All Jeopardy had to do was hire LeVar Burton.
But now, news has come out that the supposed frontrunner to take over hosting the long-running show, Mike Richards, has a serious allegation in his past.
According to Variety and The Daily Beast, Richards, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune executive producer, is among the defendants named in “multiple discrimination lawsuits filed during his 10-year run as executive producer of The Price is Right.“
Brandi Cochran, who used to work as a model for The Price is Right in 2010, accused Richards of firing her because she became pregnant and experienced medical difficulties during delivery, including losing one of her twins to do a heart defect and having the other one born three months premature, according to The Daily Beast. She claimed that Richards was “callous” about her pregnancy, including appearing to be upset that she was expecting twins. She also alleges that because she was on maternity leave since January 2009, the series producers decided to let her go. Richards was reported as saying, according to court documents, that Cochran was not hired again because of changes in the lineup of models who directly interacted with Price is Right host Drew Carey. He claimed that while Cochran was good at her job, she “would not take us to great.” But according to the appellate decision in 2014, Richards said at a 2008 holiday party, “Go figure, I fire five models, what are the odds one of the ones that I keep gets pregnant.” Cochran also alleged that she had tried to delay getting pregnant because she saw producers harassing other models who had become pregnant, and fired another because of her pregnancy, according to The Daily Beast.
The Daily Beast also reports that Cochran alleged that Richards wanted models to wear skimpier clothing, including shorter skirts and more bikinis. According to the suit, he wanted the models “to look as if they were going out on a date.” Cochran alleged that once she told people she was pregnant, she started receiving less work. Richards also allegedly implied to Cochran that if the series knew about her pregnancy, she would have been terminated from the show. She also alleged that others made jokes about her eating habits and weight gain.
Lanisha Cole, another former model for the series and one of the series’ few Black models, filed a suit against Richards and producer Adam Sandler (coincidentally sharing the same name as the comedian) in 2011 for wrongful termination and harassment. According to The Daily Beast, Cole became a model in 2003, but problems didn’t start occurring until 2009, when Richards started refusing to talk to her about work or other matters, only choosing to communicate through her fellow colleagues. She eventually learned that Richards allegedly had developed a “close, personal and intimate” relationship with one of the models.
Cole also had to deal with a verbal attack from Sandler, who allegedly “burst into her dressing room despite a sign calling for guests to knock” and verbally assaulted her while she was only wearing a sheer thong bikini bottom in front of her colleagues for not wearing a microphone. She also claimed that months after the incident and her initial complaint, she was told she couldn’t work for a week simply because a family commitment meant she had to miss one day of work. After having the series’ producers refuse to fully investigate her harassment claims, she quit The Price is Right.
While Cole’s suit was settled out of court in 2013 after Richards was dismissed as a plaintiff, Cochran’s case went to trial and was awarded $8.5 million in damages by a jury. However, the verdict was appealed in 2014 and a settlement was reached.
Cole and Cochran aren’t the only models who have taken Richards to court, according to The Daily Beast. Also in 2010, Shane Stirling also sued CBS and Fremantle Media North America, the producer of The Price is Right, for discrimination, alleging she was also let go in 2018 because of her pregnancy. Unfortunately, unlike her other fellow models, she was unable to provide sufficient evidence for a successful suit. Richards gave the same reasoning for firing Stirling as he did for Cochran–according to him, the show was restructuring which models would interact with Carey on-screen.
While Richards’ suits didn’t make the news, it’s also worth noting that Fremantle’s other thorny situations have made it to social media and major news outlets. In 2020, Gabrielle Union filed a discrimination complaint against Fremantle, NBCUniversal, Simon Cowell and Syco Entertainment after experiencing racial and gender-based mistreatment during her time as a judge on America’s Got Talent. A probe by NBC dismissed Union’s claims. The year prior, Orlando Jones alleged he was fired from American Gods after being underpaid for his writing work on the second season. He was specifically tasked to write all of the dialogue for the characters of color including his own after learning the writers’ room had nothing for his character, as he said to Variety in 2019. He also said he was led to believe he would have a bigger salary due to his producing and writing work in the third season, but at the last minute, he was cut from the series. The lack of prior knowledge about being let go led him to miss out on possible jobs on other shows.
As someone already familiar with the behind-the-scenes producing team of Jeopardy!, Richard’s ascent to the top appears to be in line with an old business tactic of appearing to welcome diversity by announcing a job opening for all candidates, despite having an inside “company man” already promised the job. LeVar Burton might be gracious about not getting the job as Jeopardy! host; as he wrote on Twitter, “[N]o matter the outcome, I’ve won. 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.” But regardless, Jeopardy!‘s current decision to go with someone who is unconnected to fans and has a past not in keeping with the series’ reputation for honesty and trustworthiness is one that has the potential to tarnish the series to its fanbase.