Thursday, July 11, 2013

Report from the Set: NBC's 'Hollywood Game Night'...

A lot of people don't know I'm a really competitive person. Not the screaming and disowning or hitting or throwing things kind; the "secretly plots to cheat or somehow else get the upper hand so I don't end up fuming and holding a grudge" kind. I was never one for team sports, but from as early as I can remember, my classmates and I were regularly pitted against each other in competition within the classroom. Who would get the most stickers or gold stars; who would get the highest report card marks; who would win whatever district contest; who would get into New York's magnet high schools; who would go to Ivy League colleges, etc. I never particularly liked that part of my life, and I often rebelled against it, but still the mentality to "be the best" was ingrained in me over time, through repetition and environment. So recently when I was told I was ineligible to appear on Hollywood Game Night, NBC's new celebrity-driven pop culture game show, I was beyond bitter. That was one show I knew I could win; I studied all things pop culture as a kid, which is why I write about them now. But alas, despite the application only explicitly excluding employees of the parent and production companies, the casting office took one look at the Google results for my name, saw my random articles and IMDb page and said I was too "inside the industry" and that because I had regular access to celebrities could not qualify.

To be clear, the "access to celebrities" I have in my daily life is limited aside from those I can legitimately call my friends, and it was never a selling point for me to apply to the show. Neither was the prize money ($25,000). I, along with my two closest friends from college, applied for VH1's World Series of Pop Culture years earlier where the prize was $100,000. I just wanted bragging rights! And a chance to show off my skills as being not nearly as random or useless as so many people told me when I was a kid. Maybe I can get hired in season two to actually write the questions or create the games. Whatever. I'm getting ahead of myself.

However, the "access to celebrities" angle granted me an in-- or an on?-- to the Hollywood Game Night set in a different way. The publicist for the show invited me, with a handful of other colleagues and competitors, to come and see how the game worked-- by playing a shortened version of it-- and then interviewing host Jane Lynch. It was the mother ship calling me home. I was in heaven, and not just because the "set" was actually a gorgeous hilltop mansion overlooking the city. Hollywood Game Night was one of the most fun set visits of which I have ever been a part.

There are a wide variety of rotating games that will be unveiled over the course of Hollywood Game Night's short summer season, but I got a sneak peek at three key ones: Celebrity Fusion, The "Do-Do" Game, and TV ID (my personal favorite). As Lynch point out in our interview (and she's right): no one wants to watch people struggle on TV, so the games aren't too mind-bending. It's designed to be fun and inviting and for people to play along at home.

In Celebrity Fusion, two images of celebrities are Photoshopped together, overlapping in kind of a warped "what would their baby look like" sort of way. One person from each team stands at the podium, ringing in when he or she thinks he or she knows who the two celebrities are. While Lynch will offer clever clues to help you along, there's a twist to this game in that the faces are not the only things "fused" or "mashed up," to borrow from Cougar Town. The celebrities share a name in common: the first name of one is the last name of another, so when you deliver your answer, you will have to provide the mashed-up name (like Lil Jon Hamm or Billy Joel McHale). I ruled this round, not afraid of bragging, getting all three of mine, plus the sample one before the game officially began, correct. 

I'm equally unafraid to admit I totally tanked The "Do-Do" Game, as I knew I would. In that game, a member of the team goes up to the podium and is given a stack of cards with song titles on them. Using only the the word "do," the member has to sing/hum/harmonize the song, with his or her team members guessing the answer. You have 90 seconds to get as many as possible, and when you yell a correct answer, you rotate so that you're the one "singing" the song. I never had to sing because I never guessed one. Not even "Carry on My Wayward Son," which I will be shamed about forever. Lynch had no problem doing so on the spot (even though she had no idea how well I should know that particular ditty because of Supernatural). However, I think she was impressed by my Celebrity Fusion ability, as well as my work with TV ID, arguably the hardest of the three games, so it was all okay in the end.

TV ID is a game I am totally poaching for my next game night with my own friends. A person from each team steps up to the podium and is showed a card with a TV show title on it at the same time. Whoever thinks they know how to get their team to correctly guess it with only one guess buzzes in to "bid" how many words they need to explain the show title. Talent names, words that are within the show title, networks, and character names are not allowed. If the other person thinks they can do it in fewer words, they can counter-bid even though he or she didn't actually buzz in first. It's like Celebrity but on crack. I have enough hubris to say I set the tone by going first, getting Breaking Bad, bidding one word right off the bat, and saying "meth." I brought the tone full circle when my teammate bid one word, said "couch," and I correctly guessed Friends for the final round. Lynch was certainly impressed with that one, asking me point blank how the hell I figured that out.

Other games we sadly didn't have time to play or see for ourselves in action (but on which I will be taking copious notes when the episodes air) include Timeline, in which you have to put pictures (of anything from Presidents to People Magazine covers or a certain celebrity "through the years" (read: plastic surgeries) in correct chronological order; "Take The Hint," in which something plays on the screen behind one team member, as the others have one word each to describe what it is so the team member can correctly guess; and another potentially tragic musical game where the band (yes, there's a live house band; don't you have live performers for your game nights!?) plays 16 bars of a song, the team gets the next four lines of lyrics and has to sing them in the correct order, one line per teammate. These are just a few, and again, I happily, unabashedly submit myself to the season two staff to help create even more.

What can I say? I may not have been born for this, but it's the test I've been studying for my whole life. We've seen aliens, zombies, electrical failures, collapsed civilizations, suddenly dropped domes, over the top natural disasters, and even Michael and Lucifer literally battling each other over the apocalypse, and I would be toast in all of those situations. But if I ever had a gun to my head asking me who was the recurring guest star on the fifty-first episode of Melrose Place* (for example), I'd save the world. 

* The answer is Jason Beghe.

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