Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I’m Too Hairy For the Love Boat!

By Barry Dutter
Love, exciting and new -- come aboard --we’re expecting you -- as long as you’re not too hairy!
Those are not the actual lyrics to the classic theme song to the 70s TV series THE LOVE BOAT, but they might as well have been when I attempted to get a job as an extra on that famed vessel.
In 1997, UPN decided to revive the classic 1970s series THE LOVE BOAT with TV vet Robert Urich as the captain. The new series was to be called LOVE BOAT: THE NEXT WAVE, and it was launching its first cruise in my then home-town of Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
At the time, I had a couple of friends who were actors. Jason was a 25-year-old kid from Texas who talked like that “band camp” chick from AMERICAN PIE. Nicky was 29, a tough kid from New York with a sarcastic sense of humor.
Both of these guys were in great shape. They were tall, muscular, and neither one had a single body hair. In other words, they had the “look” that is very popular for movies, TV and modeling gigs.
I, on the other hand, was a 34-year-old Italian man, covered in body hair from head to toe, with a slight belly from my love of pizza and pasta. I worked out every day, too, but when you love junk food as much as I do, you’re never going to have washboard abs.
Still, I thought of myself as being in pretty good shape, because of my daily workouts. So when the call came to audition as an extra for the all-new LOVE BOAT, I jumped at the chance.
The job sounded like a dream come true. The extras would all get a free two-week cruise on that fabled vessel. All your meals would be provided, and you’d be surrounded by hot chicks in bikinis all day. Sure, you would have to work 8 to 10 hours a day, but your job would mostly consist of lounging around the pool. The rest of the time, you were free to hit the clubs, gamble in the casino, or make an excursion to shore.
Essentially, it was like you were being paid to take a cruise.
It was a chilly day in November when the auditions were held. (It’s rare, but South Florida can get cold on occasion.) Anyone trying out for the show was instructed to wear a swimsuit. The casting people had to see how you looked in a bathing suit before they would hire you to set sail on THE LOVE BOAT.
There were dozens of guys and girls all auditioning at the same time. Most of the girls wore their bikinis under their street clothes. I’ll never forget that moment when I walked into the casting office in Miami. I was still shivering from the cold as I opened the door and saw… some of the hottest girls I had ever seen stripping off their street clothes to reveal their bikinis underneath.
For a second I thought I had walked into the dressing room at a Victoria’s Secret fashion show!
Once I picked my eyeballs up off the floor and put them back into my head, I was able to sign in. They were taking groups of ten guys at a time into the casting office, then ten girls. Everyone was instructed to strip down to their swimsuits for the actual audition.
I removed my shirt and pants, revealing my swim trunks underneath. I was brought in to the casting room with about nine other guys, including Jason and Damon. As I looked up and down the line, a very daunting realization slowly crept up on me: I was the only guy there who had any body hair!
Ever since I had moved to Florida two years before, I was made aware that “the Look” for South Florida was “hairless.” But I was a proud and shaggy Italian man -- there was no way I was going to shave my body hair! My chest hair defined who I was! Besides, shaving your body hair was just not a macho thing for a guy to do! As far as I knew, nobody from New Jersey had ever shaved their chest hair before. (This was years before the Situation hit the scene.)
Being the only hairy guy in the room was so obvious to me, I figured it must have been pretty obvious to the producers, too. I knew I would have to say something to call attention to this very blatant difference between me and my competitors. It couldn’t just go ignored.
One of the Casting Directors operated a video camera as another went up and down the row, asking each guy his name and age. They asked my friend, Jason. They asked my other friend, Jordan.
Then they came to me. “What’s your name?” they asked. “My name is Barry Dutter,” I replied, adding, “and I think it’s time for the Love Boat to have some men with chest hair on board!”
“And you’re volunteering to be one of those guys?”
We all had a good chuckle about it. I figured even if they didn’t like my look, they might appreciate my sense of humor.
A few minutes after it started, the audition was over. This was one of those jobs that was really all about your “Look.” If you had the look they were seeking, you had a really good chance of getting the job. If you had a different look, your prospects did not look good.
I got dressed and headed back out into the bitter cold. As I drove home, I started thinking about the shows you see on TV. Whether it’s a soap opera or a commercial, you almost never see a man with any chest hair on TV. It’s been that way since the 1970s. I think the last guy who had any chest hair on TV was Tom Selleck back on MAGNUM P.I.
I put myself in the position of one of those casting directors. If you were casting the LOVE BOAT, and you had your choice of a bunch of guys with no body hair and one who was as furry as a caveman, who would you choose?
A few weeks later, my buddies Jason and Jordan got the call. They had both been picked to be extras on the LOVE BOAT! I was happy for them, but I was waiting for that call for myself.
Would the Casting Dept. of THE LOVE BOAT actually be willing to break tradition and go with a guy who had a very different look than the rest?
I soon found my answer as the LOVE BOAT set sail a few weeks later… and I was not on it. When my Jordan and Jason came back two weeks later, they said it had been an awesome cruise.
It was not easy watching my friends sail off for on a fun job while I sat ashore and moped. I decided I would have to make a drastic change in order to advance my acting career. I would have to shave my chest hair.
This was not an easy thing to do, but clearly it had to be done, if I ever wanted to work in Miami again. It wasn’t easy letting go. I had developed my chest hair at puberty, and had kept it for about 20 years. In all that time, I never thought about even trimming it. I was happy with it just the way it as. But my career was on the line here. This was one time where financial concerns had to outweigh my vanity.
