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Actor-comedian Kirk Fox and executive producer Jay McGraw are ready to put some people to The Test.
Their new conflict-resolution talk show, which premieres in national syndication Monday, uses lie detectors, DNA, pregnancy and other types of definitive medical examinations to put anyone who is willing to the test and get some immediate resolutions.
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Host Fox is already a familiar face to viewers of NBC’s Parks and Recreation on which he recurs as “Sewage” Joe. (Other credits include NBC’s Community and Nickelodeon’s How to Rock.) He also performs stand-up but says that, despite his comedy background, he isn’t planning to mine his guests’ woes for laughs.
“I didn’t want to do a show where I’m making fun of anybody,” Fox says. “I may be a comedian, but at the end of the day, I care about people, and none of the jokes will be at the expense of a guest. There will be comedy, but that’s not my goal.”
Ahead of the show’s premiere (CBS Television Distribution is distributing the talker, which is airing in all major markets on the Tribune stations; McGraw’s Stage 29 Productions is producing), Fox and McGraw (The Doctors) talked to The Hollywood Reporter about how the concept came about, what viewers can expect and why this show will be different from other talkers.
How did the idea for this show come together?
Jay McGraw: I wish I had some great story where I was sitting on a beach and in a clandestine moment I went scrambling for a scrap of paper. But it was more like a reverse engine: I sat down and thought, “OK, what is working in daytime? Day in and day out, what is working?” Whether it was the top-rated show of the season, Dr. Phil [hosted by McGraw’s father], or what clicks on Maury Povich‘s show — in general, I think it’s test results. People like to see the black-and-white version of that. And [the] court [genre] is working really well; people like to see resolution at the end. I wanted to find a way to put a finer point on that and combine the two, like a little hybrid between a traditional conflict talk show and a court show. So we’ve got two people who are at odds with each other — [for example], a disagreement about how to raise their kids. There is 100 percent disagreement. A middle central figure moderates. But instead of bringing somebody in a robe trying to maintain decorum in a courtroom, we have Kirk, and the guests are allowed to say what they want and get it off their chests. But at the end, instead of a judge rendering a verdict, there’s a test that resolves the dispute once and for all. What’s working in the ratings are test results and court shows; we’ve combined the best elements of each and have what I think is actually a new format. [McGraw is executive producer alongside Patricia Ciano and Carla Pennington.]
Kirk Fox: What I’m liking about the show is that once we do get the results, it’s not the ending right at that moment. When we give someone the answer, they get the chance to decide what to do with that answer.
With Kirk having a background in stand-up comedy, will the show have some humorous elements to it?
McGraw: I think people say we went and got a comedian, but the truth is we found a guy who genuinely cares about other people. He wants to see them leave in a better situation than when they came in. But he actually is incredibly funny and can provide levity in intense moments.
Fox: And if the guests feel comfortable, we can go a little deeper [into their issues] than we might if they feel they are being attacked. Everybody that comes on the show has traveled a long way and they need answers and will get answers.
Has anything surprised you so far while filming the show?
McGraw: Everything has surprised all of us. [Laughs.]
Fox: When dealing with people whose lives are actually on the line, or they’re in a 10-year relationship, you’re going to get surprises. At the end of the day, we find a common thread for everyone who is fighting for love or honesty. They just want the whole truth. A lot of people get answers, and it may not be the answer they are looking for.
McGraw: I think it will be fun for the audience because you can never tell which one of them is lying. And the great thing here is that at the end of the episode, you will find out for sure who is telling the truth and who isn’t.
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Fox: And as the host, I make sure I do not know any of these answers, which keeps me engaged and just as curious as the viewers watching. That’s why I’m loving this show. I want to find out when the audience does, so the questions I’m asking will be the same ones that everyone at home is hoping I’ll ask.
What kinds of tests will we see performed on the show?
McGraw: We’ve brought it all out: paternity tests, drug tests — lots of parents saying they think their kids are doing drugs and they want to know for sure — a few medical tests and lie-detector tests. The polygraph covers a wide range of subject matters, so everything from theft to infidelity.
Do you follow up with your guests after they’ve left the show, to get an update on what’s happened in their lives?
Fox: One thing that separates this show from all other shows in this avenue is we have a tremendous after-care program. When somebody gets an answer, sometimes that answer is more than they can handle. And we hook them up with an after-care specialist and stay in contact with them as long as they need. Nobody needs to be thrown out in the world to deal with [these issues on their own].
McGraw: We’ve already had people who come back to the show a couple times, whether it’s a couple where one accused the other of infidelity and now the other one is making cheating accusations, or a guy accused of being a baby’s father, and we find out he’s not, and so the woman goes home and gets another guy to find out whether he’s the father. We do different kinds of follow-ups.
Teen Mom star Farrah Abraham is one of your guests [making an appearance to find out if she got pregnant while shooting her sex tape with porn star James Deen]. Any other celebrities booked for appearances?
McGraw: The Lohans will be on the show; Michael and Dina [Lindsay’s parents] will be sitting down for the first time really [since the family has been embroiled in public drama]. Kirk does a great job of getting to the bottom of a lot of questions. But I’ll let viewers watch to find out what their question was. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised at this new spin on a proven genre, and I’m excited to see what viewers think of the show.
Fox: I think the show is going to surprise everybody. It brings a lot of elements together that people are not expecting to see in daytime.
The Test debuts Monday (check local listings for times). Watch a preview of Abraham’s episode below.
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