TV Game Shows Increasingly Reel In Movie Star Hosts

Jamie Foxx hosts Beat Shazam-Publicity Still-H 2019
Michael Becker/FOX

Once the bread and butter of up-and-coming DJs and daytime talking heads, the role of TV emcee is becoming the domain of A-listers.

Marquee comedy stars Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish have both signed on to host Big Four unscripted projects, the former replacing Steve Harvey on NBC's onetime smash Little Big Shots and the latter fronting a Kids Say the Darndest Things reboot, which ABC has fast-tracked for a fall premiere.

The pair join the likes of movie stars/emcees Alec Baldwin (ABC's Match Game), Jamie Foxx (Fox's Beat Shazam), Dwayne Johnson (NBC's Titan Games) and, as of June 12, Elizabeth Banks (ABC's Press Your Luck).

For these types of gigs, talent of this caliber can fetch as much as $450,000 an episode.

"It used to be just sticking the right talking head in," says NBC Entertainment Alternative and Reality Group president Meredith Ahr. "But now you have to focus on finding somebody the viewer really wants to share that hour with every single week."

Haddish had been shopping her own spin on Darndest Things — most recently a 1990s Bill Cosby vehicle — and sources say multiple networks bid on her reboot, while NBC, keen to keep Little Big Shots alive without Harvey (persona non grata at NBCUniversal after moving production of his now-canceled talk show to IMG), approached McCarthy who, to the surprise of some, bit.

McCarthy is said to have come up with her own take on the format, one she'll reveal in the coming weeks during an appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show. (In addition to producing Little Big Shots, DeGeneres also hosts and produces Ellen's Game of Games on NBC.)

Since talent fees remain reasonable, especially on the lower-cost (i.e., non-American Idol or The Voice) game and variety shows, scheduling is typically the biggest obstacle in getting A-listers attached.

Howard Stern brought a ratings spike when he kicked off a four-season stint on NBC's labor-intensive American's Got Talent, but years later, a game show offer has him balking. "You've got to learn to say no to these things," he recently told THR. "When I'm there for 27 hours on a Thursday, after a full week on the radio, I'm miserable." 

This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.