Former “Jeopardy” producer Mike Richards speaks out about being fired as host after 1 day: 'There was a rush to judgment'

The exec was initially tapped to replace Alex Trebek, alongside Mayim Bialik, in 2021.

Two years after being ousted from his role, former Jeopardy producer Mike Richards is ready to talk about his brief stint as the host of the show.

Richards was initially announced, alongside Mayim Bialik, as the full-time replacement for the late Alex Trebek in 2021, but spent only a day at the podium before stepping down from the position amid controversy. Now, the former exec is opening up about the circumstances that led to his hiring and abrupt firing.

"We never discussed how to replace Alex once we knew he was sick," Richards told PEOPLE in a new interview. "A conversation like that would have been so disrespectful. We had talked about people coming in and guest hosting if Alex got too sick, but we always knew Alex come back until the day he decided he couldn't."

<p>Carol Kaelson/Jeopardy Productions</p> Mike Richards on 'Jeopardy'

Carol Kaelson/Jeopardy Productions

Mike Richards on 'Jeopardy'

When Trebek did retire from the show — and later died of pancreatic cancer in November 2020 — Richards explains that executives decided to try out guest hosts in order to determine who their audience would positively respond to. The list included Katie Couric, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Buck, Robin Roberts, and more. A specialized focus group was brought in to help make the decision and during this process, due to his on-air experience with Beauty & the Geek, New Year's Rocking Eve in 2005 and Million Dollar Pyramid, Richards was thrown into the mix and eventually, offered the job.

"No one was more surprised than me," he admitted. "They told me, 'We'd like you to be the host of the syndicated version of Jeopardy!' I paused, and said, 'Oh wow. Thank you. What's the media plan?' Because I was very concerned that this was going to be scrutinized as closely as a presidential election. There was widespread belief that whoever got the job first wouldn't make it."

The decision certainly wasn’t uncontroversial. Richards, who also served as a producer of Wheel of Fortune at the time, added, "Everyone was so angry because it looked like I had gone into a room and picked myself. And that's not what happens in television, but I understood that that's what the outward appearances were."

Carol Kaelson/Jeopardy Productions Mike Richards
Carol Kaelson/Jeopardy Productions Mike Richards

When news broke that he was the frontrunner to replace Trebek, details of Richards' alleged treatment of a Price Is Right model from a past discrimination lawsuit immediately resurfaced online. From there, the scrutiny escalated.

"I hosted one day," he said. "And then the anti-defamation league was called in to do an investigation on me."

The investigation came after The Ringer published an exposé detailing Richards’ problematic past behavior, including offensive remarks referring to women, Jewish people, and people with mental disabilities, that he made on a podcast he hosted in 2013.

"I told them, I'll answer anything. I'm an open book, proud of what I've done. I'm proud of my track record as a boss," Richards said, adding that much of what was written about him was taken out of context. "But by then everyone was like, 'Oh he's just a horrible person.’ It was the price you pay for getting thrust into the zeitgeist in a very inopportune moment."

<p>Christopher Willard/ABC/Getty</p> Ken Jennings on 'Jeopardy'

Christopher Willard/ABC/Getty

Ken Jennings on 'Jeopardy'

As for why he’s finally opening up about the incident two years later, Richards said, “I feel like I can be a force for good as far as having open, honest conversations. We can all disagree about a lot of things. We can disagree about politics, we can disagree about who hosts Jeopardy. We can disagree about liking a final Jeopardy clue. And we should. But I felt like there was a— this rush to judgment, and a lot of people got joy in saying, 'I got you.'"

Since the firing, Richards is still pitching game show concepts, with no plans to step behind the podium himself.

"If I pitched a show and someone asked, 'Would you be you hosting it?' I say, ‘Only if you think I'm the right man for the job. I don't care if you have someone else in mind,’" he said.

Richards also said he has no regrets about the Jeopardy gig eventually going to Jennings: "I always thought Ken was the guy."

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