The good thing was that my friends and family in New Jersey would never have to know about this. It could be my dirty little secret. I could keep my chest covered when I went back home to visit at Christmastime.
And so I did it. I shaved off all my chest hair. (Actually I Naired it off, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?)
But I wasn‘t done yet. I had to get in better shape. In order to do that, I had to cut down on the fattening foods. And so, for the first time in my life, I made a conscious effort to eat foods that were low in carbs.
I switched to a diet of mostly chicken breasts and egg-white omelets. I still kept some junk food in the mix, but I cut down greatly. I allowed myself only 12 M & M’s a day -- never more than that. It was the most boring diet ever, but it worked. In a few short weeks, I had lost my paunch and gotten my belly about as tight as it was ever going to be.
I was in the best shape of my life. I was hairless. And I was as close to the South Florida “Look” as I could get. Then, I got the call from my agent. There was a commercial that was looking for actors about my age for a commercial filming at the beach.
The job paid $2,000 if you booked it. There was just one catch: you had to audition in your swimsuit. This was going to be the ultimate test of my ability to fit in in South Florida.
I gave my chest a fresh shave, polished off an egg white omelet for breakfast, and headed off to the audition.
It was a much warmer day this time. I drove down to South Beach to the Casting Office and got in line with about ten other guys, also wearing swimsuits, also hairless.
Whenever you audition for any part, you always want to give the casting people something to remember you by. When they got to me, I said, “My name is Barry Dutter, and I just want you to know I shaved my chest for this!”
They were amused by my honesty. Most of the actors and models in Florida were hairless, but you never heard any off them talking about how they achieved this look. It was never brought up in conversation.
Long story short: I wound up not booking that job either. I tried shaving my chest a few more times after that, but eventually I just gave up on it. “The Look” just wasn’t for me. Chest hair really does grow back twice as thick, by the way. The last thing an Italian man needs is to do anything that causes him to become even hairier.
The lesson I learned from all this is that not every actor is right for every part. I didn’t have washboard abs, or a swimmer’s body. I didn’t look like those guys you see playing volleyball in TV commercials.
And that’s ok. Those are not the parts I was meant to play.
The main thing for an actor is to know your limitations. Be aware of your body type. Know the types of jobs that you're right for.
This story has kind of a happy ending. Flash forward to 2010. By this time I was living in L.A., still looking for acting and modeling gigs. I saw an ad on Craig's List looking for a male model about my age to pose as Alec Baldwin in a spoof of the poster for his movie, IT'S COMPLICATED! The catch? They wanted a guy with a lot of chest hair! I sent in my photos and booked the gig. When I spoke to the casting girl on the phone, she said it was a nice change of pace to see someone who wasn't a typical L.A. hairless pretty-boy. Her exact words: "It's good to see someone who looks like a real man!" (No one had ever called me a real man before!)
So there you have it. Everything has a way of working out in the end. I was too hairy for THE LOVE BOAT, but just hairy enough for an Alec Baldwin photo double. I'll admit, the modeling gig was not as much fun as the that two-week cruise on THE LOVE BOAT would have been, but I got to work with a cute Meryl Streep stand-in, so it wasn't all bad.
I guess the lesson here is to just be yourself, but I don't think too many people in Hollywood will listen to that advice!
Personally, I’m glad I stopped shaving my chest. It was way too much work, it itched like hell, and it grew back way too fast! I may no longer fit in with the South Beach model dudes, but let’s face it, I never really fit in too well with those guys anyway.
But if Robin Williams ever needs a body double, I am so there!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Feet Are Famous! Or, The Glamorous Life of a TV Extra

By Barry Dutter

I never understood why they have extras in movies until I actually did the job myself. I used to think, “If they’re filming a scene on a city street, and there are already people on that city street, why not just use those people as background extras?”
Once I actually did the job, I realized why: because the actual people on a real city street are not your employees, you can’t expect them to follow orders. Extras may not be paid much, but they are paid enough to do as they are told.
Real people on the street might stare at the camera, bother the actors, talk on their cell phones, etc. You can’t realistically expect to be able to control people who are not on your payroll.
Hence, the need for paid extras -- people who are given strict instructions to not take pictures, not bother the actors, and not talk on their cell phones while the cameras are rolling.
I’ve logged many hours as an extra, and I’ve seen first-hand the importance of hiring background talent. I mean, you can’t reasonably expect a family that is out for a day in the city to be willing to stay in one spot for 14 hours as the same scene is shot over and over again.
But extras? They do that for a living.
The first time I ever worked as an extra on TV was in the mid 1980s on a show called THE EQUALIZER. I was living in New Jersey at the time, sending out my head shots every week to all the casting agents in New York.
I had been trying for several years to get even the simplest extra job when finally the call came. I was to play a guest at a wedding in a scene for the popular CBS drama, THE EQUALIZER.
I was instructed to show up in a suit and tie on a Saturday morning at the Penta hotel in New York, located right near Penn Station. I arrived to find about 50 other extras of all ages, each one dressed for a wedding reception.
When you work as an extra, you are always told to show up very early in the morning. Shortly after you arrive, a wardrobe lady will look you over, to see if you need to switch your shoes or change your tie or whatever.
