How ABC Convinced Alec Baldwin to Host 'Match Game'

"I used to think doing something like this could end your career."
ABC

Game show nostalgists will likely get a kick out of ABC's new Sunday lineup. The three-show block features the return of last summer's Celebrity Family Feud revival and a revamped $100,000 Pyramid. But it's the new iteration of Match Game that's getting the biggest push.

Alec Baldwin steps into the hosting role, most famously occupied by Gene Rayburn from 1962 to 1982, in his first recurring TV gig since 2013. The 30 Rock Emmy winner revisits the competition, lampooned on Saturday Night Live for its celebrity-delivered double-entendre, in a much different climate. He spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what it took for ABC and producers FremantleMedia to convince him to host a game show and why he isn't worried about losing any cred over it.

This job seems like a natural fit and a surprising choice for you. How did you react to the pitch?

I would joke a couple years ago, when I started having more children, that I was going to end up hosting a game show to pay my bills. Then this offer came in. The fact of the matter is … they gave me a very generous amount of money for my charity. They gave me $1 million for my foundation to work just a few days. But the show is fun. Beth McCarthy, who I'd done 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live with, is one of the best live TV directors in the business. And it's at 10 o'clock. We can do it a little looser, a little saltier. That surprised me. Some of the things people said in rehearsal were wickedly funny, and I wondered if we'd be able to say any of it on TV. But they're letting us. Hosting a game show is certainly not the only thing I want to do in life. But doing this and having fun with people, many of them my old friends — how can I say no to that?

So it's an easy yes.

You'd think that doing these things would hurt you somehow. But it was announced I was doing this show, and in the ensuing two weeks, I got offered more jobs — this movie or that movie. I said to my agent, "Don't they know I'm hosting Match Game?" We're all doing this to have fun and raise money for some causes.

You have a deep celebrity Rolodex. Did they lean on you to book the panel?

They've got a list of people. We went out to many people I know, but there are only four days of shooting. So many people are not available. Diversity is a big goal of theirs, so we couldn't just have this side of the aisle in terms of gender or the whole makeup. We've worked very hard to achieve that.

What was your relationship with the original show and Gene Rayburn?

There was a period when I was a kid, hopefully not too long, where I would fake sick and stay home from school as much as possible. I always say that's where I refined whatever acting abilities I have, pretending I was ill so my mother wouldn't make me go to school. Once I hit that couch, there's nothing I wouldn't watch. I was pretty much raised by these kinds of daytime shows. This game show was one of them.

The original was very subversive in terms of double entendre and innuendo. How do you think that will translate to a contemporary audience?

I guess we're going to find out. I think that people might not find something that shocking, but TV still carries with it some degree of caution. Something I could say over a dinner or 20 times on the drive into work wouldn't matter. You say it once on TV, and it's a big deal. There tends to be more of a standard in broadcasting than there is in life. Even though people said things back then, and they said them cautiously, now I think they're just going to come out and say different words. I'm told it's going to be bleeped out or pixilated if it's written on a card. I think it's going to be another level — but not that bad. The network doesn't want to have a show that's going to upset people, but they might get close.

You have a rich history of live TV. Does any part of you wish this wasn't pre-taped?

We're doing these 10 shows this summer, but I made a deal with them to potentially do more next summer. Maybe we'll get to a point where we could do them live. The problem is that it might not make economic sense to just do 10 episodes live. The way we do it now, we're shooting 10 one-hour shows in four days and corralling as many people as we like into that schedule as we can. Maybe they'll have some different ideas for next year, if we get to next year.

ABC made Who Wants to Be a Millionaire a priority when it premiered strongly out of season. Could you see yourself doing this as more than just a summer gig?

I have a lot of things that I'm doing now, and I would say that doing that is unlikely. Maybe if I were doing that and I was shooting a four-camera sitcom. I'll never forget when Kelly Ripa was doing her show and Hope and Faith at the same time. That was possible with four-camera; it's a much tighter and more simpler schedule. If I was doing a four-camera show and the opportunity to do this came along, I don't know whether I'd say yes or no.

But I know right now I couldn't. I'm going to shoot a film in October, and I'm supposed to go shoot Mission Impossible in December. I've got a whole menu of things I've got to do for quite a while. I would never say that it was a bad idea. Working in this business now has become a crazy quilt. I used to think doing something like this could end your career. Ten or 15 years ago, if you went and did this kind of thing, no one would want to work with you. Now the audience is so scattered and segmented, I could do a film for one audience that would never watch Match Game. And I could do this, and the audience would never see the film. It's so fragmented.

The No. 1 thing is let's see what happens with this show. There's no football to compete with, and there's not much on, so this is the only time we could have done this.

What's your current relationship with TV as a viewer?

Some of it is driven by work. I pitched a show that my company was selling to HBO, and I decided to do this big survey of what they had on the air. What was HBO buying? What was HBO screening? I watched all of True Detective, Brink, this show and that show. It's more research for work, and some of it I enjoy a lot. I watched all of House of Cards, because we thought about pitching Netflix as well. I just like to see what's out there.

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