Wardrobe function


When costume designer Dina Cerchione of NBC's "Deal or No Deal" shops for dresses, she tends to have a different agenda than your average fashion maven. "I'll see a dress and love it," she says. "But then I have to ask, 'Do you have 32 more just like it?'"

Such is the dilemma of the "Deal" crewmate assigned to dressing the 26 identically outfitted models who populate the stage, holding numbered, sealed Halliburton aluminum attache cases, each of which contains a cash amount ranging from one cent to $1 million. They provide what Craig Plestis, NBC's executive vp alternative programs, development and specials, calls "an element of visual excitement. It brings the show a little bit of extra sex appeal."

And why does Cerchione need 33 dresses if she has only 26 models to dress? In case someone (or several someones) gets sick, spills something, rips something or has a hem inconveniently hanging down that might prove a distraction.

The motivation behind using models is to add a dash of sexy -- without drawing attention to one model over another. This is why the "Deal" models must match precisely, Cerchione explains.

"If the models were wearing different colors or patterns, it might lead to too much visual confusion," she says. "You don't want (contestants) to be picking a woman because of what she's wearing. That could lead to charges of bias based on being drawn to a certain fashion style. If, say, one corner of the stage looks darker or brighter than another, you may be stacking the odds based on that visual. It has to be an even playing field."

Wow. Who knew there was such a science to dressing game show models? Because the dresses are purchased in such quantity, Cerchione points out that it's necessary to go straight to the manufacturer rather than, say, the local Bloomingdale's. She mentions ABS by Allen Schwartz, BCBGMaxAzria and Maggie Barry as primary suppliers.

"But we'll also go to the stores to scope out individual styles we might be interested in," she adds. "And I'll often have to ask them to change things up a bit. Maybe they've already worn an orange dress, so I'll ask if they have it in lavender. Another time, I did find a dress at Bloomingdale's that was perfect, but the manufacturer wasn't available to make it in bulk. So, we called all of the Bloomingdale's stores in the country to get them one or two at a time. We get what we need by hook or by crook."

The models themselves, on the other hand, don't need to match. They're white, black, Hispanic, Asian -- quite the exotic and diverse array. And while they might be numbers rather than names on the show, they embody "a mass of beauty," as Cerchione puts it. Adds "Deal" executive producer Scott St. John: "Most versions of the show internationally have no models, but for the American audience, we thought it should be more visceral. Subtlety is not this nation's forte. We wanted to up the spectacle factor, and the models go a long way to
providing that."

"They also feed into our framing 'Deal or No Deal' to give it the feel of a variety show as much as a game show," Plestis notes. "When you see the models, it conveys the idea that there's a lot going on here, that you've tuned into an event. (Host) Howie (Mandel) supplies a key part of that ambiance, too."

One might presume that the models appeal primarily to male viewers. But Cerchione insists they're a fairly equal hit with both genders.

"We've found that women like to look at well-dressed sexy women as much as men do," she says. "It isn't just an opportunity to be catty, either. They'll be like, 'Ooh, I wonder where they got that dress.'

I mean, catty is probably there, too, but a lot of it's envy and fashion interest. For the guys, it's just the usual lust, and that's cool, too."