Then you usually sit for a few hours until you are needed. Smart extras always bring a book to read. You will typically have several hours of downtime on every film or TV show that you work on. The craft services crew usually put out a table full of snacks, which tends to consist mostly of bagels and junk food. (It’s a miracle that all actors are not fat!)
You always hope the person in charge of the extras pairs you off with a hot chick for your scene, because that means the two of you will be spending the whole day together.
For THE EQUALIZER, I got paired up with an old lady. Apparently she was playing my grandmother, or my date, both.
The plot to the episode involved the wedding of the Equalizer’s daughter. A gang of gunmen bursts into the reception hall and starts shooting up the place. All the wedding guests manage to escape, except for the Equalizer and his daughter, who are trapped in the banquet room with the crazed gunmen.
Our day started off with all the extras seated at the banquet tables, about to enjoy a nice meal. Once the shooting started, we all bolted for the doors.
The lady playing my grandmother suggested that I should stay behind and help her character out the door. But I wasn’t having any of that. As soon as the shooting started, I bolted for the exits. Sorry, Grandma, but you’re on your own!
We shot for about ten hours, with the same scenes repeated over and over. All day long, the gunmen started shooting and the extras ran past the cameras and out the doors. I wasn’t sure if I had any good close-ups, but I figured that after a full day of shooting, I must have had some decent screen time.
The day ended and I took the train back home to New Jersey to await my TV debut. I was working as a bartender at a NJ steakhouse at the time. I usually worked on Monday nights when THE EQUALIZER was on.
I made sure to talk up the show real good to my cowrkers before it aired. I wanted to make sure everyone knew that I was making my historic first appearance on the boob tube.
Luckily for me there were no major sporting events on that night, so when 10:00 p.m. came, I put THE EQUALIZER on at the bar and nobody complained. I had told everyone to watch for the scene where the shooting started and the wedding guests all ran for the exits.
It was within the first fifteen minutes that my big scene came. First, the camera panned around the banquet room for an establishing shot that showed dozens of wedding guests, but you couldn’t really pick me (or anyone else, for that matter) out of the crowd.
Then the shooting started. The camera cut to a close-up of the feet of all the extras as they ran out the door. Nobody‘s face was shown -- only their feet. The only extra who had any screen time at all was my elderly grandmother -- the last one out the door. Turns out, if I had stayed behind and helped poor grandma, I would’ve gotten some of that precious screen time! That’s what I get for being such a heel!
In seconds, it was all over. Nobody saw me on TV that night. Heck, I couldn’t even find myself in that scene, and I was there when they shot it! I was crestfallen. For weeks I had talked up my TV debut, only to have it pass by in a blur.
Needless to say, the gang at the bar was less than impressed. There was a woman I worked with at the bar named Claudia. She was a big husky woman who was like a mother hen to the rest of the staff. She helped me put the whole thing in perspective.
She walked up to me with a big grin and said, “Those were your feet on TV! Your feet are famous!”
I had to laugh. I had thought that being an extra on THE EQUALIZER was going to be a big moment for my career. The reality is that in most films and TV shows, the extras are filmed in such a way as to blur them into the background, so as not to take attention away from the big stars in the foreground.
My feet may have been semi-famous in my small town of Scotch Plains, NJ, but I was destined for bigger parts, ones where I would even be filmed above the knees.
It turns out that the boob tube as too small to contain my talents. My shining moment as an extra came on the Big Screen. It was many years later when I landed my first job as a movie extra that I would really have the chance to shine.
In 1996, I left the suburban sprawl of New Jersey moved to South Florida, where there lots of opportunities to work in film and TV.
Shortly after I arrived, I signed up with a model/talent agency that was two blocks away on trendy Las Olas Blvd. Just a few days later, I received a phone call asking if I wanted to be an extra in a new movie starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp.
The movie was DONNIE BRASCOE, a crime drama set in the 1970s. The first thing I had to do was to go get fitted for some period clothes. As the Brady Bunch can attest, any time you get to wear 1970s clothes, it’s groovy fun.
The location for my shoot was the Ft. Lauderdale Convention Center, just five minutes from my apartment. We were supposed to be in an airport, and I had to give credit to the props department. With the placement of a newsstand, some snack bars, and a departure/arrival board, they did a great job of transforming a section of the convention center into an airport terminal.
I arrived at the “airport” at 7:00 a.m., and headed right to wardrobe. They gave me my snazzy Brady clothes, and even combed my hair to make me look like one of the Beatles.
I was totally rockin’ my 70s threads!
I sat in a large room along with 100 other extras, waiting for the moment when we could do our part as blurs in the background.
And then some of that Hollywood magic happened. An Assistant Director was told to go to the holding area and pick one extra out of the crowd. They were shooting a scene where Johnny Depp and Al Pacino were walking through the airport when Johnny is spotted by a guy he knows and punches the guy out. The director felt the scene was missing something. It was decided that the guy who gets punched by Johnny should have a friend.
The A.D. was dispatched to find that friend. The A.D. did a quick scan of the 100 people in the room and picked me. I was rushed back to wardrobe where I was fitted with a pair of goofy 1970s glasses -- the type that Ryan O’Neal used to always wear in 1970s movies.
Then I was brought out on to the set.
The scene would start with me and my friend, the District Attorney, walking down a corridor of the “airport.” I say goodbye to my friend and he walks over to say hi to Jonny, who is undercover. Not wanting to blow his cover, Johnny punches out the D.A. and walks off. Then I run back and make sure my friend is okay.
