September 09, 2011 8:15pm PT by Sophie Schillaci
MTV's 'The Substitute': Exclusive Sneak Peek at the New Game Show (Video)
In a continued effort to win over the demographic that made them successful, MTV will launch The Substitute -- a new answer to the daily game shows typically aimed at the early bird specials crowd, rather than high school teens.
Executive Producer Michael Davies and host Jon Gabrus spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the new series, in which a mysterious substitute teacher transforms everyday high school classrooms into game show floors, pitting teens against their peers for the chance to win $5,000. In a series of four rounds, Mr Gabrus asks students questions they “should know” regarding academics, things they “do know” about pop culture and what they “do,” in which students face off in physical challenges.
For the final round, one student is left standing while the class is given the option of “the people’s choice” -- one challenger to take on the final opponent on behalf of the group. Should the remaining student win, they get the $5,000 all to themselves, but if the people’s choice proves victorious, he or she splits the money amongst the entire class.
“It is a total shock to them. They have no idea who I am,” Gabrus said of the group surprise that kicks off each episode. “They know something is up because they’ve been told that they’re going to be filmed for a documentary or something, but they have no clue that a briefcase is going to be opened with $5,000 cash.”
“Sometimes [the reaction] is like I fired a t-shirt into a crowded baseball game. Everyone starts going crazy, jumping up and down all over each other,” he added. “Sometimes they’re paralyzed by ‘uh, how do I react to this?’ and the students look back and forth at each other like, ‘is this really happening?’”
Obviously the chance to win $5,000 and appear on MTV is a thrilling perk for the students, but the schools took a bit more convincing before allowing the cameras in to interrupt the student’s regular schedules.
“Sometimes schools are initially wary about TV crews coming into their classroom, but every experience we had was so positive,” explained Davies. “Once schools understood what the show was, a fun game that will reward their students, they were eager to participate.”
Davies reveals that not all of the 20 episodes were filmed in the high school classroom, but some took place on college campuses, as the show hopes the catch the eye of a slightly older crowd. “We were very careful not to make this just a high school show,” he said. “Some episodes were shot in colleges, but even independently of that, I think the appeal of game shows in general, and this one in particular, is universal.”
“It sounds cheesy to say, but I think its cool to be playing a teacher in a positive light,” Gabrus admitted of his involvement with the series. “A lot of TV, and especially comedies, portray the teachers as the people who are preventing the fun from the students, --thinking back to Saved by the Bell.”
“It’s like, I’m giving out money to high school kids and I’m on their side as much as possible,” he added. “So it’s sort of fun, because teaching is such an amazing profession yet we’ve always portrayed them as the fun ruiners and the party stoppers.”
The teachers themselves will get in on some of the fun, in various Vanna White-style appearances.
“We had different teachers from the schools bring prizes into the classroom while filming – teachers would fight over who got to participate,” Davies said. “It was really fun for them to reward their kids with huge prizes like iPads and flat screen TVs instead of just grades. I think some of the teachers might consider game show hosting during their summer vacations.”
Gabrus on the other hand, turned to his brother -- a real life substitute teacher -- for words of wisdom on the new gig.
“I used to really want to be a teacher. I thought it would be cool to try to make kids read books because I was always a book-ish type guy. But I don’t know if I could really do it,” he admitted. “My brother watched the trailer and he was like, ‘There’s no one that yells that much as a teacher,’ I was like, ‘I know, but it’s positive yelling!’ And he just said. ‘I know, but no one yells that much.’”
The Substitute premieres on Monday at 4:30 p.m. on MTV. See an exclusive clip of the new series above.