The announcement today that Mike Richards, who just nine days ago was named the new host of ‘Jeopardy!’, is stepping down, has created another crisis situation for the popular game show. The news was so sudden that, when this story was posted, the homepage of Jeopardy!’s website still showed Richards as being the next host.
“I was deeply honored to be asked to host the syndicated show and was thrilled by the opportunity to expand my role. However, over the last several days it has become clear that moving forward as host would be too much of a distraction for our fans and not the right move for the show,” Richards said in a statement.
“As such, I will be stepping down as host effective immediately. As a result, we will be canceling production today,” he added.
This is the third crisis to hit the show in the past 10 months.
The death last November of longtime host Alex Trebek created the first crisis situation for the iconic show. In March, I wrote that then-interim host Dr. Mehmet Oz created a crisis for the show because of controversial comments he made about pseudoscience and bogus health claims. In his role as a host for two weeks, Oz attracted a substantial amount of criticism on social media, an online petition that he be dropped from the show, and opposition from former Jeopardy! players. Some fans were even calling for a boycott of the show.
Jeopardy!’s Latest Crisis
NBC News reported today that, “Richards, who filled in as guest host from late February to early March…. has faced intense scrutiny in recent weeks over alleged past behavior, riling up longtime fans who believe producers are derailing a venerable game show that has been a mainstay of American syndicated television since 1984. Richards’ detractors have resurfaced two discrimination lawsuits in which he was involved. He has denied wrongdoing.”
Earlier today USA Today said, “A report from The Ringer published Wednesday included several quotes from a since-deleted episode of Richards’ podcast, “The Randumb Show,” which he hosted in 2013 and 2014 as a way to promote a behind-the-scenes look at CBS game show “The Price is Right,” for which he was a co-executive producer.
“Richards, 46, repeatedly used offensive language to describe and denigrate women’s bodies and he also made an offensive comment about Jewish people, according to The Ringer’s review of the 41 episodes available online until Tuesday. Richards confirmed in a statement that he has since taken the episodes down. “
‘Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire’
Media and communications consultant Andrea B. Clement noted that, “No one is perfect in every way all the time, but ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire,’ as the saying goes, and Richards seems to have had multiple background issues over the years —multiple lawsuits surrounding him, and multiple instances of inappropriate/potentially discriminatory comments etc.”
Clement said, “many loyal Jeopardy fans were loudly voicing their support for other candidates (and even started a petition!) and these opinions seemed to be largely ignored in the decision-making process when selecting the new host.
A Wrong Move
“Although the show had been successful with Richards as executive producer, taking someone from behind the scenes and then putting them in a very public-facing leadership role (and essentially making him the face of the company, as in this case) – is not always ideal for branding and continued success of the individual and the company. As the show’s executive producer, Richards was likely a key decision-maker in the selection of the new host, so the decision was likely not handled objectively,” she observed.
Advice For Business Leaders
Clement recommended the following:
Vet All Candidates. Then Vet Them Again.T
Thorough background checks are paramount for all leaders, and especially those for a public-facing role.
Read The Room.
Conduct market research and/or observe trends /reviews / social media comments etc. among your client base and audience.
The Face Of Your Company Matters.
Just because someone is doing a good job in one role, doesn’t mean they’re going to succeed in another role. The background of anyone publicly representing your company is even more important than for other team members, so extra attention should be given to public sentiment, internal/company perception and sentiment of a person in a highly public role especially.
Don’t Put The Fox In Charge Of The Hen House.
To ensure that mission-critical decisions are handled objectively with the company’s best interests in mind, someone with a major stake in a decision should not be significantly involved in the decision, especially not as a key decision-maker.
Do Your Homework
Todd Templin is the co-chair of BoardroomPR’s crisis communication division. He said, “… the greatest lesson from this crisis is that, if a company plans on promoting or doing business with a person who is high profile or will have a high profile position, they must do the homework to make sure there are no skeletons in their closest that can create a PR crisis.
“You need to put in the time and resources to do the same type of work a reporter might easily do to determine if there is anything in the person’s background that is a red flag, especially in today’s cancel culture. All of the information regarding Richards was in the public domain and easily discoverable,” he noted.
‘Consider The Potential PR Fallout’
“Once armed with that knowledge, you can then make a better decision on how to proceed. Bottom line: it is important to consider the potential PR fallout when making a decision on something or someone high profile to protect the company’s good name and avoid public embarrassment. I think some companies don’t consider that fact and it can come back to haunt them,” Templin said.