch tapings when they have not yet been on the show.
    If someone does not like some recent event in this new season, please feel free to write to the producers (keeping it polite of course), but i am still going to keep watching to see exactly what the total of season 37 will look like.

  16. The Gordy clue was not remotely unclear. And for decades, unless it is specified that a first and last name is needed, you need only go with the last. And the corollary that anything else you add can make the whole response wrong. That in mind, the words/names are different. And they are pronounced differently just as to marry someone and to wish them a merry Christmas are different. Two versions of the same name that are pronounced the same way is not analogous.

    The second situation hardly seems problematic. Subtle points in clues are important. This is nothing new.

  17. One of the best aspects of Jeopardy! is that those of us who think of ourselves as “almost smart enough” to be a contestant can play along, pitting our brains against family and friends. The changing philosophy has a strong chilling effect on those watching and playing. It won’t take too much of that kind of smarmy quelling before I lose interest.

  18. I’ve been a Jeopardy fan since the days of Art Fleming so I’ve seen a lot of shows.I also lived in the Detroit area for 36 years. I immediately guessed the answer to the Gordy question and did a second take when I saw the Barry spelling. Regarding the other question I guessed India right off and then looked it up and found upon cursory reading that it seemed to be correct and was surprised to see Thailand. I’m going to give the staff credit by suggesting they probably knew the possibility of spelling Berry wrong and getting the wrong country. I mean we are used to Indian elephant and African elephant but not Kenyan elephant and Asian elephant. If the staff fully explained that you dont have to put first names down and spelling matters then it’s up to the contestant to figure out how much info to provide. If it isnt explained then you have a point there. I think the 1883 info was put there to make you think. I’ve seen over the years lots of what seemed like extraneous info provided that was intentionally important.I agree it’s a little nitpicking but I also think the book question was a little more obscure than usual and with the the Gordy question they were in a way looking for possible misspellings. I think we will have to see if they continue with this sort of trickery which to me does detract a little.

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