A month ago few knew the name Mike Richards. (Unless they were talking about Cosmo Kramer.) A lot has changed since. Now he’ll forever be known as the obscure executive producer who spent all of one day on the job as Alex Trebek’s replacement hosting Jeopardy!, only to resign amidst an avalanche of scandals, and then get fired from his executive producer job as well. Reports about his past behavior continue to pour in. And a new piece from The Hollywood Reporter has uncovered shenanigans that allegedly went down when he was at The Price is Right — claims that could have spelled a much-changed version of Jeopardy!, had he remained there longer.
THR spoke with more than a dozen former staffers at The Price is Right, where he was first a co-exec producer and then executive producer and showrunner from 2008 through 2020. Richards stepped in shortly after the retirement of longtime host Bob Barker, and the portrait that emerges is of a meddling micro-manager who really wanted to be host, and who dismantled the show by getting rid of the old guard.
Not all recollections are the same, and some of the former staffers interviewed have nice things to say about Richards. Others allege slimy behavior that gibes with the questionable things he’d say on his old, recently exhumed podcast. One claims he was dicey with the show’s many models, whom he would “parade” around the stage during rehearsals. He even, they say, “polled employees about their attire and gave preferential treatment to some.”
Others told THR that when Richards came in, he undersaw the “dissolution of the close-knit work family that that preceded his tenure on the show.” He “cleaned house” of the Barker-era staffers, including showrunner Roger Dobkowitz, who had been there for 36 years and had won five Emmys while creating 18 of the show’s iconic games. Dobkowitz coached Richards when he auditioned for host, believing that that’s the job he ultimately wanted. Instead Richards took his job.
Richards also get rid of announcer Rich Fields, who was there for seven years, underseeing the transition from Barker to current host Drew Carey. “I was shocked that after treating Mike Richards as kindly as I did during the Bob Barker replacement auditions, that he came in as executive producer just months later and showed complete disdain for me,” Fields told THR. “There was a dismantling. Anybody who worked with Barker was cleansed from the show.”
He also made the job a lot less fun:
During Richards’ tenure, many lost benefits and paid hiatuses as Fremantle took greater control of the series. The envious schedule in which five episodes were filmed over four days each week, with staffers getting Fridays off, were tabled as Richards mandated everyone to come in on Fridays even though it wasn’t a filming day. Paid hiatuses — a staple under Barker — were also taken away and lavish holiday parties with performers like Frank Sinatra Jr. and KC and the Sunshine Band went away.
“People were there for decades because it was a great job. You were getting paid 52 weeks a year and working 30 weeks a year with the taping schedule,” notes a decade-long former staffer who was among one of the multiple departments that were eliminated under Richards and Fremantle. Says another ex-employee who recalled a tenure that she says left her feeling traumatized and nearly prompted her to leave the industry altogether: “It was s*itty management.”
Staffers also noticed a pattern in the Richards era of Price is Right:
“The staff he replaced the older staff with were all under 27 and we called ourselves the Brat Pack,” says a source who was hired by Richards. “We loved our jobs and loved our mentors and when they became disillusioned, we became disillusioned. When people would leave, they’d replace them with people who were loyal to Mike. It became a vicious cycle.”
There’s much more in the THR report, including that he tried to get higher-end brands — ones the show’s middle class demographic could never afford. When companies like Ralph Lauren, Tiffany, and Christian Louboutin turned them down, Richards allegedly had the prizing staff find the goods at outlet stores, prompting a flurry of cease and desist letters.
Richards eventually moved over to Jeopardy!, where he was ultimately conquered by his own hubris. But considering how much he changed The Price is Right, even if it was mostly behind-the-scenes, imagine what he could have done to America’s favorite brainy game show had he stayed longer.