How Sean Hayes' House Parties Led to NBC's New Game Show

Sean Hayes Jane Lynch - H 2013
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Sean Hayes Jane Lynch - H 2013

The Jane Lynch-hosted "Hollywood Game Night" is based on Hayes' shindigs -- the most fun Tom Hanks ever had.

This story first appeared in the March 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Note to aspiring producers: All it takes to land a show at NBC is a really fun party with a few celebrities.

On Feb. 22, NBC announced that Glee’s Jane Lynch will host Hollywood Game Night, an eight-episode game show born from actor Sean Hayes (Will & Grace) and producer Todd Milliner’s real-life cocktail party-style game nights. The popular soirees featuring off-the-wall original contests (see: putting Michael Jackson’s faces in chronological order) have been luring Hollywood insiders for years.

Tom Hanks, a guest at one get-together, later declared the evening the most fun of his life. So Hayes and Milliner hatched a plan to sell their game nights as a TV show, and they opted for an outside-the-box pitch. “We decided the experience was the selling tool because everybody who would come would say, ‘This should be a TV show,’ ” says Milliner. The duo began inviting key executives such as NBC president of alternative and late night Paul Telegdy and NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt.

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“We had a very jolly night,” recalls Telegdy of his first booze-filled game night two years ago. “My wife won, and if she has a good night out, I have a good night out.” The experience piqued Telegdy’s interest, but it was a taped run-through at a Hollywood Hills house in late 2012 -- participants included Valerie Bertinelli, Niecy Nash and Roger Bart -- that sealed the deal for NBC, which began negotiating to buy the show.

“That’s the one that put it over the top,” says Milliner. “You get a free peek before you put the money in, and I think it’s valuable for everybody.” Hayes agrees that the party pitch proved effective. “It’s more interactive for them,” he says. “It’s a chance to get them more excited about the product.” Filming for Hollywood Game Night is being eyed for April and May at a house -- not on a traditional set -- much like the scene of one of Hayes and Milliner’s bashes, and the hope is some of the energy that makes their parties fun will translate to the small screen.

The lesson?

“Anyone who makes a pitch interesting or puts on any kind of a show is going to be rewarded for their creativity,” says Telegdy. “It ain’t easy taking 50 virtually identical meetings a week. Hopefully this will inspire people to put on a bit of a show in order to get business.”