September 1, 2021

Mike Richards stepped down as executive producer of “Jeopardy!” on Tuesday. He resigned. Or was pushed. Either way, he is out.

And we’re left with two questions:

What took so long?

And …

Could Sony, which runs the show, have mucked this up any more than it did?

By now, you know the story. Richards was the executive producer and, originally, in charge of the team finding a replacement for the late Alex Trebek. In a process that smelled fishy from the start, Richards ended up becoming the permanent host of the daily syndicated show. He then stepped down as host after taping a week’s worth of shows following an article by The Ringer’s Claire McNear that revealed a bunch of troubling comments in Richards’ past.

Unbelievably, Sony thought Richards could remain in charge of the show even after he gave up hosting duties. Check out this line in a memo to the show’s crew from Suzanne Prete, executive vice president for business and strategy for “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!”:

“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. That clearly has not happened.”

Of course that has not happened. How could Sony have ever thought it would? Talk about being clueless. Sony seemed to be, literally, the last and maybe only entity on earth that thought this controversy and stain was going to go away if Richards simply stopped hosting.

What a mess.

The question now is how “Jeopardy!” gets its credibility back. For nearly four decades, it was one of the classiest and most respected shows on TV. In a matter of a few weeks, because of the whole Richards shenanigan, the show’s reputation has gone down the sewer.

The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum, Nicole Sperling and Julia Jacobs wrote, “Crew members confronted Mr. Richards on Aug. 19 in an emotional meeting, where they expressed dismay at his past behavior and said it had imperiled the show’s reputation. An all-hands call last week that included Mr. Richards left some staff members demoralized. Some ‘Jeopardy!’ fans also said they were confused as to why Mr. Richards was being allowed to stay on behind the scenes.”

The Times reported a final decision was made over the weekend. That seems about two weeks too late, doesn’t it? Imagine the contestants, who have waited years to fulfill their dreams of getting on the show, finally getting their chance and then having to wade through this swamp. Meanwhile, morale on the show cannot be good.

Michael Davies — a veteran producer of game shows who helped develop the U.S. version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” — will fill in temporarily as executive producer of both “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune.” Aside from regaining the trust of staff, the immediate task he and Sony have is figuring out a permanent host. For now, the show will continue to rotate in guest hosts.

Replacing Trebek was already going to be hard enough. But Sony managed to make it even more difficult. It is going to take a lot of work for “Jeopardy!” to regain its stellar reputation — if it ever does, that is.

President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan

President Joe Biden speaks about the end of the war in Afghanistan from the White House on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“Biden Vehemently Defends His Decision To End Afghanistan War.” That was the headline on The New York Times’ website Tuesday afternoon.

“‘I Was Not Going To Extend This War Forever’ the president says” was the headline on The Washington Post site.

“A defiant Biden calls Afghanistan exit a ‘success’” it said on Politico.

In an address to the nation on Tuesday afternoon, Biden said, “The United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history.”

He added, “And still, the women and men of the United States military, our diplomatic corps and intelligence professionals did their job and did it well, risking their lives not for professional gains but to serve others — not in a mission of war, but a mission of mercy. … I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit. It was time to end this war.”

And now continues the analysis and debate about Afghanistan that is likely to continue for the rest of the Biden presidency.

Here are some worthwhile pieces involving Afghanistan:

A new name and a new show

CBS made a big announcement Tuesday. Starting Sept. 7, its morning news show will be called “CBS Mornings.” It will be hosted by Gayle King and Tony Dokoupil, as well as the newest addition — Nate Burleson, the former NFL player who is on CBS’s NFL pregame show. The announcement of Burleson was made earlier this month. He replaces Anthony Mason, who will take on another role at CBS News.

In a statement, Neeraj Khemlani, president and co-head of CBS News and Stations, said, “All CBS News morning broadcasts will now be part of the same family, with a focus on original reporting and exquisite storytelling, connected by the sound of the iconic trumpet music and an ethos of optimism that carries all the way through to the sunshine logo itself. We’re adding a little bit of CBS SUNDAY MORNING — every morning — on CBS MORNINGS.”

