Harris takes variety gamble with ‘Best Time’

15 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris’ is multi-tasking mania.

When I first met Neil Patrick Harris to talk about his new NBC variety show, Best Time Ever — which premieres Tuesday — it was under the most appropriate of circumstances.His response: “One time I got so drunk, I woke up in my hotel room in Walt Disney World by myself around the toilet after having thrown up for six hours having gone to the Adventurers Club at Walt Disney World and drank about 11 martinis…Disney drunk!” “The Wendy Williams Show” airs at 4 p.m. weekdays on WRBW-Channel 65 and at 10 a.m. weekdays on WOFL-Channel 35. (The Sentinel has a content-sharing agreement with WOFL.) Harris: “There was a lot of scrutiny about the underpants.

But the real show is back at home with Harris’ kids (their other dad is David Burtka), Gideon and Harper, who are preparing to go to pre-K in New York City. By the end of the segment, he’ll be covered in blue paint and accompanied by a pint-sized dopplegänger called “Little NPH.” So yeah, it was perfectly odd. Before long, the sprightly actor joins a groupof guys doing flips and stunts on pogo sticks, and dashes across the stage to lead a drum corps, all while dancers (led by Nicole Scherzinger) gyrate up front. One the one hand, it’s a throwback variety show, with stunts and pranks and giveaways and various celebrities wandering in and out (for example, Reese Witherspoon is the guest announcer for the first episode).

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 Saturday Night Takeaway, which has run on and off in the U.K. for 12 years. But on the other hand, it capitalizes on current technology and social media to give it a modern twist. “Ed Sullivan, for sure,” Harris said when asked if he has any inspirations for what he’s trying to achieve with this new show. “Ernie Kovacs was hilarious. 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 they’ve actually been followed by hidden cameras for months prior: interacting with a celebrity in disguise or, in one couple’s case, getting photobombed by Harris at their wedding.

I’m fine to be able to learn drum sequences and practice on the subway, but I just want to make sure that the spot itself is going to be strong because I want to impress upon them that I wanted more and not less. Barnum? “I think this fits into my skill set pretty strongly right now, because I’ve done the live stuff, I’ve done the hosting stuff (including the Oscars), I enjoy the spontaneity of it, I kind of enjoy the challenge of seeing how it goes. 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. (Rudolph’s show will return next year with new co-host Martin Short, the network confirms). And although he’s successfully emceed the Tony and Emmy awards, Harris’ run as Academy Awards host earlier this year didn’t help the telecast from hitting a six-year low, down 15% from last year’s Ellen DeGeneres-anchored ceremony. So we’ll be all set for them, but they won’t know we’re there, and then we’ll throw to them and get their authentic reaction.” There are elements that will be taped ahead of time, too, such as when Harris goes undercover to prank people, be they celebrities – such as the judges on The Voice – or random members of the public.

Still, Best is a wager that NBC is willing toaccept, 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 go big, 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.” (After launching behind the America’s Got Talent finale Tuesday and Voice premiere next week, Best moves to 8 p.m. Sept. 29.) “I’m concerned that people hear it’s a variety show and decide to opt out because of their experience with previous variety shows,” he says. “So when I say ‘variety redefined,’ that wasn’t the marketing team and I sitting down and coming up with a good catchphrase.

I really think the word ‘variety’ is entirely appropriate for what were going to see on the show week in week out — it’s different all the time, yet structured in pretty much the same way.” You kind of want to see it when it’s on. “And that also gives us time to walk away and look at those eight (episodes) and see what worked and why, and if we’re lucky enough to do the second season, fix it and have people, hopefully, hungry for it. It’s all bucket-list fun, and the End-of-the-Show Show, by design, is supposed to be some live theatrical one-off that’s super creative and potentially difficult to execute, so I’m anxious to ramp up the fear factor of it all within reason. We were trying to honor the way that people watch everything, but the live-live element, if you’re at home watching the show, it’s really happening right now. Things will go wrong inevitably, but given that we’re not a scripted show — we have writers and we’ll have scripted parts — but we’re not a fictionalized scripted thing.

Right now, we’re doing things with people who will unknowingly come and see the show, and they won’t have realized that we’ve done all of these things. It’s the unknown right now, to the media, to the critics, to the audience, to the celebrities, when we’re pitching ideas for A-list stars to be a part of it, their teams are saying, “Show us what the show is.” No.

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