I’ll Take ‘Crisis Communications’ for $1,000, Alex

Thom Weidlich 09.02.21


Finding a new host for megapopular game show “Jeopardy!” is turning out to be more than a migraine — it’s a full-blown crisis: the death of a key person coupled with multiple social-media horror tales. At this point, it’s a wonder companies don’t vet Twitter feeds when hiring the caterer for the summer picnic. They should.

Alex Trebek, the beloved “Jeopardy!” host for 37 years, died in November. The question of his replacement loomed large. The show reportedly has 10 million nightly viewers and makes $100 million in annual profit. Producer Sony Pictures Entertainment’s plan was to audition several candidates by having them guest-host.

Answer: Seemingly everyone. Question: Who is in the running to be the new “Jeopardy!” host?

Ken Jennings, the former contestant with the longest winning streak, rose to lead pick, according to reports. But then ugly tweets from Jennings’ past surfaced. The most notorious: “Nothing sadder than a hot person in a wheelchair.” That ended that candidacy.

Host Announcement

Finally, on Aug. 11 Sony announced that “Jeopardy!” executive producer Mike Richards would host the syndicated daily version of the show, while The Big Bang Theory actress Mayim Bialik would helm its primetime and spinoff series.

Whew! Except accusations leaked out from previous lawsuits about Richards’ alleged behavior when he was executive producer of “The Price Is Right.” And then Claire McNear, writing Aug. 18 on The Ringer, found an old podcast with Richards spewing anti-Semitic and sexist nonsense. That ended that candidacy.

Richards stepped down from hosting Aug. 20. Bialik and other guest hosts will take over for now until a permanent replacement is found. Richards kept his executive-producer gig — that is, until Tuesday this week when he was canned from that too. It shows you how a crisis can keep spiraling.

“We had hoped that when Mike stepped down from the host position at Jeopardy! it would have minimized the disruption and internal difficulties we have all experienced these last few weeks,” Suzanne Prete, EVP of business and strategy at “Jeopardy!,” wrote in an email to staff, according to CNN. “That clearly has not happened.”

Due Diligence

So where was the due diligence? This lack on Sony’s part was reflected in the coverage. A Washington Post headline: “How Journalism Saved ‘Jeopardy!’ From an Unworthy Host After an Utter Failure of Corporate Vetting.” In fact, a Wall Street Journal story paraphrased a Sony spokeswoman admitting the company “was surprised to learn of [Richards’] podcast and the language he used in the past.”

That is really the most important lesson of this sad saga: In this day and age, it’s inconceivable that an organization wouldn’t thoroughly examine the past utterances and activities of a candidate for an important position.

We get the sense that Sony is belatedly trying to address the issue but, for one thing, it’s not communicating enough with the public and, for another, it takes a lot to atone for such initial blunders.

Photo Credit: Ryan J. Thompson/Shutterstock

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