Friday, August 20, 2021

Why I Care About the Jeopardy! Hosting Decision

The fact that the blow-up over the Jeopardy! hosting decision seems at all important is weird to me, and I'm one of the people giving it some of my attention.

It gets my attention partly because I've watched the show since I was a child and am a long-time trivia buff (I have a secret life on that front, which is never discussed on this blog) and partly because it does have some cultural significance in this country.

Who's chosen to host the show, when that person changes only once every few decades, is a meaningful cultural signifier. In this case, the show's creators went out of their way to set up something that seemed like a fair process for selection. Yet it turned out it was rigged for an insider (the one running the process!), and a cardboard white guy named Mike Richards was chosen — so that was bad.

But then it got worse. First there was news of law suits over sex discrimination while Richards was producing The Price Is Right. And then The Ringer story came out with details on his 2013–14 podcasts.

You really have to read that story to understand how bad his attitudes were (or probably are, in my opinion). Racist, antisemitic, fat-phobic, ableist... this guy said it all. And he made it clear repeatedly that he's a self-pitying white guy who thinks BIPOC and white women get all the gigs while guys like him are shafted unfairly.

When the Ringer story appeared, he had the podcasts deleted and issued an apology. His statement made it sound like he had removed the podcasts a while ago, but it was only after they were exposed.

He said hearing what he said in the past was "humbling... embarrassing..." and that his words on the podcasts were "nearly a decade ago..." As if he was a mere child or something at the time. Give us a break. You were almost 40 years old when you said these things!

Historian David Perry (who I often cite in my Twitter round-ups as @lollardfish) wrote an op-ed for CNN today, that I just have to quote:

If [Alex] Trebek was the convener of community of us weird nerds, and a man who you believed might have known the answers, Richards is just a typical media bro who told mean jokes and can read cue cards. He represents the worst kind of toxic masculinity that so dominates media, eager to elevate himself at the expense of others. There's no place for that in my media consumption...

Today, Jeopardy!'s creators announced that they've reversed the decision: Richards will not be the new host. No one quite knows what that means for the future, but I guess they will continue the host-a-rama testing as a new season of episode taping starts next week. David Perry is still a bit worried:

Richards is remaining as executive producer, which doesn't exactly inspire confidence in what comes next. For me, the kinds of remarks he repeatedly made only a few years ago on his podcast suggest a person ill-suited to run this show or pick its public face. I hope he, his colleagues and Sony Pictures take some time to consider what exactly made Trebek so special as a host.

This is not a place for a bland game show host in a nice suit, but a real person with whom viewers can connect. It's an opportunity to entertain, but also project the value of learning.

It seems clear to me that Richards doesn't make much more sense as producer of the show than he did as host. He wanted the models on The Price Is Right to wear bikinis, and he's been messing with the clothes of the Jeopardy! contestants as well, it sounds like. (Not bikinis... yet!) Is there not a person in TV-land better suited to this cultural enterprise, the one that Perry describes?

I don't care so much about honoring Alex Trebek, personally. Jeopardy! is and can be a lot bigger than that.


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