As the saying goes, nothing unites people like a common enemy. In a nation riven by toxic discord on all fronts, Mike Richards briefly filled that necessary role.
Before August 4—the day he was revealed as frontrunner for replacing the late, adored Alex Trebek on Jeopardy!—Richards was relatively unknown. Regular viewers of the decades-running show saw his guest-hosting turn earlier this year, while die-hard game show addicts might have caught him hosting The Pyramid and Divided on GSN. Outside of the game show circuit, though, where Richards has also worked as an executive producer on shows like The Price Is Right for many years, he was far from a household name.
That all changed overnight with Richards’s emergence as top contender for Jeopardy!.
At first, people seemed upset simply because a random telegenic white guy was taking a job from ebullient aspiring Jeopardy! host and fan favorite LeVar Burton. However, just about every day since the initial notice about Richards, more reasons for further outrage have arrived.
First, there was the fact that, as executive producer, Richards was part of the task force selecting Trebek’s replacement. Even though he stepped aside once he “emerged as a candidate” himself, he still oversaw his competitors’ auditions.
As the New York Times reported: “[A]s executive producer, Mr. Richards retained a key role in selecting which appearances by each prospective host would be screened for focus groups, whose reactions weighed heavily in Sony’s decision-making, according to three people familiar with the show’s internal deliberations. The other supervising Jeopardy! producers were excluded from that process, the people said.”
Beyond having the opportunity to put his thumb on the scale, though, further details from Richards’s past soon came back to haunt him.
Back in 2010, during his tenure producing The Price Is Right, two of the show’s models filed pregnancy discrimination lawsuits. Richards responded to news of these lawsuits with a statement, claiming they “Do not reflect who I am.” In an effort to blunt mounting criticism about Richards’s attitudes toward women, when Jeopardy! officially announced him as host on August 12, the show also touted Mayim Bialik as a secondary host. What did it matter if Bialik was merely presiding over the occasional primetime special, while Richards stepped in to fill Trebek’s daily shoes? A woman would be hosting in some capacity! Feminism!
The announcement was not received warmly, to say the least. No matter what sort of political bubble one has fortified themselves within, anti-Richards sentiment likely permeated it. He seemed to have very few prominent defenders online, with people like Ken Jennings only conceding that it’s preferable to have a host nobody “knows anything about.”
The ill will toward Richards peaked on Wednesday, August 18, when reporting by The Ringer surfaced several inappropriate comments he’d made on a podcast several years ago—a podcast someone deleted entirely during the course of The Ringer’s reporting. These comments ranged from casually anti-Semitic to casually misogynist, among other forms of casual offense that together suggest The Price Is Right lawsuit does accurately reflect who Richards is.
From the moment The Ringer published its report, the new host’s fate seemed all but sealed. When Richards announced he was stepping down on Friday, August 20, it felt like a mere formality.
That’s not all that it felt like, however. For many people, Richards came to represent something more than just an unpopular host on a beloved TV program; he briefly became the white-hot apotheosis of everything unfair in this world. Another victory for men. Another victory for white men. Another victory for insider elites. Take your pick. The distaste for Richards was intersectional.
Perhaps what made rooting against him feel personal and important, though—even for people like myself who haven’t watched Jeopardy! in 20 years—is that unlike the actual complicated catastrophes plaguing our world right now, this battle seemed eminently winnable. Each new awkward fact revealed about Richards inched us one step closer to the “grand opening, grand closing” scenario many on the internet actively clamored for.
It is impossible to convince staunch nativists that Afghan refugees should be welcomed in America. It is impossible to convince legions of avowed anti-vaxxers to collectively change their minds. But if enough people were Mad Online about Mike Richards at once, perhaps America could get the Jeopardy! host it preferred—or at least not get the one it didn’t.
The announcement of Richards’s receiving the same not-so-fast that the delta variant put on most people’s fall plans landed like a glitter bomb of infectious joy. It offered the kind of schadenfreude catharsis that the phenomenon of anti-vaxxers dying from COVID-19 is far too sad to provide. LeVar Burton’s shady commentary on the news was just the cherry on top. Here, at last, was a tiny victory people of all stripes could share together, as satisfying as it is ultimately empty and fleeting.