And so it is written. The Mike Richards era of both hosting and stewardship of Jeopardy, as well as the EP role of Wheel of Fortune, didn’t even make it to September 2021.
Sony executives, rapidly approaching the level of transparency and clarity of the Cuomo administration, gave in to the inevitable and announced that Richards, already having “stepped aside” from his hosting duties, will also no longer produce either show, and will leave the company. Michael Davies, the one-time ABC executive who arguably reignited the entire game show industry with his ordering of the original WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE in summer 1999, will once again be called upon to be savior to an industry by serving as “interim producer” for both shows.
A lot to digest, and honestly didn’t think this was worthy of yet another entry. But the implications of these chains of events, and our connections both emotional and professional to all of them, dictate otherwise. In no particular order:
— Sony executives were initially adamant that the value proposition of Richards as both host and executive was, pardon the pun, paramount in this process. They completely underestimated both the degree of and the emotional urgency of how critical these decisions were; as we’ve previously noted far more significant than the potential cost savings against declining ratings.
— Having Davies as an internal resource, with his Embassy Row company embedded within Sony since its acquisiiton in 2018, proved to be especially fortituous. For as much as Richards was arguably the most qualified candidate in the industry to replace Harry Friedman, having supervised two daily series simutaneously, Davies’ experience as a network and production company leader overseeing multiple shows gives him a track record that is much in the same vein. And, frankly, his track record on Millionaire alone is compelling and far more impactful than Richards’. He is auspiced, respected and highly competent. And, also already embedded within Sony, his overall cost is less than it would have been to bring in another executive, particualrly on short notice.
— The revelations about more details about Richards’ days at Fremantle cemented his fate. There are legions of legacy Price is Right fans who lament anything that has happened with the show since Bob Barker’s retirement. That list of impacted talent, now more than a decade in festering, was exceptionally happy to have been given a public pulpit to share with the world how Richards dismantled the status quo. What he may or may not have done to models, particularly pregnant ones, is serious and if true unfortunate. But please–do spare us the handwringing about how folks used to working 30 weeks a year for 52 weeks pay and getting fancy parties with top named talent, as Lesley Goldberg reported in The Hollywood Reporter, was somehow equivalently egregious. Incidentally, defending Frank Sinatra, Jr. as top -tiered talent may have been the most disturbing relevation of that hit piece.
–I have met Roger Dobkowitz many times and personally like and respect him. For Roger, whose own celebrity grew when he publicly groused about the decision to cast Drew Carey as host that led to his own dismissal, to weigh in on Richards was little more than another desperate grab to remind the world that only under his watch was TPIR pristine, classy and successful. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Whatever one thinks of Richards as a person can’t be undermined by the show’s continuing success under his watch, not to mention his successful resurrection of Let’s Make A Deal, itself now entering its 13th season on CBS and now succeeding its original incarnation as the longest-running version of that series. No one person is more valuable than any institution. For Roger to continue to grasp at this straw when given the chance to suck is, bluntly, sad.
–Finally, a lesson that Leblanguage can have repercussions. Richards’ jokes on a podcast that virtually no one heard when they were originally dropped played a critical role in his career unraveling. In today’s era the truth will ultimately come back to bite you particuarly if you attempt to run from it. So as someone who has made his own share of things said and posted that in hindsight we regret let me unilaterally say: I’m sorry to anyone I may have offended or might yet offend. I’m human. It’s a teachable moment. I vow to do better. And, to his credit, Richards said exactly that–but only after someone dredged it up. Someone else with an axe to grind may very well do that to me at some point. So when they do let’s let this timestamped musing serve as our attempt to get out ahead of it.
I wish both Mikes well. I wish Suzanne Prete, my one-time office neighbor who has now found herself thrust into the national limelight, a lot of luck and success as she tries to bring the financial and structural carnage of the past month under control. I hope she finds the right permanent showrunner and asks the right questions in the right way, both now and when she eventually will have to deal with Wheel. She probably won’t take me up on it, but I’m here to help whenever asked. If we’ve all learned anything from the past few weeks is that instuitions are bedrocks, not the people entrusted with them. You’ve got two such bedrocks under your purview now, Suzanne. Treat them well.
Until next time….