Mike Richards, the executive producer of “Jeopardy!” who was tapped to succeed Alex Trebek as host of the venerable game show franchise, announced Friday he is stepping aside amid recent scrutiny over past comments about women, Jews and poor people.
“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.
Richards was one of several guest hosts who helmed the show after Trebek died in November. Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, will now “resume the search for a permanent syndicated host,” he said. In the meantime, the show will continue to feature guest hosts.
“I want to apologize to each of you for the unwanted negative attention that has come to ‘Jeopardy!’ over the last few weeks and for the confusion and delays this is now causing. I know I have a lot of work to do to regain your trust and confidence,” Richards said.
In a statement, Sony said it supported Richards’ decision to step down.
“We have spoken with him about our concerns and our expectations moving forward,” the company said in part. “Mike has been with us for the last two years and has led the ‘Jeopardy!’ team through the most challenging time the show has ever experienced. It is our hope that as EP he will continue to do so with professionalism and respect.”
Richards will continue to serve as the show’s executive producer, a spokesperson for Sony confirmed to NBC News.
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 game show that has been a mainstay of American syndicated television since 1984.
Twitter lit up with fury that the show did not select a more diverse candidate for the job, such as the actor and former “Reading Rainbow” host LeVar Burton, who is beloved among millennial audiences and even inspired a petition calling on “Jeopardy!” to make him the permanent host.
Richards’ detractors have resurfaced two discrimination lawsuits in which he was involved. He has denied wrongdoing.
The first was filed by Brandi Cochran, a former model for “The Price Is Right,” who said she was fired after she became pregnant. Richards, who was not listed as a defendant, was accused in the suit of treating Cochran differently after she announced she was pregnant in 2008. The case went to trial and a jury awarded Cochran more than $8 million.
The award was later overturned by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge; Cochrain and the defendants settled out of court, documents show.