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How Choosing a New Host Got Messy at ‘Jeopardy!’


And the job itself is, as any Hollywood agent would tell you, a pretty sweet gig.

When the “Jeopardy!” cast and crew gather on the Sony Pictures stage in Culver City, Calif., they film five 30-minute shows in a single day, the equivalent of one week of syndicated television. The host works roughly two days a week, two weeks a month — and toward the end of his tenure, Mr. Trebek’s salary was estimated at $16.5 million. Sony would not disclose Mr. Richards’s compensation, but several people familiar with internal discussions said it was significantly less.

There are other perks to being the face of a show that is still watched by a broad audience on local network affiliates, a rarity as the nation divides into ever-more-partisan extremes and as traditional TV is supplanted by niche streaming services.

“It’s appointment television, which is rare,” said George Stephanopoulos, the ABC News anchor, who guest hosted for a week. “It’s the kind of thing you can watch with your whole family.”

Plus there is the reflected glow of always having the right answers.

“It’s absolutely iconic,” said Rick Rosen, the TV superagent at Endeavor. “Everybody knows the show and has played along with it. And it’s not the type of show where you’re just a genial host — there’s a perception of intelligence that goes along with it.”

Unlike his rivals, Mr. Richards, 46, had a deep background in game shows. Born in Burbank, Calif., he started his career as a stand-up comedian and went on to host game shows like the mid-2000s concoction “Beauty and the Geek.” He hosted and produced numerous series on the Game Show Network before auditioning to replace Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right.” Drew Carey got the job, but Mr. Richards was brought on as executive producer; his successful 11-year tenure revived the wilting franchise into a hit.

By “Jeopardy!” standards, though, he was a newcomer.

He started as executive producer at both “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” in May 2020, replacing Harry Friedman, who oversaw both shows for 25 years. Mr. Richards overlapped with Mr. Trebek on set for only 15 shoot days before the host stepped aside, 10 days before he died.

Sony said that while Mr. Richards initially led the hunt for Mr. Trebek’s replacement, he moved aside after he emerged as a candidate.


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