Alex Trebek once stated that “My life has been a quest for knowledge and understanding, and I am nowhere near having achieved that. And it doesn’t bother me in the least. I will die without having come up with the answers to many things in life.” Many American households have a weeknight tradition of watching Jeopardy!. So many parts of the show such as the answer and question format and the theme music are iconic touchstones in American culture and beyond. None more so than host Alex Trebek. Trebek simply was the heart of Jeopardy. Fans across the world mourned his passing from pancreatic cancer in 2020. Jeopardy producers and creators were wise to not replace this exemplary man right away. Instead a series of guest hosts were used including former contestant Ken Jennings and co-anchor of NBC TODAY Savannah Guthrie. Each guest host got to pick a charity to donate to. The amount of the donation was equal to the cumulative winnings of the contestants that compete during the weeks they serve as guest host. It was recently announced that Jeopardy! producer Mike Richards is currently in advanced negotiations with Sony Pictures Television to become the permanent host. While the deal is not one hundred percent closed, he is the likely front runner. Let’s take a look back on Jeopardy! history to figure out who is this man and how will he fill Trebek’s large void.
A Brief History of Jeopardy
Jeopardy! was created by Merv Griffin and premiered on March 20, 1964 in the 11:30 a.m. time slot with host Art Fleming. Jeopardy! would have to work hard to gain the audience’s trust after previous gameshows like The $64,000 Question fed answers to the contestants. There was even a new federal law prohibiting this practice. It was because of this scandal that Griffin came up with the idea to write the clues in answer form and have the contestant answer in the form of a question. Although Jeopardy! had solid ratings, it was canceled in 1975 because of a move at the network to appeal more to women. It was reinstated in 1978 but lasted less than six months because of the popularity of soap operas. Griffin persisted and approached King World Productions about doing a syndicated version of Jeopardy! in 1983. Host Art Fleming was replaced with Alex Trebek. The show found its sweet spot in the 7 p.m. time slot before Wheel of Fortune. Just five years later Jeopardy! had 15 million people watching each episode. It was on its way to becoming the cultural icon it now is.
A Brief Bio of Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek was born in Sudbury, Canada on July 22, 1940. His mother was French-Canadian with some First Nations ancestry. His father was a Ukrainian immigrant who worked as a chef at a local hotel. He left Sudbury at 12 to attend boarding school. He would go on to attend the University of Ottawa studying philosophy. After college he pursued journalism, getting his first job as a newscaster with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He switched gears and got a job hosting the Canadian quiz show Reach for the Top. This show had high school students compete academically against each other. His next gig was a step up hosting the nationally televised Canadian game show Jackpot. In 1973, Trebek would move to Los Angeles. He would go on to host a number of game shows before landing the Jeopardy hosting gig in 1984. Trebek announced in 2019 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away on November 8, 2020. He left behind wife Jean Currivan and two children, Emily and Matthew. He hosted Jeopardy! for 37 years, won eight Outstanding Game Show Host Emmy Awards, and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards. His legacy is tremendous.
Who is Mike Richards?
Mike Richards was born in Burbank, California on July 5, 1975. He attended Pepperdine University. In college, He wrote, produced and hosted a weekly late-night comedy talk show called The Randumb Show. He started by having campus students and personalities on but also eventually got celebs like Kim Fields from Facts of Life. Right out of college he was hired as an intern for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and would work his way up to become a production assistant. He would go on to host several shows such as WB’s High School Reunion and CW’s Beauty and the Geek. Richards would shift to producer roles. Richards was executive producer of The Price Is Right, Let’s Make a Deal, and the revival of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He joined Jeopardy! in 2020. He is married to Stephanie Richards and has two sons. He was also one of the guest hosts filling in when people were nervous to film during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic in Los Angeles. He was well received.
When news broke about Richards being the front runner to replace Trebek, a previous lawsuit from his time working on The Price is Right was brought up. The lawsuit accused Richards of pregnancy discrimination to two former models on the show. Richards is accused of making questionable remarks and actions towards models who became pregnant. Drew Carrey, the show’s host, and a former model have spoken out in support of Richards. Richards also sent a memo out to Sony Executives to get out in front of this matter. In it he states: “These were allegations made in employment disputes against the show. I want you all to know that the way in which my comments and actions have been characterized in these complaints does not reflect the reality of who I am or how we worked together on ‘The Price Is Right.’ I know firsthand how special it is to be a parent. It is the most important thing in the world to me. I would not say anything to disrespect anyone’s pregnancy and have always supported my colleagues on their parenting journeys.”
The Bottom Line . . .
Anyone who tries to step into Trebek’s shoes will definitely be facing a tough but not impossible challenge. Mike Richards certainly has the resume but time will tell if he scores the coveted Jeopardy! host gig.