Q: This household-name company allowed an insider to lead a high-profile executive search only to end up hiring himself for the job. It then failed to perform basic vetting that might have uncovered the new guy’s embarrassing history of insensitive and derogatory public statements.
A: What is Sony’s botched search to replace iconic Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek?
The saga continues for legions of intensely loyal Jeopardy! fans who’ve lived the ups and downs of the gameshow’s search to replace iconic host Alex Trebek. Debate rages over who should take the helm, but this much they can agree on: Sony Pictures’ handling of the effort has been a resounding failure.
The mistakes and mishandling began soon after Trebek succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Sony quietly appointed the show’s executive producer, Mike Richards, to lead the search for a replacement. The show rolled out a handful of guest hosts trying out for the job. LeVar Burton developed a passionate following, and others like champion contestant Ken Jennings and sitcom star Mayim Bialik drew strong reviews.
Few realized that Richards was leading the search and had also thrown his hat in the ring, and most were shocked to learn that he had been selected. Richards didn’t have time to prove his doubters wrong. Within days, a journalist for The Ringer began uncovering insensitive statements that Richards had made on a podcast. Richards’ halfhearted “that’s not who I am” apology could not prevent the inevitable. The seat held by Trebek for 37 seasons is now open again.
There’s so much wrong here from an executive employment standpoint. Executive searches that are not well-defined, objective and professional do not do anyone any favors. In addition, a thorough vetting process is critical for executive hires today. When someone like Richards – who was an integral part of the search – ends up with the job, that should raise red flags and prompt extra vetting, not less.
This happens a lot with internal candidates. Since they already have a position with the company, there is a sense that some vetting, background checks, etc. have already occurred. But in reality, assuming a more prominent role should bring more scrutiny. Think about this way: How many times have we seen damning information come out about a politician who had an existing political position when they run for president?
If the insensitive comments made by Richards were uncovered so easily, it makes you wonder whether Sony had done any vetting at all.
What should have been a triumphant period of “Jeopardy” now appears to be the beginning of a long, chaotic crisis for a show that, until recently, was the model of consistency. From the moment of his announcement, Richards was a deflating choice. His status as the show’s executive producer lent the sense that the months of host auditions had been rigged in his favor from the start.
There’s always been a lot to learn from watching Jeopardy! Executive employment law can now be added to the list.