The show will still air Monday through Friday from 7 to 9 a.m. Eastern. The first hour will include hard news and conversation. The second hour will have features, interviews and in-depth stories that CBS News says will include “news, sports, climate, and technology to race, health, parenting and personal finance.”

It also will include arts and culture pieces from Mason, as well as Vlad Duthiers’ “What to Watch” segments.

ESPN’s signs star to new deal

Elle Duncan is a star at ESPN. She co-hosts the 6 p.m. Eastern “SportsCenter” — one of the more coveted jobs at the network. She co-hosts the podcast “First Take, Her Take” with Kimberley A. Martin and Charly Arnolt. And she often pops up on such shows as “Around the Horn” and “Highly Questionable.” She’s a valuable member at ESPN, and apparently ESPN thinks so, too.

ESPN announced Tuesday that Duncan has signed a multiyear contract with the network.

“Elle has been a fantastic team player since joining us and has handled every assignment with professionalism and a great attitude,” Norby Williamson, ESPN executive vice president for event and studio production and executive editor, said in a statement. “Elle excels at everything she touches and she makes us better each day.”

Duncan, who joined ESPN in 2016, said, “For over five years, ESPN has given me the opportunity and space to be myself. And in my experience that is worth holding on to. However, there’s no greater test of that belief than me barking on air, so I’m glad we wrapped this up before college football starts.”

Duncan also has appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and while she’s a star on ESPN, it would not be surprising if her future included more spots on “GMA.” That’s just a guess on my part.

Saluting a legend

Great job by ESPN’s “Around the Horn” to salute legendary sports journalist Jackie MacMullan on her final day at the network. Host Tony Reali first acknowledged that MacMullan was the first — and for far too long only — woman to appear on the “Around the Horn” panel. On Tuesday, the show started, appropriately, with four women, including MacMullan.

A significant portion of the show was dedicated to MacMullan’s career and it was all really good. But the most touching moment came when NBA reporter Ramona Shelburne gave a tearful salute to MacMullan’s example of being a mother and a sports journalist. Shelburne relayed how MacMullan took time off in her career to have children and that she told Shelburne it was the best decision she ever made. Shelburne said she thought about that when she decided to have a baby.

The show also included longtime colleagues and frequent fellow “Around the Horn” panelists Woody Paige, Bill Plaschke and J.A. Adande. That was followed by Bob Ryan, who worked with MacMullan at The Boston Globe. It then concluded with Reali and Pablo Torre “retiring” the number 258 — for Jackie Mac’s 258 wins on “Around the Horn.”

Then MacMullan said her thank yous.

MacMullan isn’t totally retiring. She still will be heard occasionally on podcasts with The Ringer’s Bill Simmons and has hinted in recent weeks about a project she is working on with Simmons. That will be announced soon.

Media tidbits

Dr. Anthony Fauci. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

  • National Geographic Documentary Films and Magnolia Pictures have released the official trailer for “Fauci” — a documentary about Dr. Anthony Fauci. Here’s the trailer — a powerful one, I might add — for the feature that will debut in select theaters on Sept. 10.
  • Margaret Sullivan’s latest media column for The Washington Post: “Congress may be about to help local news. It can’t happen soon enough.”
  • Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds with “The biggest US papers lost 20% of their daily print circulation during the pandemic, British media site finds.”
  • The New York Times’ Adam Satariano and Mike Isaac with “The Silent Partner Cleaning Up Facebook for $500 Million a Year.”
  • On tonight’s “NBC Nightly News,” NBC News senior national correspondent Kate Snow will reveal results of a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National PTA, which focuses on how parents are feeling about the reopening of schools. Snow also will host a Facebook live town hall at 1 p.m. Eastern today. She will interview Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. Portions of those interviews will air across NBC News platforms. It’s all part of NBC News’ Kids Under Pressure series, which looks at the toll of the pandemic on student education and mental health.
  • Legendary CBS Sports director Bob Fishman, who has directed nearly every sport televised by the network, will retire after next spring’s 2022 NCAA Men’s Division I basketball tournament. That will mark 50 years at CBS for Fishman. He joined CBS News in 1972 and joined CBS Sports in 1975. He has been the lead director on college basketball since 1982 and is the No. 2 director on the NFL.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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