In Jeopardy

Mike Richards, selected to succeed Alex Trebek as the host of Jeopardy, has stepped down after revelations of past conduct and statements. He will remain executive producer of Jeopardy and its sister show, Wheel of Fortune, a position he’s held since 2020.

Richards’ selection came after the show featured a series of guest hosts including NFL legend Aaron Rodgers, Star Trek alum/Roots star/Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton, and Jeopardy G.O.A.T. Ken Jennings. Speculation over which guest host would take the reins garnered extensive media coverage. So has the Mike Richards debacle.

Critics wondered if he had rigged the results, allowing him to beat out popular stars. The negative reaction became a firestorm when an article revealed lawsuits for sexual discrimination during his stint as executive producer of The Price is Right and offensive comments he made on a podcast series.

The Jeopardy crisis has been routinely called a PR failure. Joann Killeen, past president of the Public Relations Society of America and known as the “Purple Pen Professor,” dislikes this term. Per her reasoning, it invokes a shortfall of public relations performance when in reality PR counsel may have been excluded or ignored as disastrous decisions were made.

Mike Richards should not have been considered, let alone hired, as permanent host. His lack of name recognition (to be fair, he has experience as a standup comedian and game show host) and insider status destroy his credibility. His selection also destroys the credibility of the guest host process. Anyone who has interviewed for a job only to learn an internal candidate got the position understands the feeling of being put through the motions simply to legitimize a forgone conclusion.

A competent public relations professional would have recognized the problem with making Richards the host. It is the job of PR pros to anticipate consequences, to ask “What if?” Nobody in a position of power appears to have asked “What if?” or listened to anyone who did. Nobody in a position of power appears to have vetted Richards for his sexist, racist, boorish behavior.

I have a deep personal connection to Jeopardy. In 2000, I was a four-time champ on the show. The experience inspired me to return to college at age 38, which is how I met my wife, Anni, who introduced me to Jesus Christ. During my time on the show, I saw only the highest ethical standards. As a contestant, I had to follow strict rules of conduct in the studio to prevent cheating, which had been the basis of the quiz show scandals of the 1950s before Jeopardy was first on the air. Jeopardy was a institution to be preserved, a brand to be protected.

Mike Richards and his enablers at Sony Pictures Television did not protect the brand. At the time of posting, Richards will remain executive producer. The damage continues.

Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

1 Corinthians 4:2 (ESV)

How can public relations counsel guide leaders in their actions? How can Christians incorporate biblical standards in PR practice?

How does public relations bridge an organization and its stakeholders? How does this resemble Jesus’ role as intercessor?

What PR counsel would you have given when Mike Richards was being considered as host? What would you have done if your counsel was resisted or ignored? How would such an outcome relate to the lessons of Matthew 7:13-14?

POSTSCRIPT: Days after stepping down as host, Mike Richards lost his position as executive producer of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

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