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Why is the fired Mike Richards hosting 'Jeopardy!' starting tonight?

He's been let go, but his shows are airing this week.
/ Source: TODAY

Tonight begins the 38th season "Jeopardy!" — and the show will open with its first permanent host since the death of Alex Trebek in 2020.

That host? Mike Richards.

But wait, you may be thinking: Wasn't Mike Richards fired?

And the answer is: Yes.

So undoubtedly, you have questions. Here we are to answer them.

Who's Mike Richards?

Richards, 46, has had a long history in television, hosting shows like "Beauty and the Geek" and "High School Reunion," while producing series like "The Price Is Right" and "Let's Make a Deal." He began executive producing "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" in 2020.

Mike Richards on the set of "Jeopardy!"
Mike Richards on the set of "Jeopardy!"Carol Kaelson / Sony Pictures Entertainment

But his heart was in hosting, and when he got the opportunity to step forward as the face of "Jeopardy!" in the wake of the death of beloved host Alex Trebek, who died in late 2020 at age 80, he took it. The day after Trebek's death, Richards addressed the audience ahead of airing the start of Trebek's final episodes, telling viewers, "He loved this show and everything it stood for. ... He will forever be an inspiration for his constant desire to learn, his kindness and for his love of his family."

It was a classy move, and audiences may have been surprised to see how camera-ready Richards was. Then he proved he could handle the hosting role (if not with the same panache as Trebek) when he stepped up to the podium as the second of an ongoing series of guest hosts that filled season 37's tapings.

Why did he get named host?

You've heard of Hollywood before, right? It's all in who you know, apparently.

OK, so Richards' hire as the host might not have been entirely an engineered situation. But clearly he had the inside track to the job, even though the 37th season was full of possible contenders who expressed interest in the job: Ken Jennings, Aaron Rogers and LeVar Burton. Each had their pluses and minuses, but all were interesting, and the change of face every couple of weeks allowed us to both miss Trebek and appreciate that life goes on.

The set of "Jeopardy!" while Richards was hosting.
The set of "Jeopardy!" while Richards was hosting.Jeopardy! / YouTube

Then, on Aug. 11, the announcement came fairly suddenly: Richards would be the new permanent host of "Jeopardy," 15 months after he'd been named the executive producer. How did it happen? He wanted it. And after smoothly proving he could host a TV show, he got it.

But then he got fired, right?

"Jeopardy!" expert Claire McNear, author of "Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider's Guide to 'Jeopardy!'", who has spoken with TODAY in the past about the show, wrote in an article on Aug. 18 for The Ringer that the announcement "blindsided" employees, and reported that "staff morale has deteriorated under Richards' watch as EP."

It was that article that signaled the start of the end of Richards' tenure on the show. McNear laid out in great detail how under his watch at "Price Is Right" there had been multiple discrimination and harassment lawsuits; she also posted audio clips from his podcast "The Randumb Show," which indicated the polished exterior who'd stepped behind the podium was a lot more raw, and offensive, in his off-hours.

Not only was this not a good look for the show, it seemed worse when compared with Trebek's reign, which was virtually spotless and controversy-free.

On Aug. 20, Richards gave up the job hosting "Jeopardy!," having taped a week's worth of episodes. On the 31st, he was let go from his executive producership, too.

So get to the point: Why's he hosting 'Jeopardy!' still?

Because it's a game show, and the five shows (the equivalent of one day of taping) he did host before the controversy pushed him out have already been taped.

The nature of a game show is that there are no retakes. Questions are asked, the game is played and a do-over would create a different result. It's really that simple.

Mayim Bialik will step in until the guest hosts start rotating again.
Mayim Bialik will step in until the guest hosts start rotating again.jeopardy / Instagram

Where do we go from here?

Now that "Jeopardy!" is sans Richards, it's back to (almost) square one: The search for a new, permanent host. The series will go back to a rotating collection of hosts, but those names have not been announced yet.

Still, this is not quite square one because Mayim Bialik, who had hosted from May 31 to June 11, was also hired when Richard was, to present the prime-time spinoffs of the series. The show called her in to pick up the slack in Richards' absence, and she will begin hosting the game show from Sept. 20 to Oct. 8.

"As we move forward with production on this season of 'Jeopardy!,' additional guest hosts will be announced," Sony Pictures Entertainment told NBC News in a statement at the end of August.

In other words, stay tuned!