Why Are Rich Hollywood Celebs Taking Jobs Away from Game-Show Hosts?
These days, A-listers from Alec Baldwin to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson are hosting game shows—leaving far fewer gigs for hosts with less cachet.
When the cast of Community got back together for a panel at Vulture’s Comedy Festival, they were asked about the possibility of a Community movie. After they cracked a joke about how cast member Donald Glover would only return for at least $20 million, Joel McHale, the show’s lead, joked about his availability.
“My Card Sharks schedule—I’ll check it to see,” McHale quipped. The audience laughed. “Part of ABC’s Summer of Fun, by the way.”
It’s a no-brainer why these old game shows are coming back. It seems every show from the past is getting a reboot and as Rob Weiner, the pop-culture librarian at Texas Tech, says, the game shows tap into Americans’ competitiveness.
“Game shows, generally speaking, have never lost their appeal,” he offers.
When Press Your Luck aired in the 1980s, Peter Tomarken hosted the show. Tomarken’s skill was hosting. And when Card Sharks aired in the late 1970s, Jim Perry, a host by trade, manned the ship. Pat Sajack, host of Wheel of Fortune, is a former radio DJ. But in recent years, hosts have taken a backseat and A- and B-list stars have signed on to host game shows. Alec Baldwin hosts Match Game; McHale hosts Card Sharks; and Elizabeth Banks hosts Press Your Luck. Adam Scott is set to host Don’t soon, and it was just announced that Will Arnett will emcee a LEGO-building competition.
Either these actors are in need of money or the stigma of movie and TV stars hosting a game show is gone. Mark Turner, partner of the alternative programming, digital media, licensing and branding division of Abrams Artists Agency, says not only is the stigma gone but the actors want these jobs.
“I think a lot of celebrities realize you are being authentic if you do a host-driven show that is on-brand for your movie career or TV acting career,” Turner says. “They’re not doing something that is off-brand.”
Alec Shankman, co-managing partner of the alternative programming, digital media, licensing and branding division of Abrams Artists Agency, agrees, adding that taking on a hosting gig doesn’t hurt their film and TV prospects.
“Frankly, if you go back 15, 16, 17 years, there was that fear—a concern—that thought that if you crossed over to hosting, it would negatively impact your acting career,” Shankman says. “But what we have seen is that because so many folks have dabbled in that space—high-profile celebrities and beyond—it hasn’t negatively impacted them and if anything, it made their careers better, stronger and more all-encompassing.”
No one has rounded out their career better than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who got his start as a wrestler and has now successfully crossed over into films. According to Forbes, he was the second-highest-paid actor of 2019. Also something he did in 2019? Hosted a game show: The Titan Games. And ratings don’t seem to be an issue for these shows, enticing networks to keep signing up for them. McHale’s game show, Card Sharks, averaged 3.2 million viewers per episode during its first season, and when McHale’s NBC sitcom Community aired its fifth and final season on the network in 2014, it averaged 3 million viewers per episode. It’s clear game shows are working and fans enjoy them.
Rasha Goel, a media coach and Emmy-nominated TV host, says being a game-show host is about “relatability” and “connecting” to the audience and participants.
“Just because you’re an amazing actor, you might be an introverted individual,” Goel says.
Not only do game shows run the risk of potentially having a bad host if they hire an actor, Goel also says people who are trained hosts are losing out on jobs.
“That niche itself is so small and targeted,” Goel says. “Even though there’s this whole big game of folks, there’s very few people who are really good at game-show hosting, because that’s a talent; that’s a skill some people have. So considering that niche is already so small and the talent is being selected from A-list celebrities that are already established, in a way it is taking jobs from other hosts out there.”
While Goel understands “from a marketing and branding perspective” why the game shows are using A-listers, she believes up-and-coming game-show hosts will now have to broaden their horizons to secure jobs.
“I think we’re at a tricky time,” she says. “The market has changed so much for hosting because there used to be a time where you’re an actor or you’re a host, and now you have to be versatile and everybody is trying to find work wherever they can.”