Mike Richards has been confirmed as the permanent host of “Jeopardy!,” taking the reins after producer Sony Pictures Television held a months-long process of on-air auditions to replace the legendary Alex Trebek.
A game show veteran, Richards has also served as executive producer of “Jeopardy!” since last year. Sony’s decision to tap him as the permanent host has generated some clucking in the industry about whether there was a true competition among the more than 15 personalities who have served as guest hosts over the past eight months. Richards will continue in his role as executive producer of “Jeopardy!” and its companion “Wheel of Fortune” in addition to stepping in front of the camera.
Mayim Bialik, former star of “The Big Bang Theory,” has also been tapped to host a series of ABC primetime specials and a potential spinoff series for the syndicated quiz show. Bialik was among the standouts of the hosts who took on stints as guest host since January after the final Trebek-hosted shows aired. Bialik’s first project will be to host the “Jeopardy! National College Championship” tournament as primetime specials for ABC next year.
Trebek died in November at the age of 80. He hosted the syndicated edition of “Jeopardy!” for nearly 37 years. The venerable quiz show is produced by Sony Pictures TV and distributed in first-run syndication by CBS Television Distribution.
Richards has also faced criticism for his involvement in past employment discrimination lawsuits involving women who worked for “The Price Is Right” during his tenure as executive producer. Details of the decade-old litigation surfaced last week after Variety reported that Richards was in advanced negotiations to become host.
But in the end, Richards impressed Sony brass with his skill at juggling the demands of hosting, coordinating clues, calling on contestants — the multitasking that Trebek made look so easy for all those years. Richards’ guest host slot came Feb. 22-March 5.
“We are thrilled to begin the next chapter of America’s favorite quiz show with Mike hosting our daily show and Mayim hosting new versions of ‘Jeopardy!,’ ” said Ravi Ahuja, chairman of global television studios and corporate development for Sony Pictures. “We took this decision incredibly seriously. A tremendous amount of work and deliberation has gone into it, perhaps more than has ever gone into the selection of hosts for a show – deservedly so because it’s ‘Jeopardy!’ and we are following the incomparable Alex Trebek. A senior group of Sony Pictures Television executives pored over footage from every episode, reviewed research from multiple panels and focus groups, and got valuable input from our key partners and ‘Jeopardy!’ viewers.”
Ahuja said Richards and Bialik emerged as “natural choices” after the long run of guest hosts. Ken Jennings, the “Jeopardy!” champion who was once seen as the successor to Trebek, will return to the show as a consulting producer. Jennings was the first guest host to follow the final Trebek episodes in mid-January.
Richards takes ahold of the “Jeopardy!” podium after making a career out of producing and hosting game shows. He produced and hosted the WB Network dating series “Beauty and the Geek” and reality show “High School Reunion” as well as game shows for Sony’s GSN cabler.
“Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined being chosen to step into a role of this magnitude,” Richards said. “I am incredibly humbled to step behind the lectern and will work tirelessly to make sure our brilliant contestants shine in each and every episode. Alex believed the game itself and the contestants are the most important aspects of the show. I was fortunate to witness his professionalism, intensity and kindness up close and that will serve as the ultimate blueprint as we continue to produce the show we love. I am thrilled that Mayim is joining the Jeopardy! team. Her academic track record and enthusiasm for the game made her a terrific guest host. It will be a privilege to produce the primetime series with her as host.”
Bialik at present stars in the Fox sitcom “Call Me Kat.” The actor who got her star as a child on the NBC comedy “Blossom” is a good fit with “Jeopardy!” demo given her history of taking a 12-year break from acting to go all the way to earning a Ph.D in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007. She earned strong reviews during her guest host stint from May 31-June 11.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled to join the Jeopardy! family,” Bialik said. “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! I’m so grateful and excited to continue to work with Mike Richards, and I’m just over the moon to join forces with him and Sony. After all the conversations we’ve had about this partnership, I am just so ready to get started!”
(Pictured: Mike Richards, Mayim Bialik)