It’s been a whirlwind month of Jeopardy! news; in the past 31 days, we have seen a host hired, fired, and then removed as executive producer.
Here’s a hot take, though: Mike Richards wasn’t fired because the remarks from The Randumb Show surfaced. I have certainly seen a lot of simplified remarks from people upset about a perception regarding “cancel culture”.
Mike Richards’ firing isn’t “cancel culture”, though. The reports from staff which have surfaced since the podcast remarks became public knowledge indicated that Richards was not the most popular amongst staff members from the show. It has been well documented that Richards had a history of removing longtime legacy employees over at The Price is Right.
Jeopardy!‘s staff considered itself to be a family; top to bottom, the staff was rife full of legacy employees, many of whom have over 30 years’ experience working on the program. (This also explains why the show was so well-produced under Harry Friedman; everyone behind the scenes had significant experience working on the show.) Richards had already begun with axing some members of the J! family, with Glenn Kagan filing an age discrimination lawsuit last October. It is very clear, at least to me, that the firing of the very popular Glenn Kagan did not sit well with the show’s employees. (It certainly didn’t sit well with the community at large; numerous former contestants commented on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit expressing support for Kagan.)
Moreover, I never got the sense that Richards truly understood what Jeopardy! was about. At its core, Jeopardy! is about celebrating knowledge, no matter how one acquires that knowledge. Richards’ lack of understanding of this ultimate ethos of the show was readily apparently early on; Richards’ second episode as Executive Producer saw the still inexplicable Berry/Barry ruling. An Executive Producer with the proper understanding of the show’s ethos would have understood that the words “Berry” and “Barry” were pronounced identically enough in enough areas of the United States and thus should have been accepted.
Furthermore, if you’ve paid attention to Jeopardy! areas of social media over the past year, Richards was perfectly content to allow the show to become a battleground in the overarching culture war taking place in North America right now. Previously, viewers from all over the political spectrum were generally able to coexist. However, Richards’ decision, whether by lack of awareness or otherwise, permitted—by completely attempting to ignore the Kelly Donohue incident in late April—the culture war to fester in discussion areas of the show, going as far as to enter the mainstream media. Regardless of how one felt about the initial incident, it was something that should have never made it to air—and that’s on Richards.
Don’t get me wrong: the clips of The Randumb Show helped. Their release empowered the staff to speak up against a boss who was making their workplace environment more toxic and hurting the quality of the show. Employees aren’t as motivated to do their best work if they feel their workplace is toxic; that lessened motivation could very well have been behind a number of less accurate clues and the other aforementioned production mistakes which saw airing in Season 37. But, I also think that had Richards been slightly more popular in the office that the staff might have been willing to defend and rally around their supervisor. Instead, they spoke out repeatedly against him—and Richards was shown the door on Tuesday.
This is also why, in my opinion, the reports and stories regarding Mayim Bialik haven’t been sticking nearly as well—Bialik generally isn’t regarded as nearly as toxic by the show’s staff itself, and she hasn’t demonstrated the same lack of understanding of the show’s ethos that Richards demonstrated. (Additionally, Bialik’s apology for her controversial #MeToo op-ed has somehow not gotten as much airplay as the original op-ed did.) Furthermore, those who take umbrage with the products that Bialik have endorsed have somehow conveniently forgotten that Alex Trebek endorsed Colonial Penn life insurance and World Vision, services which weren’t always viewed in the greatest light either.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the show can move on in the future now that the most toxic part of their workplace has been removed. The staff on board right now made Sony boatloads of money over the past few years and decades; Sony would be well-served to returning to the laissez-faire attitude it had towards production in the Steve Mosko/Harry Friedman era, and let the cash cow milk itself.
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