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Mike Richards steps down as new host of 'Jeopardy!', search for host will resume

The replacement for the late Alex Trebek said he is stepping down and the search for a new host will continue.
/ Source: TODAY

Mike Richards' tenure as the new host of "Jeopardy!" is over before it officially began.

The executive producer of the show, who was set to take over as the replacement for the late Alex Trebek, announced Friday that he is stepping down from the role following his apologies for controversies involving past lawsuits and sexist comments made on a podcast.

"It pains me that these past incidents and comments have cast such a shadow on Jeopardy! as we look to start a new chapter," Richards said in an internal memo to the "Jeopardy!" staff on Friday obtained by TODAY.

"As I mentioned last week, 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. As such, I will be stepping down as host effective immediately. As a result, we will be canceling production today.

"SPT will now resume the search for a permanent syndicated host. In the meantime, we will be bringing back guest hosts to continue production for the new season, details of which will be announced next week.

"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."

New episodes with Richards, 46, as the host were set to start airing when the new season begins on Sept. 13. He will remain as the show's executive producer, according to a statement to TODAY by a Sony Pictures Television spokesperson.

"We support Mike’s decision to step down as host," the company said. "We were surprised this week to learn of Mike’s 2013/2014 podcast and the offensive language he used in the past. We have spoken with him about our concerns and our expectations moving forward.

"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."

A source close to the show told NBC News that five episodes were taped Thursday and will air as scheduled.

Richards' announcement comes two days after a story by The Ringer detailed a series of crude and sexist comments made by Richards as one of the hosts “The Randumb Show” podcast in 2013-14. The original audio of the podcast was pulled off line on Tuesday. NBC News has not listened to the original recordings.

Richards issued an apology following the story, saying it was “humbling to confront a terribly embarrassing moment of misjudgment, thoughtlessness, and insensitivity from nearly a decade ago. Looking back now, there is no excuse, of course, for the comments I made on this podcast and I am deeply sorry.”

That controversy came after allegations against Richards surfaced from two discrimination lawsuits following his time working at "The Price is Right" in which models alleged sexist behavior. He was not a defendant in one of the lawsuits and was dropped as a defendant in the other one.

"I want you all to know that the way in which my comments and actions have been characterized in these complaints does not reflect the reality of who I am or how we worked together on 'The Price is Right,'" he wrote in a message to the staff following reports of the allegations.

Sony Pictures Television announced on Aug. 11 that Richards would be the new host replacing Trebek, and that Mayim Bialik will host prime-time and spinoff versions of the show, leaving fans divided about the decision.

The show has been helmed by a series of guest hosts, including TODAY's own Savannah Guthrie, since Trebek's death at 80 in November from pancreatic cancer.