We filmed the scene several times. I even ruined a couple of takes by coming in too early to see if my friend was okay. (Hey, it was my first movie and I was still learning!)
I got to spend some time talking to the guy who got punched out. He was a New York actor who admitted (after some prying by me) that he had been flown to Florida from New York and paid $3,000 for the role. That was way more than I was getting as an extra, so I was very impressed!
A year later, the movie came out and I had my big moment. When you watch the movie DONNIE BRASCO, you can see me and the other actor in a two-shot before he gets punched out. To this day, it was my best exposure I’ve ever had in a movie.
I did probably 50 other movies after that as an extra, but none of them compared to that experience of my first time. I mean, I did 12 days on the movie WILD THINGS and if you squint real hard, you can see me as blue blur behind Matt Dillon in the courtroom scene, but don’t knock yourself out.
Ultimately I decided that extra work was a dead end. It usually involves long hours and low pay, and you often get treated like cattle.
My proudest moments as an extra are the jobs I didn’t take: a graduation scene in WILD THINGS that involved wearing caps and robes out in the brutal Florida humidity all day. A funeral scene in WILD THINGS that again involved wearing a suit and tie in that intense summer humidity. (Both of those scenes were cut from the finished film anyway!)
I also passed on several crowd scenes for the movie ANY GIVEN SUNDAY where I would have been seated in a stadium of 30,000 people. And then there was the offer I turned down to spend the day filming in an actual prison.
After I had done extra work for a while in Florida, I developed some strict criteria for which jobs I would take. Basically, I would only take jobs that filmed at the beach or a hotel pool, or a nightclub. I knew there were no women on the call sheet for the prison scene, so that was an easy one to p[ass on.
Now that I'm out in L.A., I still do the occasional extra work if the hours are short enough and the money is right. I avoid big crowd scenes, and look for gigs involving a small handful of extras where the food tends to be better and you get treated more like a star! (In those stadium scenes, the extras are usually fed hot dogs.)
Back in my Florida days, I did have one gig that beat all the others. I was picked to be in an infomercial for a new tanning product. My job involved spending the day poolside at a luxury hotel in Miami. I was surrounded by dozens of sexy babes who were flaunting their bods in bikinis.
We had a lot of downtime, so most of my day involved sunning myself, swimming in the pool, and flirting with the girls. In other words, I got to do what I would have been doing anyway, and got paid for it! Even got a free lunch.
Extra work is not the most satisfying or rewarding work an actor can do, but sometimes it sure beats working!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Howie Mandel makes Me a Very Bad Deal

By Barry Dutter

In September, 2008, I was working a bartending job at a hotel in L.A. One night, a woman came in with her husband and sat at my bar. We got to talking and the woman asked why I had moved to L.A.
I told her it was my goal to become a professional game show contestant. She asked what shows I had been on. I told her I had just been on DEAL OR NO DEAL. She asked how I had done. I told her that out of a possible $500,000, I had walked away with a paltry $250.
The woman had not seen my episode, but she felt she had a pretty good idea of what went wrong. “I know what happened,” the woman said. “You fell into a Greed Coma. Me and my husband watch the show, and we see it all the time. People have the chance to make real money, but they fall into a Greed Coma, they keep rejecting deals from the Banker, and they go home with nothing. That’s what happened to you!”
“That’s not what happened,” I said. “It wasn’t like that at all. They never made me a good deal.”
The woman was not listening to me. She had already made up her mind. She kept repeating “Greed Coma” over and over again, like it was her mantra. I have never struck a woman in my life, but I really wanted to jump over the bar and strangle her.
She had it all wrong. There was no Greed Coma on my episode, because they never gave me an opportunity to be greedy.
I knew what the know-it-all woman was referring to: the way that some contestants on DOND will turn down very generous offers from the “Banker” and then end up losing it all. But my episode didn’t go that way.
Let me start at the beginning.
In 2008, DOND was a successful prime-time show, and the decision was made to launch a syndicated version. Howard Mandel would host the syndicated version in addition to his duties on the prime-time one.
When the syndicated version was first announced, the producers held a massive casting call for contestants for both versions of the show. The people that they loved would appear on the prime-time version. The people that they were not that excited about would go on the daytime version.
I tried out and was picked for the daytime version. I have to admit, I was kind of offended that I didn‘t get picked for the nighttime version. Just a few years earlier I had been on NBC’s THE WEAKEST LINK in prime-time. Suddenly I was no longer ready for prime time? Hmmph!
There were some significant differences between the daytime and nighttime version of DEAL. For one thing, they eliminated most of the models who hold the suitcases. Only two girls made the transition to syndication.
The producers of the show figured they could save a bundle of money by not paying anyone to open those cases. They could just bring in 22 contestants per episode, let one of them play the game, and have the remaining contestants open the cases.
The syndicated version was a half hour, as opposed to the one-hour nighttime version. Another change: unlike on the nighttime version, contestants were not allowed to bring their families with them to cheer them on.
The number of suitcases was cut from 26 in prime time to 22 in daytime. Out of those 22 cases, only about six of them had sums of money in them that were worth playing for. This meant that statistically speaking, more contestants than ever would be going home with relatively small amounts of money.
Oh, and the most significant change of all: the top prize was cut in half from $1 million to $500,000. Winning half a million is not nearly as impressive as winning the full million, but I figured it was still worth thirty minutes of my time.
