USA TODAY US Edition
Variety adds spice to NBC
Neil Patrick Harris has the ‘Best Time Ever’ with new show
Put a variety show on
NEW YORK steroids and you have Best Time
It’s a Wednesday morning and the ragtag cast of NBC’s live series gamble is rehearsing a glitzy closer for its Tuesday premiere (10 p.m. ET/PT). Lights flash and a Pitbull song blares over the speakers in a Queens studio as host Neil Patrick Harris pops up from behind a makeshift bar and starts juggling cocktail shakers and bottles with acrobatic bartenders. Before long, the sprightly actor joins a group of guys doing flips and stunts on pogo sticks, then dashes across the stage to lead a drum corps, all while dancers (led by Nicole Scherzinger) gyrate up front.
The show is “random, but not arbitrarily so,” Harris says later. “We want people to be watching segments and wondering how it was accomplished, whether that be some physical feat or ‘How did they manage that amount of dialogue so quickly?’ That’s our game plan: for you to laugh, smile and wonder how it came to be.”
Best is based on fast-paced variety series Ant and Dec’s Satur
day Night Takeaway, which has run on and off in the U.K. for 12 years. Like its British counterpart, NBC’s spin is a mix of live and recorded sketches, gameshow segments, performances and elaborate high jinks. In one taped stunt, Harris poses as an inappropriate Austrian TV host interviewing unsuspecting Voice judges; in another, he pranks his former How I Met Your
Mother co-star Cobie Smulders at her home.
All eight episodes will have a celebrity guest announcer (starting with Reese Witherspoon) and give people chances to win prizes, whether it’s Harris surprising someone at work and inviting them to play a game, or viewers at home doing a singalong with a famous musician live on webcam. At each show, a studio audience member will discover that he has been followed by hidden cameras for months: interacting with a celebrity in disguise or, in one couple’s case, getting photobombed by Harris at their wedding. Some of those ideas are pulled directly from Ant and Dec’s, while others are Best originals.
“The fact that it’s based on the U.K. (show) allows us 12 years of troubleshooting and realizing what worked and why,” Harris says. “That’s not to say specific sequences that worked there will also work here, but it’s invaluable to know before we put it up for an audience in America.” With elements of series such as Survivor,
America’s Got Talent and Punk’d, “this feels like a wonderful melange of different shows I’ve enjoyed, so for this all to come together in that way is fun.”
But it’s not without its risks. NBC has tried variety specials in the past with Rosie O’Donnell (2008’s Rosie Live) and Maya Rudolph (last
year’s The Maya Rudolph Show), both of which were met with modest ratings. And although he has successfully hosted the Tony and Emmy awards, Harris’ run as Academy Awards host earlier this year didn’t stop the telecast from hitting a six-year low, down 15% from last year’s ceremony anchored by Ellen DeGeneres.
Still, Best is a wager NBC is willing to accept, given the network’s renewed focus on live entertainment such as last year’s musical Peter Pan and this winter’s The Wiz.
“When we want to do something or go big on something, this company will stand on its track record, and everybody will get behind something a bit different for our fall premiere week,” says Paul Telegdy, NBC’s president of alternative/ late-night programming. “We try to put something out there that feels on-brand and cohabits with all our shows.”
Like its British counterpart, NBC’s spin is a mix of live and taped sketches, game-show segments, performances and elaborate high jinks.