Mike Richards, who was named the new host of “Jeopardy!” last week, is abruptly leaving the role as the beloved game show confronts a roiling controversy over offensive and sexist comments he made on a podcast several years ago.
Mr. Richards, who as the show’s executive producer helped oversee the search for Alex Trebek’s replacement — before he himself was named to the position — said on Friday in a staff memo that the controversy had made “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,” Mr. Richards wrote.
But Sony Pictures Entertainment, which produces and distributes the game show, said that Mr. Richards would stay on as the program’s executive producer.
“We support Mike’s decision to step down as host,” Sony said in a statement. “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.”
Sony added: “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 executive producer he will continue to do so with professionalism and respect.”
The show’s search for a permanent replacement host will now start again, with a series of guest hosts to be scheduled. Mayim Bialik, the sitcom star, will remain as host of “Jeopardy!” prime-time specials.
Sony had announced Mr. Richards’s new role last Wednesday with great fanfare, calling him a “great talent.”
But a report in The Ringer this week unearthed past offensive comments made by Mr. Richards on a podcast that led to denunciations from critics including the Anti-Defamation League.
In his memo on Friday, Mr. Richards wrote, “It pains me that these past incidents and comments have cast such a shadow on ‘Jeopardy!’ as we look to start a new chapter.”
He concluded: “I know I have a lot of work to do to regain your trust and confidence.”
This is a developing article. Check back for updates.
Michael M. Grynbaum, Nicole Sperling and Julia Jacobs