I was kind of bummed that I wouldn’t get to be on the prime time version with the bigger audience, the bigger money, and my family cheering me on, but this was the only offer on the table, so I took it.
I actually prefer to be on trivia shows rather than a show like DOND, which is based on pure luck. But I wasn’t going to turn down the chance to win half a million bucks!
When you audition for a game show, it helps to have something unique about yourself, something that makes you stand out. At the audition, they had asked me what I did for a living. I told them I was the writer of a book on how to pick up girls. (That one book has gotten me booked on more shows than anything else I have done.)
When they chose me to be a possible contestant, they said they really wanted to play up the “pick-up artist” angle with me. I told them I had a crush on one of the suitcase models and that I would try to “put the moves” on her, and they said that would be great.
It was in April of 2008 that I was summoned, along with a few dozen other potential contestants, to a studio in Culver City for the chance to be on DOND.
There was no guarantee that any of us would get on. The way the syndicated version worked was that 22 possible contestants were brought out on stage. Each one was given a suitcase and assigned a number. At the beginning of every show, one of the models would spin a wheel, and whichever number came up, that would be the contestant who got to play the game.
They taped five episodes a day, which meant five people out of 22 would actually get to play the game, and the others would go home, having wasted a whole day with no chance of winning anything.
Obviously I was really hoping for a chance to play. I had wasted enough days on the sets of game shows where I never even got a chance to play.
Shortly after we arrived, I met my fellow contestants. I got to talking to one of them -- a pretty black girl named Kimberly who told me she was a singer. After a bit of questioning on my part, she admitted that her stage name was Charlie Superfly, and she had been the winner of the Miss Black Howard Stern Beauty Contest on Howard’s radio show.
Being a loyal Stern fan, I instantly remembered "Charlie." Her first appearance on the Stern Show, where she trash-talked the other contestants on her way to winning the title of Miss Black Howard Stern was one of my favorite moments of the show in the last ten years.
Over the next few hours, I got to spend a lot of time with Charlie Superfly. She told me that she was struggling to make it as a singer, and that the one thing she most needed (aside from winning a million dollars on the show) was a job. I told her about my two appearances on the Stern show, and we bonded over our love of all things Howard.
By the end of the day, I would be wishing I hadn’t met her at all.
Before you go on a game show, there are people whose job it is to make sure you are familiar with all the rules, where to stand, what to say, etc. One casting lady on DOND took me aside and said to me, “I hear you’re going to hit on Tamika!” “Who’s Tamika?” I asked. “She’s one of the models on the show,” came the reply. “The one you have the crush on.”
I had to admit that even though I did have a big crush on one of the girls on the prime-time version, I didn’t know her name. (It turned out that the model I really liked on the nighttime version was not one of the ones they brought with them to the syndicated version.) Still, I assured the casting lady that I thought Tamika was hot, too, and that I would be happy to pursue her on TV. The casting lady was satisfied that I would perform correctly on stage if my number came up.
After all the contestants received instructions in how to open a suitcase, it was time to start taping the show. (None of us was allowed to open our own suitcases until we were asked to do so on the show. We practiced with an empty case.)
Myself, Charlie Superfly, and 20 other contestants took our places on the stage. I was holding case number 8. Charlie was holding case number nine. We were standing right next to each other on stage.
The taping began. Howard Mandel came out and gave us all a friendly hello. The two models -- a hard-bodied Latina named Tamika and a cute blonde named Patricia -- came out on stage. They spun the wheel and the first contestant was chosen: a train conductor from Washington D.C.
He had an okay game. He walked away with $12,000, which is respectable, but considering he had the chance to win $500,000, not too impressive overall.
Then it was time to tape the second episode. Tamika spun the wheel again. The ball landed on the number 8 -- my number! Yes, thanks to the whims of fate, out of 22 possible contestants for that episode, I was the one who was lucky enough to have the ball drop in my slot.
I gave Charlie Superfly a big high five (actually a high ten). Then I grabbed my suitcase and ran down on to the stage. This was my tenth or twelfth game show that I had been on, and it kind of blew my mind to be doing this show, after having done WHEEL OF FORTUNE, THE WEAKEST LINK, etc.
When I arrived on stage, I gave Howie Mandel the appropriate fist bump. As I took my place behind the podium, I was caught up in how surreal it was that I keep ending up on these shows. The first words out of my mouth? I said, “Howie Mandel! DEAL OR NO DEAL!” I was still kind of incredulous that I was there.
The game began and Howie asked me if I wanted to switch my suitcase for another. There was a one in 22 chance that my suitcase held $1,000,000, and if I traded away the million dollar case, I would never live it down. I couldn’t think of any strategic reason to trade in my case for another one, so I told Howie I would keep it.
Many years later, I saw a person wrote into the world’s smartest woman, Marilyn Voss Savant, in her column in Parade Magazine, and asked her if she would keep her assigned case or trade it away. She said she would trade it because one of the remaining cases had a 1 in 21 chance of being the million dollar case, and thus, better odds.
The game began as Howie asked me to call out five suitcases to start.
I started calling out random numbers that have no special meaning to me. Number six, number one. I was off to a great start -- those suitcases, once opened, contained very low amounts of money.
The third number I called out was 14. The person standing behind case #14 opened it up. This case had a little sign inside of it that read, “$500,000.”
