Mike Richards, Mayim Bialik both named as ‘Jeopardy!’ hosts
LOS ANGELES (AP) — After weeks of guest hosts on “Jeopardy!” that included celebrities from TV, sports and journalism, the daily syndicated quiz show chose its executive producer, Mike Richards, as the successor to beloved host Alex Trebek.
But after fan backlash to a selection process that turned messy in recent weeks, producer Sony split the pie by naming another guest host, actor Mayim Bialik, as emcee for “Jeopardy!” prime-time and spinoff series, including a new college championship.
In another nod to “Jeopardy!” devotees, longest winning-streak champion Ken Jennings will return as a consulting producer.
Richards will retain executive producing duties for “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” Sony Pictures Television said in a statement Wednesday. The studio also appeared to deflect the idea that it was bowing to the dismay that some fans expressed when word leaked last week that Richards would be the pick.
“We knew early on that we wanted to divide the hosting responsibilities and it became very clear that Mike and Mayim were the undeniable choices. They were both at the top of our research and analysis,” said Ravi Ahuja, Chairman of Global Television Studios for Sony Pictures. “We took this decision incredibly seriously.”
In his guest-host appearances, Ahuja said Richards was “at ease behind the podium and a double threat as producer and host. Mayim has a wonderful energy, an innate sense of the game, and an authentic curiosity that naturally represents the ‘Jeopardy!’ brand.”
Richards was the second of the temp hosts who filled the void left by Trebek’s death, with “Jeopardy!” champs Jennings and Buzzy Cohen, actors Bialik and LeVar Burton, NFL player Aaron Rodgers and TV journalists among the others.
The studio didn’t break the game-show mold by choosing Richards. White male hosts have long been the convention, with a few women (among them Meredith Vieira, Jane Lynch, Leslie Jones) and a larger contingent of Black men (Wayne Brady, Steve Harvey, Anthony Anderson) making inroads in recent years.
Richards has an extensive, Emmy Award-winning game show resume. He was the executive producer of “The Price is Right” and “Let’s Make a Deal” for more than a decade and produced the 2020 revival of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” His on-camera experience includes hosting “The Pyramid” and “Beauty and the Geek,” a reality show.
He joined “Jeopardy!” as the replacement for retiring executive producer Harry Friedman starting with the 2020-21 season, and was in the job for only a few months when Trebek, 80, died last November of pancreatic cancer.
Jennings, who holds the record for most regular-game winnings with $2.52 million and the longest winning-streak, 74 games, had been considered a frontrunner, along with Cohen and Bialik (“The Big Bang Theory”). Burton had his own chorus of supporters, including the petitioners whom he credits with getting him on the show last month.
Sony had been handing the transition gracefully: The show regularly saluted Trebek’s legacy, made charitable donations in his memory and framed the succession of guest hosts as a chance for viewers to adapt to change and, just maybe, have a hand in the choice.
In interviews, Richards portrayed himself as a relative bystander in the process, one who had stepped in as guest host only when needed.
When Variety reported last week that he was close to signing a deal, fans and observers questioned whether the supposed audition and selection process was a stunt, with the conclusion foregone. They also expressed doubt that Richards was right for the job.
There were other candidates with the gravitas and resume that “Jeopardy!” and its viewers deserve, said Andy Saunders, a longtime viewer and administrator for The Jeopardy! Fan website.
Richards will have to earn the respect already accorded to others who tried out, Saunders said. He’ll still watch the show as the site’s operator, but said, “I would certainly not begrudge any other viewer who would choose to tune out.”
Filling the host’s job was never easy. Affection for the Canadian-born Trebek made finding a replacement both a gesture of regard for him as well as a business decision. Viewership shifted under the guest hosts, but “Jeopardy!” remains among the top-ranked syndicated programs.
Trebek helped build the show’s “display of excellence with his own excellence,” said Deepak Sarma, a Case Western Reserve University professor and Netflix cultural consultant. “Anyone who is going to take his position will be judged in the end against this model of perfection.”
When Richards spoke to The Associated Press in May, he asked that viewers give the new host a fair shot.
“My hope is that whoever is chosen will be given a chance to prove why they were chosen, without too much static,” he said. “Ultimately, we are trying to put out the best product for our fans.”
In a statement Wednesday, Richards said he was honored to be chosen for the job and promised to adhere to Trebek’s belief that “the game itself and the contestants are the most important aspects of the show.”
Bialik, who played a scientist on “The Big Bang Theory” sitcom and is one in real life, was among the fan favorites to succeed Trebek.
“What started out with my 15-year-old repeating a rumor from Instagram that I should guest host the show has turned into one of the most exciting and surreal opportunities of my life!” she said in a statement.
She’ll be host of “Jeopardy! National College Championship,” which Sony announced Wednesday. The prime-time ABC show will feature 15 colleges from across the country competing over two weeks.
Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
This combination photo shows Mike Richards, left, and Mayim Bialik.
