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NBC: What ‘Deal or No Deal’ is looking for

Plus: ‘Law & Order’ updates; Brandy, Reege and The Hoff

In addition to its slate of new shows, NBC offered a few panels updating critics on some of its current successes. Fans of “Deal or No Deal” can read on to get tips on how to make it on the show (and a sort-of explanation of how the banker’s offer is determined). “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf was here with a cast member from each of his three shows. And a star-studded if wacky panel that included Brandy, Regis Philbin, and “The Hoff” himself, David Hasselhoff, showed up to discuss “America’s Got Talent.”

You can read my entries straight through, or use the links provided to skip to your favorite shows.

‘Law & Order:’ That other series that’s not ‘CSI’While NBC’s panels focused mostly on their new shows, the longtime Dick Wolf crime series, “Law & Order,” also was featured. Wolf and one star from each of the three series appeared on the panel. Connie Nielsen came for “SVU.” The original show, which Wolf and NBC refer to as “the mother ship,” was represented by new cast member Alana De La Garza, who plays new assistant DA Consuela Rubirosa. And “Criminal Intent” was represented by Julianne Nicholson, who plays Detective Megan Wheeler, Chris Noth’s partner.

Wolf first teased the panel by saying he was often asked if there would be another “Law & Order” series, and that he was about to show a teaser from an upcoming spinoff. He then showed a “Sesame Street” clip, “Law and Order: Special Letters Unit,” in which a variety of Muppets chased down a capital letter “M.”  The franchise’s trademark clanging sound was heard throughout the clip, until the letter “M” finally shrieks in the end “You know that CHUNG-CHUNG thing can really get on one’s nerves! Stop that!”

Other changes Wolf mentioned: For the mothership, Milena Govich has also been added to the cast, playing the first female street cop on the show, Det. Nina Cassady. In addition to Nicholson, Eric Bogosian is also joining “Criminal Intent.” Wolf also squashed the rumor that Sam Waterston will not be returning to the mothership, saying “Sam is back for all 22 episodes.”

“Law & Order” is also moving into foreign markets, with “Criminal Intent” shooting a French version starring Vincent Perez in the Vincent D’Onofrio role, and with the other two shows shooting Russian versions in Moscow.

Keeping ‘Order’:

  • All three shows are set in and filmed in New York, and many Broadway actors have crossed over to the shows. Joked Wolf: “If you go to the theater and somebody does not have a ‘Law & Order’ credit, they’ve either just gotten off the bus or they’re really bad.”
  • Wolf said that viewers are very evenly divided over whether they prefer Chris Noth or Vincent D’Onofrio as the lead on “Criminal Intent.”
  • Let’s add another phrase to the press tour drinking game, shall we? Take a drink whenever an actress says “I’m just blessed to be able to do what I do.” Alana De La Garza said it here, but someone says it about once a panel. Hard to argue with them, when you consider how well actors are paid.

‘America’s Got Talent,” with Reege, Brandy and the Hoff
There was no clip shown that was quite like the clip NBC showed from “America’s Got Talent.”  Yodeling! Rapping granny! Flaming bowling balls! Rhythmic finger-snapping! Playing a saw! A blow-up doll dancer! Well, let’s just say, this is not your mother’s “Ed Sullivan Show.”

The three judges were as willing to argue and tease each other on the panel as they are on the show. The three judges all have buzzers to push when they can’t stand an act, and crabby Brit Piers Morgan said he hits the other judges’ buttons from time to time because “they take too long. I mean, some of the train wrecks have got to be buzzed right off.” Leered The Hoff “I kinda like it when he hits my buzzer.” And bemoaned Reege: “I wish I had a buzzer!”

Of course, “American Idol” had to come into the conversation. Producer Ken Warwick is one of“Idol’s” producers and also grew up with fellow “Idol” producer Nigel Lythgoe in Liverpool. Ken Warwick said he believed “Idol’s” scheduling of its show only once a year was the way to go, so as not to overload the audience a la “Who Wants to Me a Millionaire.” (Regis Philbin, who of course hosted “Millionaire,” cracked “What happened? Are we still on?”) Currently “America’s Got Talent” will finish up in August and return just five months later, in January 2007, but after that, Warwick said he would like to wait until January 2008.

Pieces of “America”:

  • Several critics thought Brandy was wearing the miniest of minidresses, but it turns out she had tiny shorts on under her long blouse. She also wore the largest hoop earrings I’ve ever seen. If she took them off, a small child could hula-hoop with them.
  • When asked about being seen crying at the “American Idol” finale, The Hoff said he was sitting next to his best friend, who had brain cancer, and the friend teared up at Taylor Hicks’ win and said “Isn’t it good to be alive?” That, Hasselhoff said, was what started his own tears. “I find it incredulous in this country that if a heterosexual man cries, it’s like ‘Film at 11!’ ” he said.
  • The Hoff managed to get in a plug for his new single, “Jump In My Car,” which can be seen on You Tube. It’s just got to be viewed to be believed, and includes fakey animation, references to “Baywatch” and “Knight Rider,” and the singer himself wearing a shirt that reads “Don’t Hassel (sic) The Hoff.”

Howie Mandel is ready to make a ‘Deal or No Deal”
Enormously popular game show “Deal or No Deal” was represented at NBC’s part of the conference with a panel featuring host Howie Mandel, producer Scott St. John, and David Goldberg, president of Dutch-based Endemol USA, the show’s production company.

(Update: Since I've received dozens of emails about it, with application information for the show.)

The game itself is both simple and quite complicated, as Wikipedia describes so well. A favorite topic for viewers to puzzle over is how the banker’s offers are determined. “It’s a combination of factors that go into the [the banker’s offer],” said St. John. “Part of it’s mathematical, the amount of prize money left in the game.” But St. John also said the banker’s offer is partly based on assessing the contestant personally and determining what kind of risk he or she is willing to take. ”I think we’re really testing, more than intelligence, your will and your mental fortitude,” said St. John. “We’ve had people on who are college professors and they’re reduced to tears.”

Wondering how you can get on “Deal or No Deal”? 5,000-plus people sometimes show up for auditions, including once a man who had “Deal or No Deal” painted on his prosthetic leg. “We cast this show like a reality show,” said David Goldberg. “We want to know what their backstory is. We want to know how they perform on camera. We want to know that we can root for them. We want to know who their family members are, so that when they come there, we can really produce the show around who they are and what their background is.” The top prize winner on the show so far won $464,000, but Mandel strongly hinted that a much higher amount has already been won in episodes he’s taped that have yet to air.

Deal? Or No Deal?

  • When asked how many viewers tune in simply to see the beautiful briefcase-holding models, Howie Mandel was quick to respond, and never changed his answer. “Fourteen percent!” said the host.
  • Mandel has OCD and a fear of germs, and thus does not shake hands with the players, instead often making a fist and touching their knuckles with his. Mandel didn’t want to discuss his condition, however, saying, “I get to [talk about my OCD] a couple times a week with a professional therapist, I don’t need a national TV show.”
  • Will “Deal or No Deal” ride the same overexposure train that burnt out “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”? NBC president Kevin Reilly says no, but in a “stunt,” “Deal or No Deal” will be airing four times in its first week.
  • There are no plans for an all-star version, in which big winners would be brought back to compete. What the show might consider instead would be bringing back players who went home with really small amounts of money. Said David Goldberg, “If you went away with $5, it might be nice to bring that person back and give them a chance.”