I had just “lost” half a million dollars. But no worries. There were still two or three good suitcases up there somewhere -- ones containing $250,000, $100,000 and $50,000. AS long as those cases remained in play, there was a chance I could walk away with some big money.
I picked a couple more “low” cases, and was feeling pretty good about the game so far. Sure, I had just lost the Big Prize, but the other cases I picked were all on the “Left Side” of the board, where all the small amounts were.
Considering I still had some big money up on the board, I was sure the banker’s first offer would be in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. (If it had been $30,000, I would have taken it!)
You can I imagine my surprise when Howie took a phone call from “the Banker” and announced the banker’s first offer: $1.00.
Yep, you read that right. One U.S. dollar. I couldn’t believe it. According to Howie, the Banker thought I was a goofball and that I was going to lose. According to me, this was a cheap-ass show that didn’t want to give too much money away and they realized that if I just kept opening suitcases, eventually all the good prizes would be gone and I would walk out with nothing.
I don’t know why they picked me as the guy who gets dumped on. I guess they the writers of the show thought the concept of the “relationship expert” who is not in a relationship was too tempting to resist making fun of.
That initial phone call from the so-called Banker pretty much set the tone for the rest of the show. Howie asked me to try to put the moves on Tamika. I actually thought Tamika was the less attractive of the two models who worked the daytime show. Sure, she had a killer body, but her face seemed kind of mannish to me. The other girl, a sexy little blonde named Patricia, was much more my type.
I asked Tamika out on a date by saying, “Hey Tamika, I’m about to win $250,000. Let’s go out for a drink. If I lose, you can take me out!”
Tamika seemed horrified by the idea of going out with me, regardless of whether I won or lost. She never did say she would date me, even though she could easily have faked it for TV. As a guy who has done a lot of fake reality TV shows, I was very disappointed that she didn’t play along with my scenario of the two of us going on a post-show date. I felt like saying, “Come on, honey -- this is TV! Lighten up a little! You don’t actually have to date me. Just pretend like you want to!”
Howie tried getting me to ask out some of my fellow contestants. The first woman he wanted me to talk to said she was married. The second woman was “Kimberly,“ AKA Charlie Superfly, AKA Miss Black Howard Stern.
I asked Kimberly if she wanted to hang out after the show. Playing for the cameras, she smiled and said, “Any time!” Howie said, “The book works! You just sold another copy!”
Of course Charlie Superfly was not really looking to date me, but at least she knew how to fake it!
The game continued with me unfortunately eliminating the $100,000 prize. But I still had the $250,000 case up there somewhere. The Banker made another offer: $9,500. Now I should point out that this is the largest single sum of money that anyone has ever offered me for doing nothing.
But in the context of this show, that is a paltry sum of money. I still felt like I was being insulted. How dare the Banker offer me under 10 grand when I still had $250,000 up on the board. I told Howie, “No deal!”
The game continued with Howie again taking a break to ask me to hit on Tamika some more. She kept blowing me off and I liked the other model better anyway, so I turned my attention to the little blonde, Patricia, and started hitting on her. All of this wound up getting cut out of the finished show, which was disappointing to me because I think they were trying to paint me as some kind of stalker who was obsessed with Tamika, but the reality was I thought she looked like a tranny and I thought Patricia was much cuter.
As the game proceeded, I continued to open case after guess. Each time, I took more and more high-dollar amounts off the board. I tried to keep my new friend Charlie Superfly in the game by not calling on to open her case till the end. This proved to be a costly mistake since her case had no real value. I figured an out-of-work actress/singer could use the screen time. She later told me she appreciated the favor but added that it was really not necessary.
By the end of the game, I had only four cases left. One of the cases held $5,000. The rest held crap. Howie asked me what I would do with the money if I won. I told him I would use the money to publish a children’s book. He got a big laugh by asking, “A book on how kids can pick up girls?” “No,“ I explained. “It’s a traditional children’s book. Like a fairy tale.” (The real fairy tale on that day was the one about me winning half a million dollars!)
The banker offered me $1700 to walk away. I had played DOND on my computer enough times to know that when you only have one high-value suitcase left, that is the time to accept the Banker’s offer and take his deal, because the next case you open will most likely be that high-dollar case.
All I had to do was to tell Howie that I was ready to make a deal. At that moment, I looked out into the faces of the other contestants and I saw my new friend, Charlie Superfly, chanting “ No deal!”
Now, I’ve been on a lot of game shows and I’ve never let anyone else influence any of my decisions. But at that moment, in all the excitement, when I saw Charlie screaming “No deal,” I kind of got caught up in her enthusiasm and I told Howie , "No deal!"
(After the show was over, one of my fellow contestants came up and told me he thought that I had done nothing wrong throughout the game, that I had just had some bad luck in picking cases. I would argue that I did do one thing wrong, which was to not accept the $1700 deal right toward the end of the game.)
Sure enough, the next case I opened was the $5,000 one. This meant I had thrown away all the good cases and was only left with a few bad ones.
Now the highest case left was a $500 one. Howie asked me one last time to hit on Tamika. I did a variation of my opening line by asking her, “Hey Tamika, I’m about to win $500. What are you doing after the show?“ “Going home!“ came the quick reply. Bitch!
In the final play of the game, I was asked if I wanted to keep what was in my case or accept the banker‘s offer of $250. I took the $250. Then I was instructed to open my case. My case had $500 inside. But I had just sold my case for $250.
Howie ended the game by saying, “Barry -- you made a bad deal.”
