Sweet 'Deal'

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Howie Mandel didn't want to host a game show. It isn't that he thought it was beneath him. He just never aspired to be the next Alex Trebek or Pat Sajak. Besides, he still had a nice gig doing what he does best: stand-up comedy. He was touring the country playing a few hundred live dates a year when the call came from his agent to host this new NBC show called "Deal or No Deal."

That he would not only take the job but find himself presiding over one of the network's most consistent hits some 16 months after the show's December 2005 debut has
surprised no one more than Mandel. The guy who starred as the wisecracking Dr. Wayne Fiscus on "St. Elsewhere" back in the 1980s is again a primetime fixture on the network that brought him his greatest previous exposure.

Suddenly, Mandel, 51, has a concern he could scarcely have imagined until now: overexposure. As he noted in a telephone conversation with Ray Richmond for The Hollywood Reporter, "Deal" hasn't had quite the disastrous impact on his career that he had feared. He admits, "I keep asking, 'How did this happen?'"

The Hollywood Reporter: OK, so take a guess: How did this happen?
Howie Mandel: Well, it's all me, clearly. No, seriously, this show somehow managed to strike just the right nerve with viewers. I didn't see this coming at all, but maybe I should have. There's a lot going on that makes "Deal or No Deal" far more than your average game show.

THR: Really? Like what?
Mandel: It's kind of how (Fox's) "American Idol" became far more than just a new version of "Amateur Hour." Our show became about humanity. Every show has elements of reality television in it. There's incredible drama, there's soap, there's comedy. It runs the gamut. And every contestant has a compelling story that you might be able to relate to. You can laugh or be brought to tears at any given time. And the game itself is exhilarating.

THR: Are you sure you're talking about "Deal or No Deal"?
Mandel: Seriously, the drama and suspense are just totally constant in this game. Trust me, I wouldn't have thought this is where the show could go when I got hired. That's why I initially turned it down when they offered. I feared it would be dull and repetitive. But when I finally agreed to do it, I still figured, "Well, we'll just do the five episodes we taped and be gone." Why that didn't happen is a combination of elements, I think, but most of it surrounds the fact every show we do plays so differently from the one before it.

THR: Is it true you weren't even in the country when the first batch of shows aired in 2005?
Mandel: It is. I took off for Venezuela. I thought it a good idea to be off the continent for fear of the ramifications that being on this show might (have). I'm pleased to say I may have overreacted a bit.

THR: So, now are you worried about being typecast as, say, the new Wink Martindale?
Mandel: (Laughs) I really don't. But there are probably worse things. The truth is that being on "Deal or No Deal" has helped my career in every way. I'm being hired to do comedy dates that wouldn't have happened without it. It's pretty amazing.

THR: You mean people now want to see the "Deal or No Deal" guy on stage?
Mandel: Really, that may be some of it. I'll do 280 live dates this year on top of the show. The impact of being associated with this show has only been positive. There's been no hit to my credibility in stand-up.

THR: Why do you feel compelled to continue working on the road so much?
Mandel: It's what I do. I'm a comedian. This is something amazing that just came along and is a wonderful adjunct, but it's not my main gig. I love the stage.

THR: Do you find women throwing themselves at you more these days?
Mandel: No. But honestly, I'm getting mobbed on the street now. It's like I'm part of this phenomenon.

THR: The ratings have been remarkably steady even with critics having largely dismissed it, seemingly.
Mandel: Yeah, you know, even when I did "St. Elsewhere," we never really pulled any kind of mainstream numbers. Here I am now, fronting this crazy hit whose demographics aren't 18-49 but 8-89. We cracked the top 20 even when NBC ran us against "American Idol." I mean, I've had such a fractured career really, and when I least expect it -- pow! It's nuts. If I have nine lives, this has got to be the sweetest one.
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