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Focal Plane: Aspiring hosts

This is the eighteenth instalment of the GoobNet Focal Plane, an occasional series wherein we highlight an unimportant social problem, trying to make you care about it. Use the Whine Control, left, to view other instalments.

Henrietta MacGregor scowls at Bob Saget.

This is not because of some lingering resentment toward the life lessons he dispensed on Full House, nor having been victim years ago of one of America’s Funniest Home Videos. Rather, MacGregor has a simpler, more immediate concern.

“That should be me up there,” she growls.

MacGregor, known to her friends as Yetta, is one of a growing population of people: Those who want to host game shows but are not being granted the opportunity.

Jokes about cheerleaders

Saget is a comedian by trade, but some would argue that a family sitcom like Full House was a poor outlet for his talents. Is 1 vs 100 a better one? No, says Jamie Ruislip, president of the Los Angeles based club, GAme Show Hopefuls.

“He’s okay,” Ruislip says after attending a recent taping of 1 vs 100, a game show in which one player faces one hundred. “It’s not like he’s doing anything remarkable up there. I mean, they had some college cheerleaders in the mob this time, and let’s face it, you don’t need a lot of comedic acumen to make jokes about cheerleaders.”

Could he host that programme? “Sure. Any of us GASHers could.”

1 vs 100’s sister programme in the US, Deal or No Deal, also found a well known television personality in Howie Mandel. He is once again a household name after years of being introduced by Jay Leno as “the most annoying man in show business”. Today, the only hint of that former moniker is his frequent routine, “Open the case – right after this”.

“That makes me want to vomit,” Ruislip says of Mandel’s antics. “That’s not hosting. Hosting a game show is rhythm. Keeping a rhythm going and making the contestant feel comfortable. Every time he does that, he brings everything to a screeching halt.”

‘On television for freaking ever’

Another member of GASH is Porter Coulibaly, granddaughter of African immigrants and journalism student at California State University Los Angeles. She has been watching more and more game shows hire known, experienced individuals rather than young new faces.

“They like to keep their old boys in the business,” she says. “They think people are too lazy to get to know an unfamiliar host.”

“The present era of game shows here in the US, of course, was ushered in back in 1999 with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” Coulibaly continues. “Who hosted that? A man who’s been on television for freaking ever. Then when it moved to syndication, they needed a new host. Did they go to someone new? Of course not. They picked someone from The View, of all places.”

Coulibaly lists a host of other recent programmes that selected known quantities rather than going young, from John McEnroe’s short lived The Chair to GSN’s latest offering, That’s the Question with Bob Goen.

She continues, “I do have to say, though, that Danny Bonaduce on Starface is oddly fitting.” It seems even Coulibaly is willing to admit that television’s old hands have a place on the occasional game show.

Shat-tastic

But the aspiring game show host community reserves its fiercest criticism for the latest addition to the US’s game show stable, Show Me the Money, and its host, William Shatner.

“I actually thought it was a good concept,” says Paulo Salazar, a copy editor for the Entertainment Miami weekly newspaper and author of a weblog about game shows. “But something about Shatner just bugged me. He didn’t seem to make the contestants feel at ease, the way someone like Bob Barker or Chuck Woolery does.”

MacGregor, who repairs motorcycles at a shop in Long Beach, CA, USA, is even harsher on Shatner than she is on Saget. “When are they going to realise that they don’t need to sell a star?” she complains. “Shatner isn’t going to make people watch that show. Saget isn’t going to make people watch his show. They’ll watch if it’s good. And part of that is having a host who understands the game and doesn’t get in the way.”

Most youngsters seeking to host game shows have difficulty defining what it is that makes a host successful. But most also agree that one of those who has those qualities is Bob Barker.

Helping control the pet population

“Bob Barker has held the same job for 35 years,” says Salazar. “What person in the public eye has held down the same job that long? All I can think of is really long serving members of Congress like Robert Byrd.”

Barker has unwittingly touched off excitement in the aspiring game show host community by announcing his intention to retire at the end of the current season. There is no clear successor at this point, and according to some, that means the field is wide open.

Coulibaly, the Cal State LA student, feels that she is the woman for the job. “I know the pricing games,” she tells Ruislip at a recent GASH meeting. “I know the rules backward and frontward. And besides that, isn’t it about time we had a black host? There hasn’t been a black game show host since Nipsey Russell on Your Number’s Up back in the eighties. And that show went three months!”

Ruislip is of the opinion that the next host of The Price Is Right will be one of the individuals who hosts the live version in Las Vegas, such as Todd Newton.

“Todd Newton is one of us,” he argues at the meeting. “He’s young, sure. And we’ve all seen him on Hollywood Showdown and Whammy. But most people haven’t. He’s new to most people, and isn’t that what counts?”

“No, it isn’t,” says Jayant Perthangong. “Like you said. He’s been on game shows for years now. He’s not new any more.”

Ruislip sighs, as though he’s made this argument before. “But he was when he started. That’s my point. Game shows were his big break. Most of these other guys were famous first and went to game shows later. We want to break in as game show hosts, right?”

The meeting ends, unsurprisingly, with a game. Tonight they play Press Your Luck on Ruislip’s laptop. MacGregor wins with US$8,155, though that amount does not exist in the club’s treasury.

Afterward, MacGregor remarks, “I’m inclined to agree with Jamie, but one thing we don’t seem to have a grasp on is just how to break in like that. All I want is to hear ‘And heeeere’s your host, Yetta MacGregor!’ Is that so wrong?”

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