My episode was over, but I got to stay and watch the next three episodes tape. The next guy won $24,000. The next girl was an 18-year-old college student, newly arrived in L.A., who rejected a $30,000 offer from the Banker on her way to winning a whopping $80,000. The contestant in the final episode won $33,000.
So here are the final tallies for the five episodes taped that day:
$33,000. (Which one of those numbers is not like the others?)
At the end of then day, all of us “winners” were taken to a room to sign paperwork for our winnings, which would be mailed to us three months later. I felt like I really didn’t belong in that group. I mean, every other contestant had won a decent amount of money
-- enough to pay off some credit cards, go on a vacation, buy something nice. What did I win? Chump change.
Aside from turning down that $1700 offer toward the end of the show, I really felt I didn’t do anything wrong. Sure, in hindsight, I should have accepted the $9500 at the beginning of the show. But that is not how the game is played. There is not a player alive who would have accepted $9500 when there was still $250,000 on the board.
I do feel the Banker kind of screwed me. The writers on the show were working overtime to blast me with insults that were then funneled from the Banker to Howie.
When I said I wanted to use the prize money to publish my next book, the Banker said I was not going to win enough to publish a pamphlet. A funny line, to be sure, but man, it hurts when you’re losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, getting rejected by a girl you don’t even like, and getting insulted on national television too!
I did learn a few lessons from my DOND experience, as degrading as it was. 1) Don’t ever let anyone -- not the audience, not your fellow contestants -- influence any of your decisions on a TV game show. You are the one that has to live with your choices, not them. Of course the audience and your fellow contestants are always going to encourage you to continue playing -- it makes for a better show. But you can’t be pumped up by their cheers to do something foolish.
In the end, my “friendship” with Charlie Superfly wound up costing me about $1500 -- not a huge sum of money, but I still would rather have walked with $1700 than $250. The funny thing is, I know that if our positions had been reversed, she, the unemployed singer, would have made the very deal she convinced me to reject.
Ah well. Water under the bridge.
If I had accepted the Banker‘s highest offer, that $9500 would have been my biggest game show win to date. But I have no regrets. If I had said “No deal” to $25,000 or more then I would have been upset. But a lousy $9500? That wasn’t going to be a life-changing sum of money for me.
Like I said, there never was any Greed Coma because there was never a big enough offer for me to get greedy over.
If I’m mad about anything it’s that the Banker made a monkey out of me with his insulting offers. The writers scored some cheap shots against me. I fought back as best I could, but when there is money on the line, you’re not really focused on snappy comebacks. All you really care about is winning.
I guess in the end, it was my book about dating -- the very thing that got me on the show in the first place -- that inspired the writers to make a big joke out of my whole episode. Maybe if I had told them I was a bartender or a newspaper writer, they would have backed off a bit. But a relationship “expert” who can’t keep a relationship going -- let‘s just say they saw an easy target and went for it.
I was hoping my stint on DOND would sell a lot of books for me. Although the title of my book was never mentioned by name (for legal reasons), Howie did say my full name several times -- enough times for anyone who wanted to look me up on amazon.com to buy a copy.
Alas, when my next royalty statement came a few months later, I saw no up-tick in sales. I had not gotten that big bump that I was hoping for.
But there was one unexpected financial benefit. When I did receive my $250 a few months later, I took it and invested it in a comic book collection which I then sold on eBay for $4500, so I guess you could say it’s like I won $4500 on DOND, albeit indirectly…
I knew going into it that DOND was a game of luck, not skill or intelligence. Let’s face it: a monkey could play DOND and win just as easily as a human. I really prefer to win my money the old-fashioned way, by standing behind a podium and answering trivia questions. In this day of game shows being increasingly stunt-oriented, the type of Q & A shows that I like are becoming increasingly rare. But there are still some out there.
Oh yeah, I guess I do have one regret about my time on the show. At the very end, when Howie thanked me for coming and it was time for me to say goodbye, I thought of a funny closing line I could have said.
I wish I had said, “Watch for my new children’s pamphlet, coming soon!”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Everyone in Show Business wishes they had a better job -- even the guy who created Star Trek and the bass player from Survivor!

Ask anyone in L.A. what they do for a living and they’ll tell you: “I’m a musician.” “I’m an actor.” “I’m a writer.” “I’m a singer.”
Then ask them what they REALLY do. In other words, the job that pays the bills. They’ll tell you, “I wait tables.” “I’m a secretary.” “I’m a court reporter.”
Often they have some showbiz related job like video editor or sound mixer, but their actual job is never as exciting or interesting as the job they first mentioned.
It’s typical of anyone who works in the performing arts to identify their craft as their real job, and anything else is just something they do until their career heats up.
This attitude of downplaying your day job is endemic in all levels of showbiz, from bottom to top. Even successful people with long careers in one medium will always talk about the medium they’d rather be working in. At the end of the day, everyone wishes they were doing something else, even the people who are very successful.
(I’ll never forget one time in an interview when Eddie Murphy, one of the biggest movie stars of all time, was asked what means the most to him, and he said it was his singing career. You do remember “Party All The Time,” don’t you?)
In 1988, I was working in a Mexican restaurant as a bartender, mixing up margaritas for the business crowd. One day, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of STAR TREK, came in to the restaurant. At the time, the TV series STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION had just premiered to blockbuster ratings. Right off the bat, it was one of the biggest hits in the history of syndication.
