The Morning Call (Sunday)

Hosting becomes game of choice for actors

Ability to improvise plays crucial role in these television gigs

- By Luaine Lee

Even very successful actors often travel a rough road in their careers. Job opportunit­ies prove erratic and today’s hit comedy may be tomorrow’s dusty DVD. One way actors can smooth the ride is by hosting TV’s multiple game shows. Think Drew Carey, Jane Lynch, Joel McHale.

Steve Harvey, who hosts the daytime syndicated “Family Feud,” took some time off television to star in a few movies. But when he came back, he said, “I know in my heart that I’m really a TV guy. I know that’s what I’m really good at doin’, so I’ve had plenty of time off to think about it. If I went back to television, what did I want to do?”

What he wanted to do was prove himself one of the most successful game show hosts on the tube with “Family Feud.” When Harvey took over the show in 2010 it detonated with a 40% ratings increase.

But as a young man, hosting a TV show would’ve been beyond Harvey’s wildest dreams because he stuttered badly.

“I always had funny thoughts. I just couldn’t get them out,” he says. “Then when I stopped stuttering, I was still so bashful from stuttering in public that even when I was in high school, I would just say stuff under my breath to the students sitting close to me. They would be on the floor laughing. And then they’d have to go to the principal’s office, and I’d be sitting there with the same deadpan look on my face.

“I had a real dry sense of humor,” continues Harvey, who began as a stand-up comedian. “I didn’t really come out of that until I went to college, and I was away from my parents and getting up going like I wanted. And that freedom made me say stuff out loud. And there was a lot of loud, brash kids in college, and I couldn’t let them think that I was some little sissy.”

Jeff Hephner, known for his acting chops in “Oppenheime­r,” “Power Book II: Ghost” and “Chicago Fire,” earned his position as orchestrat­or of Game Show Network’s fast moving quizzer “Switch.”

Hephner was a basketball whiz in high school. He earned a basketball scholarshi­p to Ferris State University in Michigan. But a torn calf muscle and six months of rehab convinced him he had to concentrat­e on something else. And performing had always crouched in the back of his mind. “I made the decision my days of a ballplayer are over; the days of being knock-around were over, and I wanted to really chase something I was passionate about. And I have,” he says.

“My parents thought I was insane. They were terrified. Luckily this was all before cellphones and things. My poor mother, there were months and months and months where they did not know where I was. So I ended up going to Jacksonvil­le, Florida, because I’d gone there on a

family vacation, and there were a couple of small local theaters in Jacksonvil­le Beach. And I went to an audition and then went to another. And I was the only young man who showed up, so I got parts in these plays.”

Tom Cavanagh, known for his roles in “Ed,” “The Flash” and “Trust Me,” commands the podium as host of Game Show Network’s “Hey Yahoo.” He was another basketball player who went wrong when he heard the school was auditionin­g for the musical “Grease.”

Though he is 6-foot4, Cavanagh’s basketball teammates joked that he was too short to participat­e in the school play. “I went and auditioned, and I got the job. (He played Danny Zuko.) That was the genesis of the bigger stuff. That show was seen by an agent, actually a director who was with an agency who put me in touch with an agency in Toronto. And they signed me. And I got lucky.”

John Michael Higgins, who orchestrat­es the trivia game “Split Second” on Game Show Network, is best known for his film work with Christophe­r Guest in “A Mighty Wind” and “Best in Show.” Higgins is not obsessed with acting though he has done it since he was 9. He doesn’t take the work home with him like others do, he says.

Game show hosting requires both wit and the ability to improvise. Higgins proved that skill when he worked with Guest, who expects his players to improvise in the moment. There’s no trick to that, insists Higgins.

“The whole game is listening. If you actually hear somebody, you’ll say the right thing. You have to hear it though, you have to be interested. You have to be hungry for the informatio­n. The minute you have it, it comes in, you will respond, you can’t help but respond. You couldn’t hide it. That’s great improvisat­ion when you just do it and you move on,” he says.

“I never sought improvisat­ion out. I’m not very interested in it. It turned out to be something I’m good at, but I’m good at it because I’m interested in other things. That’s all it is,” he says.

Brooke Burns, known for her roles in “Melrose Place” and “Shallow Hal,” returns for the fifth season of Game Show Network’s “Master Minds.”Burns, who was a model and an actor, confesses that hosting can be disastrous. “It’s a whole different skill set,” she says. “If you take an actor and put them in a hosting position a lot of them panic. Even on live shows you see them ... you see these amazing actors even completely clam up or ‘blub-blub-blub’ because to be live is a totally different thing, to just converse and be natural when you’re not hiding or portraying someone else.”

 ?? FOX BROADCASTI­NG CO. ?? Steve Harvey hosted Fox’s “Showtime at the Apollo” and is now host of the game show “Family Feud.”
FOX BROADCASTI­NG CO. Steve Harvey hosted Fox’s “Showtime at the Apollo” and is now host of the game show “Family Feud.”
 ?? GAME SHOW NETWORK ?? John Michael Higgins, host of “Split Second,” is a master at improvisat­ion.
GAME SHOW NETWORK John Michael Higgins, host of “Split Second,” is a master at improvisat­ion.
 ?? GAME SHOW NETWORK ?? Brooke Burns is in her fifth season hosting “Master Minds.”
GAME SHOW NETWORK Brooke Burns is in her fifth season hosting “Master Minds.”

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