From his early stand up days to his years as Dr. Fiscus on the Emmy award winning “St. Elsewhere” to his role as host of “Deal or No Deal” Howie Mandel has always found a way to let his good natured, fun loving side show through. This week he begins a new chapter as host of the new show “Take It All.”
Based on the popular “White Elephant” prize swaps that usually occur this time of year, the show will run starting Monday, December 10, through Friday, December 14 at 9:00 p.m. EST on NBC, with the show’s finale running at the same time on Monday, December 17. While promoting the show Mr. Mandel sat down with Media Mikes to talk about his new show, his mostly hidden enthusiasm for contestants and the latest “Gremlins” rumors.
Mike Smith: Thanks for taking the time to talk today.
Howie Mandel: Oh, you’re welcome.
MS: How is this game different from what people play in their homes each year?
HM: Well, if you play this in your home, I’m coming to your home, because I don’t know that people give away cars and anything from hovercrafts to exotic vacations. This is beyond any gift that Secret Santa would have. And then, what we did was, you know obviously that was the theme of the idea, and I had gone to a few parties and had seen this, and watched the type of the gamesmanship and people play against each other. So, the simplicity of it is everybody comes out, we start with five, everybody comes out with a different prize. So, if you pick a car and the next person picks a hovercraft, whoever ends up with the least expensive prizes gives it back and goes home. And eventually we end with two people that have a veritable cornucopia of extravagant prizes. And then, they can pick cash, you know, a 1/4 of a million dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then they have a choice. And I don’t think they do this in the house, but their two choices are keep it, so they can keep everything that they have, or take it all. If one of them decides to take it all, they get everything that they’ve accumulated throughout the hour, plus what their opponent has accumulated and they end up with tons of money and prizes and cash. But here’s the catch. If they both decide to take it all, they both end up with nothing. And neither of them knows what the other is going to do, so it’s like – it’s great gamesmanship, because it’s like poker. They get a chance to face-off each other and against each other what they’re going to do and it’s the most surprising social experiment I’ve ever been part of. I thought “Let’s Make a Deal” was an incredible social experience, this takes it to the next level.
MS: Part of the fun of a Yankee Swap in homes is that people tend to bring kind of dud gifts, so somebody ends with a dud. Is that an element of the show?
HM: No, absolutely not. There are no duds. Well, the only dud, if you want to call it a dud, is you end up out – and I say that a couple times on the show, you know in one of the beginning rounds when the amounts are lower, you know you could end up with – you know where there’s a range from $15,000 to $100,000 in one round, and end (the game) if you end up holding the $15,000 prize, you know which for all intents and purposes is a really nice valuable gift, that could end up being the dud because that could send you home. You have to give that back. You give back everything you’ve accumulated up to that point. So, there aren’t any – you know in that way there are no duds. That being said, prizes are like characters in themselves. I mean, you will see things that you haven’t seen on any other show. And I’m talking things like hovercrafts and submarines and jet packs, and things like you’ve never seen before, so they’re all amazing. I mean, I’m just as blown away as the contestants when the gifts are revealed and I go, “Oh my, God, this is amazing. I want one,” you know?
MS: Is there chance that this show will go on beyond the holidays?
HM: That’s a question for NBC. It’s not a question for me, you know? But, the fact that I have this opportunity to do an event, you know? And the last time I was involved with an event of this magnitude in this way was “Deal or No Deal.” When I was presented with “Deal or No Deal” they said, “You know, we’re going to give you five nights in a row on a network and we truly believe in this. We think it’s a fun holiday event.” And that fun holiday event turned into 500 episodes. So I would love that, but I take each take as it comes. And, you know when we played the game in the room with NBC I said, “If you ever decide to do this, this is the one time I want the host.” I’ve been asked since “Deal or No Deal” to host everything that’s come along in the way of games and been told “This is fun.” Because this is about people, it’s about gamesmanship. You know, can you play – can you bluff somebody, can you create a story from that has the other players believe in what you’re saying? You play it like poker.
MS: This is the second game show you’ve hosted. What have you learned about people’s natures from doing this?
HM: I’ve learned that I know nothing. I’ve learned that you cannot judge a book by its cover. I learned that I’m fascinated with the human condition. I’ve learned that if you put people in different environments they probably don’t even know what they’re going to do. What happens is they get up there and there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars cash in front of them: diamonds, boats, gifts, and real estate, and you watch their eyes glaze over and you see them become a different person. The same thing is true when you get into a casino. I’m fascinated by what happens, you know? All I try to do as the host is just direct the traffic and hope that I keep them as clear as possible and as focused as possible, so that they can manipulate whatever plan they have of attack in the clearest possible way.
MS: And what kind of game player are you? Are you good at games?
HM: No, not at all. I’m not really a player of games. I’m fascinated by watching somebody play games…trivia, for the most part, and physical things that people have to do. I’m fascinated by that. And I watched, right in front of my eyes, somebody’s life changed forever. Somebody shows up and they just graduated college and then 40 minutes later they’re standing there with hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, just their value, their worth monetarily has gone up. And with that, you know their life is not the same as it was when they walked in. So I find it fascinating. I don’t have the guts. If I showed up some place and somebody handed me 5 bucks, I would leave with my $5 and be thrilled that I got my $5. So it’s amazing to me the guts that people have to play a game, to keep going on, and to push it to the limits.
MS: As a host of game shows and talent shows, are you able to maintain a professional distance from the contestants, or do you find yourself getting emotionally involved in what they’re going through and sort of secretly root for them?
HM: Well, yes. You know, first and foremost I’m a human being and I’m a father and I’m a husband. So yes, the professionalism lies in you You can tell that I root for people and you can tell that I care, and it’s really hard. The hardest thing is to maintain, and I guess that’s what they pay you for, to maintain my professionalism when I see, in my mind, just like you the viewer, you know I can go, “Oh, no, no, no, no, this is bad move. This is a bad move,” but I’m not allowed to say that. And I can think it, but I can’t tell you I’m thinking it because that may sway you. And then again, I could be wrong. So yes, I am very involved. I can’t totally remove myself from it. But I hope that I maintain a professional stance as the host of the show. I’ve seen some parts of it and I think I do a fantastic job. (laughs)
MS: You had such a great run on St. Elsewhere. Do you ever see yourself open to the option to return to episodic television again?
HM: I would love to, so if you hear anything, please let me know. You know, I’ve always – everything I’ve done in my life has been because I said “yes” to these opportunities, and they’re nothing that I planned, you know? And I didn’t plan to do “St. Elsewhere.” I was a standup comic, and then I did that. And I certainly didn’t plan to be a game show host. You know, I fell into “Deal or No Deal” and it was such a great experience.
MS: This last one is a little off topic but I was asked to ask you if you know anything about the possibility of a “Gremlins” reunion or perhaps a remake of the original movie? And would you be interested in participating in that?
HM: I know nothing about it, but if they do I hope they give me a call. I would love to be part of it.