Alex Trebek is photographed in his home on Mullholland Dr. in Los Angeles on July 7, 1988. (AP Photo/Alan Greth)
Alex Trebek poses for a photo in 1988. (AP Photo)
Alex Trebek, the host of the television game show "Jeopardy," poses with his wife Jean Currivan, on the stern of the yacht "Jacana" on July 2, 1990 in New York. (AP Photo/Ed Bailey)
Game show creator Merv Griffin, left, shares a laugh with "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek, second from left, and "Wheel of Fortune" hosts Vanna White and Pat Sajak, right, during a news conference in Atlanta Thursday, March 28, 1996 to announce their Olympic marketing plans. The popular game shows are Olympic sponsors and begining in April will launch major Olympic promotions and offer Olympic-related merchandise to their viewers. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Alex Trebek, right, and the 38th Pillsbury Quick & Easy Bake-Off winner Ellie Mathews of Seattle, raise their hands in victory Tuesday, Feb. 24, 1998, in Orlando, Fla. Trebek hosted the live television show where Mathews was named the winner of the $1 million grand prize for the best recipe cooking competition. (AP Photo/Ed Bailey)
In this May 17, 1999 file photo, Emmy award-winning game show host Alex Trebek celebrates his newly-dedicated star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)
Jason Borschow of San Juan, P.R., left, reacts after missing a question during the 1999 National Geography Bee, Wednesday, May 26, 1999 at the National Geographic Society in Washington. Host Alex Trebek is at center and eventual winner David Beihl of Saluda, S.C. is at right. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
Quiz show host Alex Trebek, left, talks with boxing promoter Don King at the National Association of Television Program Executives convention in New Orleans, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2000. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni)
Actor Leslie Nielsen, right, chats with Alex Trebek, host of Jeopardy, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2003, at the Canadian consul general's residence in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) celebrated its 60th anniversary and presented its "Award of Excellence" to Nielsen at the Canadian residence. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)
Alex Trebek poses for photographers as he arrives for the 32nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in New York, Friday, May 20, 2005. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
From left: Alex Trebek, Vanna White, Merv Griffin, Pat Sajak and honorary Mayor of Hollywood Johnny Grant pose for a photo during a ceremony honoring White with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Thursday, April 20, 2006, in Los Angeles.(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
In this Friday, April 28, 2006, file photo, Alex Trebek holds the award for outstanding game show host, for his work on "Jeopardy!" backstage at the 33rd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Sony Television spokeswoman Paula Askanas said Sunday, June 24, 2012, that Trebek is in a Los Angeles hospital recovering from a mild heart attack. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
Show host Alex Trebek takes part in a taping of "Celebrity Jeopardy!" to celebrate the 5000th episode of "Jeopardy!" at Radio City Music Hall, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2006, in New York City. "Celebrity Jeopardy!" will showcase 30 stars competing for $1,000,000 dollars for charity. (AP Photo/Paul Hawthorne)
Pat Sajak, left, host of TV game show "Wheel of Fortune", and his wife Lesly Brown, talk with "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek during funeral services for Merv Griffin at Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, Calif., Friday, Aug. 17, 2007. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, Pool)
Game show host Alex Trebek and his wife Jean Trebek arrive at the 17th annual Broacasting and Cable Hall of Fame awards dinner at Cipriani's 42nd street, Monday, Oct. 22, 2007 in New York. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer)
Alex Trebek is seen on stage at the 37th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards on Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Eric Jamison)
Television personality Pat Sajak, left, and, television personality Alex Trebek pose together with their awards in the press room at the 38th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in Las Vegas on Sunday, June 19, 2011. Sajak and Trebek both received Lifetime Achievement Awards. (AP Photo/Dan Steinberg)
Honoree Alex Trebek attends the 71st Annual Peabody Awards in New York, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
Masters of ceremony Alex Trebek, left, and David Pogue host the 66th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy® Awards, held Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, at The Bellagio Las Vegas in Las Vegas. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Invision for the Television Academy/AP Images).
Alex Trebek attends the SNL 40th Anniversary Special at Rockefeller Plaza on Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
In this April 24, 2015 file photo, Alex Trebek, left, and Florence Henderson arrive at the 2015 Daytime Creative Arts Emmy Awards at The Universal Hilton in Universal City, Calif. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP, File)
In this April 30, 2017 file photo, Alex Trebek speaks at the 44th annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Pasadena Civic Center in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)
Alex Trebek inducted into the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame at the NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame Awards at the Encore Wynn Hotel on Monday, April 9, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Robb Cohen/Invision/AP)
Moderator Alex Trebek, center, speaks during a gubernatorial debate between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, right, and Republican Scott Wagner in Hershey, Pa., Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. The debate is hosted by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
In this Oct. 1, 2018, photo, "Jeopardy!" host and moderator Alex Trebek speaks during a gubernatorial debate between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and Republican Scott Wagner in Hershey, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Alex Trebek poses in the press room at the 46th annual Daytime Emmy Awards at the Pasadena Civic Center in Pasadena, Calif., on May 5, 2019. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)