Whatever’s behind doors number one, two or three, “Let’s Make a Deal” has been a winner for CBS.
On May 4, the venerable gameshow threw an on-air party when its latest iteration, which premiered in the fall of 2009, hit 1,001 episodes, and handed out over $370,000 worth of cash and prizes.
Created by Stefan Hatos and host Monty Hall, “Deal” has aired in daytime and primetime and the classic episodes will soon encore on upstart digital net Buzzr. The skein originally premiered on NBC in 1963, before moving to ABC, into syndication, back to NBC, and eventually landing at CBS, where it now airs every weekday.
FremantleMedia North America produces the show, with Mike Richards, Dan Funk and Jennifer Mullin as executive producers.
Improv artist and actor Wayne Brady hosts the current version, paired with announcer-assistant Jonathan Mangum, his longtime friend and improv partner. Model Tiffany Coyne presents the prizes and Cat Gray provides the musical score from his on-set keyboard.
Then there are the contestants, called “traders,” who show up in self-designed costumes ranging from mildly eccentric to wildly outrageous.
According to Mullin, “Deal” works because “it’s the anti-game show gameshow. It’s completely one of those gameshows where there’s a spin in the game, but you never see the same thing twice.
“[With ‘Deal’], it’s how we wrap it — the comedy and the entertainment value and the variety — that goes along with what keeps it fresh every day. And Wayne’s so hip and cool, that I think it would be impossible for the kids not to love it.”
“This is the way we pitched it to CBS,” Richards notes. “It will be a completely different show every episode. There’s never the same games; there’s never a cheap prize. There’s no rhythm to it, and it’s basically barely contained chaos. I contend that we’re the funniest show in daytime, per minute, per laugh.”
That offbeat, anything for a laugh sensibility is the main reason the show celebrates its anniversary at episode 1,001, instead of the typical round number.
When it comes to humor and fun, Richards also credits the chemistry of the cast members, who, aside from Coyne, have a performance history together.
“Tiffany is like the little sister,” Richards says. “(She’s) the smart, sensible one, that knows the big boys are acting ridiculous. Wayne and Jonathan are improv cannons, so she’s able to reel them in.”
Richards points out that Brady and Mangum have been friends since 1991, when they used to do improv together in Orlando, Fla., and that they still have a touring improv show.
On top of all that comedy dynamite, there’s Gray, who provided music for the variety series “The Wayne Brady Show” and has also toured with Brady.
“He’s actually the biggest instigator of all four of them,” Richards says. “He barely ever says a word, which is part of his genius, but he says it all from the keyboard. He’ll take the show in a direction with the way he scores it.”
Mullin adds it’s also important to let Brady and his colleagues have the freedom to create on the spot.
“We’re really letting it flow in the moment, obviously not at the risk of compromising the mechanism of the game or the purity of what’s happening,” she says. “But if they want to break into a song or a dance, if something falls, if Tiffany wants to get on a piece of equipment and ride around — we give them a lot of flexibility, and that’s really where a lot of the gold is.
“If you keep too tight of a rein on it, you stifle them, and they may start stopping themselves. We let them go, and then, of course, we know when to pull back.”
For Brady, being at the center of “barely contained chaos” is a very comfortable place to be.
“I’m probably one of the only people who can do the show in this incarnation, just because that’s what I do,” Brady observes. “I like to make the audience have a good time and feel at ease. That’s job one in my head.”
Asked what doing “Deal” has taught him about human nature, Brady says, “People can be greedy. People can be blinded a little bit by the camera and the lights and sometimes leave their minds in the trunk of the car.
“Through all of that, one of the best things I can do as host is wrangle them and make them feel good.
“At the end of the day, that brings people to us, because they feel they can be one of those people. It’s not always good stuff you learn about people, but if you are able to flip it just right, you can turn it into a positive.”
Brady also contends that “Deal” is filling an entertainment void.
“It’s this generation’s variety show,” he says. “In lieu of the great variety specials and shows, now games and reality TV have moved into that slot.”