After Mike Richards was named the new host of Jeopardy, a spokesperson for LeVar Burton released an unusual statement announcing that her 64-year-old client has not entered negotiations with Sony Pictures Entertainment for a production deal. It seems someone had begun spreading a rumor that Sony, the company that produces Jeopardy, was trying to figure out a new role for Burton after he was passed over for the hosting job.
“There is no truth to this at all,” the spokesperson said. “None whatsoever. Everyone has been misled, unfortunately. Perhaps some minion chatter.”
Carol Kaelson/Jeopardy Productions, Inc LeVar Burton on ‘Jeopardy’
Or perhaps it was wishful thinking that Sony realized the error of its ways? The fact that Richards got the hosting job came as a huge disappointment for fans, many of whom followed up last week’s announcement with calls to boycott Jeopardy or to find an even better gig for Burton. Among his biggest advocates was director Ava Duvernay who tweeted, “Me trying to create a show right in this moment for @levarburton to host and make an international hit.”
Sources confirm that Burton was definitely under consideration for the hosting gig, even though it now appears that it was always Richards’ job to lose. Richards is an executive producer on the syndicated game show and was initially tasked with finding a replacement for the late Alex Trebek – until he became a contender himself. It’s certainly a dream gig – the New York Times reports the host works two days a week, two weeks a month for a rich, seven-figure salary. Trebek’s salary was reportedly north of $16 million but Richards is apparently nowhere near that amount, the NYT added.
So why did Sony go with the unknown Richards and not a famous figure like Burton or even Mayim Bialik, who got the consolation prize of hosting primetime specials? Some suggest the host’s celebrity shouldn’t upstage the players and their race to win cash.
“The game is the star and the contestants are the stars,” John Podhoretz, a 1987 quarterfinalist in the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, told the NYT. “The host should be the secondary figure.”
But in the course of one week, Richards has already become famous – or infamous, rather. In 2012, Price Is Right model Brandi Cochran alleged the producers at FremantleMedia North America and The Price Is Right Productions discriminated against her for being pregnant. “Go figure, I fire five models,” Richards reportedly said at the time. What are the odds one of the ones that I keep gets pregnant?” Cochran won the discrimination lawsuit.
“I want to address the complicated employment issues raised in the press during my time at The Price Is Right 10 years ago,” Richards wrote in a memo sent to staff last week that was obtained by EW. “These were allegations made in employment disputes against the show. I want you all to know that the way in which my comments and actions have been characterized in these complaints does not reflect the reality of who I am or how we worked together on The Price Is Right. I know firsthand how special it is to be a parent. It is the most important thing in the world to me. I would not say anything to disrespect anyone’s pregnancy and have always supported my colleagues on their parenting journeys.”
He continued, “I am very proud of my time on The Price Is Right and Let’s Make a Deal. During my tenure, our female cast members welcomed seven beautiful children. We embraced and celebrated each pregnancy and birth both in front of and behind the camera. It was a joy to watch their families grow and highlight their happiness as part of the show.”
No matter what happens with Richards and the future of Jeopardy, Burton certainly stands to benefit from all the fan support. He said as much via Twitter after the news about Richards was announced.
“I have said many times over these past weeks that no matter the outcome, I’ve won,” the star of Roots, Reading Rainbow, and Star Trek tweeted. “The outpouring of love and support from family, friends, and fans alike has been incredible! If love is the ultimate blessing and I believe that it is, I am truly blessed beyond measure.”