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‘Jeopardy!’ fans question rumored host front-runner after past discrimination lawsuits surface

“Jeopardy!” fans are upset over reports that the show’s executive producer, Mike Richards, is the apparent front-runner to replace beloved host Alex Trebek after past harassment and discrimination lawsuits against Richards resurfaced.

The long-running television game show has not announced a new permanent host, but Variety reported that Richards was in advanced negotiations for the coveted gig. “Jeopardy!” has been on the hunt for a new host after Trebek’s death in November from pancreatic cancer.

The show declined to comment this week on the news that Richards is reportedly in negotiations.

Richards joined the show last year as executive producer and filled in as guest host from late February to early March. Variety reported that Sony Pictures Television, which produces “Jeopardy!”, was impressed with Richards’ on-air manner and command of the game.

But some viewers weren’t thrilled and vented their frustrations on social media. Many fans were upset that actor LeVar Burton wasn’t the choice and others pointed out that Richards had been involved in two discrimination lawsuits.

“Another lawsuit against Mike Richards. Did you just not care? No one will watch @Jeopardy with such a toxic person as host and executive producer,” one Twitter user wrote.

“@Jeopardy is so set to tank Alex Trebek’s legacy,” another Twitter user posted, adding: “they are going with a bland and pedestrian host with a disturbing past. Do better #Jeopardy!”

Richards has not publicly addressed the lawsuits. NBC News has reached out to Sony Pictures Television for comment. “Jeopardy” declined to comment on the allegations made against Richards in the lawsuits. Richards was not available to comment.

One of the suits was filed by Brandi Cochran, a former model for “The Price Is Right,” who said she was fired after she became pregnant. The suit, filed in March 2010, listed the defendants as the CBS Corp., CBS Television Network, Fremantle Media, and “The Price Is Right.”

Richards, who was a producer for “The Price Is Right,” was not listed as a defendant but was accused in the suit of treating Cochran differently after she announced she was pregnant in late 2008.

“After learning of Cochran’s pregnancy, defendants’ executive producer Mike Richards did not talk to her as frequently as before,” the suit stated. “Unlike other co-workers, he did not congratulate her on being pregnant.”

It also accused Richards of telling another model that she would get more work because of Cochran’s pregnancy. According to the suit, the model later allegedly told Cochran that Richards had said to her: “Go figure! I fire five girls … What are the odds?”

Cochran, the lawsuit said, took Richards’ comment to mean that he would have fired her if he had known she was pregnant.

The suit went on to allege that Cochran was pressured to reveal her pregnancy on-air because co-workers told her she was beginning to show. It said that it was announced that she was expecting twins, Richards “asked her twice, in an annoyed tone, ‘Twins? Are you serious? … You’re serious?’”

Cochran was booked less after that exchange with Richards, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also said that other producers made comments about Cochran’s weight, her appearance and her eating habits. According to the complaint, Cochran had a difficult pregnancy and lost one of her twins due to an in-utero heart defect.

After her maternity leave ended, Cochran tried to return to “The Price Is Right” but was not booked for work, the lawsuit stated. She eventually learned that she had been terminated, according to the lawsuit.

The case went to trial and a jury awarded Cochran more than $8 million. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge later overturned it and Cochran and the defendants settled outside of court, documents show.

In 2011, another “Price Is Right” model filed a lawsuit. Richards, along with Fremantle Media and producer Adam Sandler, were named as defendants. (The Sandler named in the suit is not the actor Adam Sandler.)

According to The Los Angeles Times, model Lanisha Cole accused Richards in the lawsuit of treating her differently than the other models.

“Specifically, without limitation, Defendant Richards refused to speak with Plaintiff about anything, work-related or not, under any circumstance,” according to a copy of the lawsuit posted by the Times.

The suit said that Richards would write notes and give them to other models and staff to pass to Cole.

“Plaintiff is informed and believes that none of the TPIR models were ignored by Defendant Richards or given notes in this manner,” it stated, further alleging that “this dramatically changed the atmosphere in the workplace for Plaintiff.”

The suit claimed that around the time Richards stopped speaking to Cole he had begun an intimate relationship with another model.

Cole also alleged that Sandler burst into her dressing room and berated her in front of her peers for not wearing a microphone. According to the lawsuit, Cole eventually quit the show because she didn’t think her concerns were ever properly investigated.

Richards was later dropped as a defendant and the suit was settled in 2013, according to The Daily Beast.

NBC News has reached out to CBS Corporation, Fremantle Media, “The Price Is Right” and Sandler for comments on the allegations raised in the lawsuits.

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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