His waitress was a cute Latina named Carmelita. Roddenberry was impressed by her appearance. He told her, “You have such an exotic look, you’d be great as an alien on my show.” He gave her his business card, but she later told me she would never call him because she had no interest in being on televsion.
A few weeks later, Roddenberry came back to the restaurant. This time he sat at my bar to have a quick lunch. At first I didn’t know who he was, but it was a slow day, so we had plenty of time to talk.
We made idle chit chat for a few minutes. I asked him what he did for a living. “I’m a film producer,” he said. “Why kind of films do you produce?“ I asked. “Right now I’m doing a television show called STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.” As soon as he said that, a light went off in my head and I said, “You’re Gene Roddenberry!” He admitted that he was. I was not a fan of ST: TNG, but I did enjoy the original series and some of the movies. I was not about to insult my only customer by telling him I didn’t like his show, so instead I just congratulated him on the success of TNG, which had just been renewed for a second season.
He thanked me and finished his lunch, perhaps wondering to himself, “Can‘t I even eat my lunch without running into a freaking Trekkie?”
He left after finishing his meal. Sadly, I did not get offered a role on his TV show. Now, before I go any further, I need to provide some back-story.
The original STAR TREK series ran from 1966 until it was canceled in 1969. Over the next 10 years, STAR TREK became more popular than it ever was when it was on the air, thanks to syndicated reruns, books, an animated series, and of course, the conventions. No one could have foreseen the rise of STAR TREK conventions. No other TV show had ever developed such a fanatic following before. Paramount Pictures, the studio that owned STAR TREK recognized that they had a valuable property on their hands. A decision was made to revive STAR TREK as a big-budget movie. Roddenberry came up with the idea for the movie and worked on the script. Some co-writers were brought in later, but the basic story for the first film was all Roddenberry‘s.
The movie made money at the box office, but even the most die-hard fans had to admit the film was slow and boring. The reviews were not kind. Time Magazine called it “warp speed to nowhere.” Roger Ebert said it was “fairly predictable in its plot.” The word that popped up the most in reviews was “ponderous.”
But Paramount was not going to give up on STAR TREK just because fans didn’t like the first movie. They realized that despite all the flaws in ST: TMP, the Trekkies were not ready to abandon their beloved franchise yet. The studio decided to do a sequel. Roddenberry pitched a story for STAR TREK II. His idea: the Enterprise goes back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK. The studio felt this idea was a little out of touch with what audiences in 1981 were looking for. The dilemma for Paramount: what to do with Roddenberry, Star Trek’s creator, who seemed to be stuck in the 60s?
A decision was made to remove Roddenberry was from direct involvement with STAR TREK. His name would still a appear in the credits of the movies as an Executive Producer, but he would not be allowed to make any actual decisions on any future films. The studio handed the property over to a new set of filmmakers who were younger and full of fresh ideas.
This arrangement lasted for the next four films until Roddenberry’s death in 1991. Reportedly, whenever it came time to pitch a new STAR TREK movie to the studio, Roddenberry would drag out his old “Enterprise saves JFK from assassination” plot. He wouldn’t give up on it. To his eyes, this was an idea that modern audiences would line up to see. But Paramount passed on it every time.
Having been effectively kicked off the STAR TREK movies, Roddenberry went on to launch STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION as a TV series in 1987.
The series was a huge hit. Roddenberry once again enjoyed the success in television that had eluded him in the movies. By the time I met him in 1988, he was no more of a movie producer than Carmelita the waitress was.
Yet when I asked him what he did for a living, he said, “I’m a film producer.”
Roddenberry had had virtually no involvement with the STAR TREK movies since the early 80s. But that was the thing he wanted to be known for. Not as the producer of a syndicated TV series. He wanted to be known as the Executive Producer of an incredibly popular series of movies. Let’s face it, it just sounds more prestigious to say “Film Producer” than it does to be associated with a TV series.
Like I said earlier, everybody in Hollywood wishes they were doing something else. No matter how successful Gene Roddenberry was working in television, it wasn’t enough. He took no pride in having the number one syndicated show on TV.
No, all he cared about was the career that had really eluded him since his last major theatrical effort had been so universally disliked in 1979: film producer.
And that’s why Gene Roddenberry fit in so well in Hollywood. He embodied the idea that no matter how successful you are at something, you always want to be known for something else.
Roddenberry may have boldly gone where no TV producer had gone before with STAR TREK, but for him, movies represented the real Final Frontier.
A few weeks after Roddenberry’s visit, I had an encounter with another minor celeb who came and sat at my bar: the bass player from Survivor. The band had had a huge hit with “Eye of the Tiger,” followed a couple of popular albums, but by the late 80s, they were mostly on the way out.
I wanted to know what bit was like when the band first exploded on the scene. I said to him, “That must have been pretty exciting for you when “Eye of the Tiger” first took off.” He replied, “Actually, it’s kind of a boring song for a bass player. It’s just a basic march.”
It sounded like the guy really didn’t get any enjoyment out of playing the band’s biggest hit at the peak of their fame! That was kind of disappointing to hear. So many bands dreaming of having that one hit song. To find a band that shot to the top of the charts with a song they didn’t even like is kind of disheartening.
My little celebrity encounters illustrate the danger of meeting Hollywood hotshots and rock stars.
Sometimes you find out that they hate their jobs just as much as any other working stiff!