Welcome to “What Went Wrong?”, the series of interviews where I talk to the people related to shows that didn’t quite make it. There are a number of reasons programs can fail. It could be a genuinely good show that deserved more time. It could be the victim of corporate interference. Or, the format could just be a giant rotten goose egg. However, the host is usually the victim. We’ll find out what went wrong and what the hosts are doing now.
Today, I’m interviewing Gary Kroeger, comedian, actor, and game show host. He’s probably best known, however, as a cast member of Saturday Night Live. Here are some of his sketches:
And here’s his headshot.
GP: First, Gary, you’re probably better known to the non-game show fans as a “Not Yet Ready for Primetime Player” on Saturday Night Live from 1982-1985. (I learned that from your Wikipedia page.) Yet on that show, you worked with Don Pardo, who has done a number of game shows; so in some way, it was just meant to be. What was it like working on the show?
GK: SNL was like graduate school for show business. I learned a lot and it was a lot of fun, but one of the things I learned, I didn’t like. I didn’t like the ruthlessness of the competition. Everyone was kind off set, but it was a competitive and gut wrenching experience to get on the air. I didn’t have the steely resolve to do battle week after week.
GP: Do you still watch SNL? What do you think of the show now?
GK: If I am up that late on a Saturday night, I’m not watching TV.
GP: Now, one of your first game show experiences was The Newlywed Game. The format deviated a lot from the original, it lasted a season, then you got replaced by the original. Now, how did you initially get involved with hosting TNG?
GK: The show was revamped as a companion to The Dating Game. I auditioned along with hundreds of others but I think my improv ability sealed the deal for me. I only did it a year to lackluster ratings but it was one of the greatest times of my life. I love the crew and meeting the couples.
GP: Were you responsible for any of the changes?
GK: Not really. I tended to get a little…raunchier…than the producers wanted, and most of my best ad libs were cut, but I kept pushing to make the show edgier.
GP: What was it like on the show? Do you have any stories you’d like to tell us?
GK: None that I can share and remain fair to the participants. Lets just say, couples were…surprising at how candid they could be.
GP: Did you ever go to Bob Eubanks for advice, or did you just wing it?
GK: All I heard is that Bob didn’t like our new version.
GP: Why do you think your version got canned?
GK: Ratings just weren’t there. I think because we were too milquetoast and afraid of offending anyone. I don’t believe in being offensive but I think there was a line we could have moved toward that made the show more edgy and fun.
GP: Have you seen the current Newlywed Game with Sherri Shepherd on GSN? If so, what do you think about it?
GK: I don’t care for it. I think it lacks the charm of the original and the one I did.
GP: A lot of people are saying that Bob should come back permanently. What’s your stance on all this?
GK: I think its time for him to stay retired. He was the best ever, and although I don’t believe in ageism, Newlywed is a show that should be hosted by someone under 55.
GP: Next, there’s Card Sharks, which was also hosted at one point by Eubanks. Boy, you must really be his protege or something. Anyway, as you probably guessed, that format bombed. Nite owl time slots, major deviation from the original format, just not good. First off, how did you get involved with the show?
GK: I honestly don’t remember. I think it was a Rysher show and I had produced the George and Alana Show for them and was asked to be the announcer.
GP: What was it like working there? Did you develop some sort of bond with Pat Bullard?
GK: Pat was (is) a great guy. Very clever.
GP: In your opinion, why do you think there was so much of a deviation from the original format?
GK: The show used to confuse me and I was part of it. I think in its desire to be different from the original, it became too complicated and again, lost its charm.
GP: And why do you think it ultimately failed?
GK: For the reason above.
GP: After that, you went on to Whammy! Now, how did you get involved with this show?
GK: I wanted to be the host but lost out to my good friend Todd Newton. I was given the announcer job as a consolation. I loved Todd on the show and I don’t think I could have done any better.
GP: Did you watch a few episodes of the original Press Your Luck to get some inspiration from Rod [the original announcer]?
GK: Never. Rod was a legend, but I have to do my own thing.
GP: What was it like working on the show? Do you have any experiences you’d like to share?
GK: Todd and I hung out socially. I also did the audience warm up and Todd and I would improvise outlandishly for the audience before the show. It was so much fun I had to remind myself that I was getting paid.
GP: There were only 130 original episodes taped, but the reruns are still on GSN to this day. Why do you think that is?
GK: It was a really good version of the format.
GP: I know that Todd is doing all the Press Your Luck slot machines, he didn’t do the PYL video game, but he did do the DVD game. Todd’s essentially become the new face of PYL. Why do you think that is, and what do you think of it?
GK: To be honest, I didn’t know that he was. Although we remain friends, I moved from LA 7 years ago and we only keep in occassional email contact.
GP: Could we see a revival of PYL in the future?
GK: That would be wonderful. Write to GSN.
GP: Now, I want to move onto Beat the Clock. That is a legendary show, it set the course for Double Dare and all the other physical stunt games out there. How did you get involved with this?
GK: I auditioned. I had been in the game show industry long enough by then to be a commodity that was sought to some degree. We did a very bare bones and modest version of the show, but it has a real fun and charm to it. I was sorry to see it go. Again, ratings weren’t a bonanza, but PAX wasn’t doing particularly well.
GP: In my opinion, and this is just my personal opinion, I really didn’t like it that much. It just felt too hokey, a bit forced. Then again, a lot of Fremantle revivals were forced. It just deviated a bit from the tried and true. Why do you think Fremantle made that decision?
GK: Interesting. I don’t disagree with you, except that I can say that the games were played for real and were very spontaneous. I think we suffered from not being as clever as we needed to be on a consistent basis. Some of the games were outstanding, but too many didn’t work because they were too simple (or too hard).
GP: Did you watch a few episodes from the Collyer, Narz, Wood, or Hall versions before your first day of work?
GK: I knew the show, but I never do that kind of homework. I always assume that a new version needs to be new and the less I emulate the past the better.
GP: What was it like working on the show? Do you have any experiences you’d like to share with us?
GK: Great producers, great guests and they treated me like a king. I hope that doesn’t sound vain, but when you work 7 shows a day, the fact that they cared about me, was real nice. I enjoyed living in Florida for those months too.
GP: Your version only lasted a year on PAX. Why do you think that is?
GK: Show wasn’t consistently clever enough and PAX was struggling as well
GP: Gary, it’s been great having you here. Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to promote?
GK: I am in advertising now and do community theatre. While I sort of ache to get back to LA…I enjoy healthcare benefits and a steady check!
GP: Finally, what advice do you have for people who want to enter your field of work?
GK: Host. Host. Host. Host everything. Fundraisers. Parties. Host the home version of games. Videotape everything. Move to LA, shop your stuff to an agent and always be in a good mood!
Thanks a lot, Gary. Good luck with your future projects.
Guys, you’re not going to believe this, but I think I hit paydirt. I just scored an interview with Wink Martindale! You may remember him from Tic Tac Dough, but do you remember this show?
Well, we’ll bring it up. As soon as he responds, we’ll have him up here. I’m really excited about this. I’m still working on Rossi Morreale and Pat Bullard, but I’ll be getting more interviews soon. Hopefully. So stay tuned!