I’m not a Jeopardy! fan, but I know so many people who are. I recently stayed at longtime friends’ gorgeous home on the Chesapeake Bay. They both worked on the Hill and in and around Washington, D.C., for years. Their TV stays on MSNBC from 6 a.m. with Morning Joe (they have Morning Joe coffee cups) through Andrea Mitchell Reports at noon and The Beat With Ari Melber at 6 p.m. Mostly it’s background noise, but it’s on.
Then each night at 7 p.m. there was a mad dash for the remote. It was time for Jeopardy! And the whole world stopped. They were fixated. It’s not like they sit around all day watching TV. They have a beautiful home, a boat, and over five acres on the water, but at 7 p.m. all that became the new background noise to Jeopardy!
In the taping of some of his last shows, Alex Trebek included openly bi and trans people as contestants. In a 2020 episode, transgender champ Kate Freeman and bi challenger Cody Lawrence wore pins on their clothing to make sure their sexual and gender identities were known. At this point with the show, it seems as if Jeopardy! needs to find a pin ASAP since it has disastrously lost its identity.
Since Trebek’s death, the show’s producers brought in a number of guest hosts in what appeared to be more like a public audition. Many had what were considered impressive runs — millions were pining for LeVar Burton — but in the end the show choose two hosts: actress, neuroscientist, and author Mayim Bialik (best known as the title character of the NBC comedy Blossom and for her later work on The Big Bang Theory) for tournaments and what some considered a “nepotistic” choice, executive producer Mike Richards, for regular shows.
The industry gossip was that Richards was foaming at the mouth to replace Trebek and would step all over his grandmother to get the job. And while he did briefly, Richards on Friday had to resign because of what came out of his mouth prior to joining Jeopardy! as a producer. The website The Ringer reported about multiple lawsuits against him for mistreatment of female employees while he worked at The Price Is Right and, just as shocking, unearthed comments he made when he hosted a podcast, The Randumb Show, in 2013-2014.
Richards made offensive and disparaging comments about women, Jews, Asians, and others. I’m not going to rehash them here, since the language and attempts at humor were painfully awful. However, all this made me wonder what cracks he might have made about LGBTQ+ people — if you’re going down all those rabbit holes, our community is always there. It sounds like Richards, who was professing to be funny, was nothing more than a xenophobe and misogynist. He tried to erase all the podcasts, but of course whatever you put out into the interwebs will always be there. Why anyone thinks erasing or deleting works must still be using tape recorders.
The question now is, how in God’s name did the executives of Sony, the studio behind the show, and the honchos there who chose Richard, not vet this guy better before they vaulted him into the vaunted position that is Jeopardy! host? Moreover, while he’s leaving Trebek’s old desk, he’s keeping his producer’s desk and will stay with the show. I cannot imagine anyone who is a woman, a Jew, or an Asian who works on that show — and there are undoubtedly many who do so — is not pissed off that he gets to stay. Is there something we don’t know?
People, including my friends who love Jeopardy!, were up in arms when Richards was announced as a host. “Who is this guy?” so many wondered. Social media was overrun with criticism of the choice — or choices. Most people just shrugged about Bialik, but were surprised to learn that Blossom was a scientist! Who knew? But it was the choice of Richards that had many Jeopardy! fans curious and suspect.
If die-hard Jeopardy! fans were vocal enough to wonder about who this guy was, didn’t someone at Sony think the same thing? This entire incident has put a blemish on the show and sent the show’s and Sony’s PR teams into crisis management hell. What are they going to do to save face and keep Jeopardy! from being in jeopardy?
But there is a solution, or solutions. First, Jeopardy! aficionados have been supplicating for Burton, so make them happy, and create some positive vibes and media coverage by naming him the host. He has the creds and stature to take Trebek’s seat. Plus he’s not a middle-aged white guy who has a bigoted big-mouthed past. We have so, so many of them, why fill the airwaves with another? If the show makes this move, they can remove the stain of Richards.
Finally, I did watch one show a few years ago. It was when the hilarious gay journalist Louis Virtel, a former Advocate intern (!), made a wildly demonstrative appearance. The guy made headlines for his snaps, slamming the buzzer, and overall vivacious performance and witticisms. He later said that his only regret was that he didn’t come right out and say he was gay.
But he didn’t have to for House Republicans to take the bait and go nasty. For those who forgot, the gang of middle-aged to older congressional Grand Old Party white men tried to make a mockery of him, and in turn created a total discomfiture for themselves.
“In a sad attempt to be cute and hip with the kids, the House Republicans just made an embarrassing misstep. In a blog post announcing their Snapchat-based coverage of Tuesday’s State of the Union address — called, cringe, #SnapOfTheUnion — the GOP included a gif of Louis Virtel, a gay writer for HitFix, snapping for the ages,” noted a January 2016 article in Slate.
It backfired big-time! And in the end, it rightly made Virtel a social media star. So, Jeopardy! producers, take heed. Sign Burton, and for his first show, bring back Virtel, with all his snaps. That combination will surely light up the socialsphere and make everyone forget about that other guy, whoever he is.
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.