Who is Mike Richards and Why Did Sony Pictures TV Oust Him So Fast?
8/20/21 – – Alex Trebek hosted the popular TV game show “Jeopardy!” for 37 years until his death late last year. Mike Richards, the program’s executive producer, held the role as Trebek’s permanent replacement for just nine days. Yesterday, Sony Pictures TV announced Richards’ quick ouster after past indiscretions came to light.
Richards’ short-lived career as a game show host illustrates the dangers of one of the nine most common sources of crises I discuss in Chapter 3 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient: PAST. In our digital world, where everything that has ever been online stays online, your past can come back to not only haunt but destroy you. When the Anti-Defamation League called for an investigation of what they considered anti-Semitic and sexist remarks by Richards on a comedy podcast eight years ago, his days in front of the camera – especially as a replacement for the revered Trebek – were numbered.
In a message to the “Jeopardy!” staff and crew, Richards explained: “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.” He will remain the program’s executive producer, but a statement issued by Sony Pictures TV made clear, “We have spoken with him about our concerns and our expectations moving forward.”
Is it fair to be judged by things you did or said many years ago?
Fair or not, that’s the way it is. You can’t change your past, but with honesty and transparency you can lessen the chances of it drawing you into a crisis. People and companies can control their own destinies as much as possible by encouraging an open examination of their histories, warts and all. Better you lead the discussion and provide context than allow others to dig up the dirt and define you.
Richards, in his capacity as executive producer, was leading the search for Trebek’s successor. (It’s never a great idea to select yourself for a position when you’re heading the search.) He had the responsibility of vetting all candidates, looking into their pasts to make sure the next host would project the right image. Web searches were certainly part of the process. (Unlike Richards, many celebrities who auditioned for the host role, including Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, Bill Whitaker, LeVar Burton and Aaron Rodgers, have had their pasts vetted over many years by the press and the public.)
According to Variety, “Sony was caught by surprise by the news of Richards’ past podcast work and the edgy comments that fueled more outrage against his selection as host.” Richards’ not disclosing his podcast remarks to his colleagues at Sony Pictures TV was a big mistake for Richards and for “Jeopardy!” Production schedules have been disrupted. The search for Trebek’s successor is back on.
As so often happens, since Richards’ podcast remarks were uncovered, additional past problems are popping up. Today, Variety reported: “In 2010 and 2011, multiple models working on “Price Is Right” accused Richards and others of discriminating against them for becoming pregnant while working on the show. He was accused of making disparaging remarks about some of the women and for taking steps to freeze them out of the series.”
Yes, the past can place individuals and companies in serious jeopardy. So, if you’re being considered for a new position or your company is approaching an important anniversary, don’t wait like Ebenezer Scrooge to be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. Embracing your history on your time frame, under your control, sure beats waiting passively for your past to come back to haunt you.
I’ll take “Short-Lived Careers” for $200.
UPDATE 8/31/21 – – Variety reported today that Sony had fired Mike Richards as executive producer of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”