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PEOPLE STORY

Todd Newton, gameshow host

For the next instalment in the Vegas People series, Paul Sculpher dropped in on a legend of US TV. Todd Newton has worked with some of the biggest names in the business in gameshows and celebrity shows, and among other things currently hosts The Price Is Right live show at Bally’s Las Vegas

Gambling: Hi Todd, can you tell me a bit about how you got into your TV work, and this show?

Todd: I started out as a kid always wanting to be a radio star, and worked for my local radio station in St Louis, and was pretty successful there. I was the ‘Overnight Kid’ for a while, and then had a chance to work during the drivetime slot. From there I ended up working in TV for the E! channel, doing red carpet reporting and that kind of stuff, and also moved into hosting gameshows like Hollywood Showdown and Gameshow Marathon.

And how is Vegas working out for you?

It’s an amazing place. I travel back to Boston, where my kids live, every week – the peace of New England is a great place for them to grow up. Being right here in the centre of the Strip – the epicentre of entertainment – is a great feeling when I’m working though. I also do quite a bit of life coaching around the country, as well as speaking engagements as a motivator, in front of anything up to 8,000 people. My other line is as a clinical hypnotherapist, believe it or not, and helping people to give up smoking, or try to lose weight, ties in with my other lines of work.

And what do you think makes a good gameshow host?

Well I was trained by the very best, Bob Barker, who has hosted the TV version on The Price is Right for 35 years before recently retiring. He taught me so much about the trade, but particularly that the stars of the show really aren’t the hosts, but the contestants and the game. If you can keep the show going and let the contestants shine, you’re in pretty good shape. I hope I can project our shared passion for the gameshow format when I perform.

What’s this Vegas show all about?

It’s simply a live action version of the TV show, which has been around for over 50 years and has versions in over 35 countries. We bring people at random out of the audience – you must know the catchphrase, “Come on down!” – and they play the same games they’ll see on TV for money and prizes right there on the stage. We have people who come back to the show again and again, and most of those people have been watching the TV show for years. We like to think that the show appeals to everyone whether they’ve seen the TV show or not.

We’ve performed the show all over the USA, in various different properties owned by [parent company] Harrah’s, and have been going for four years.

How do you pick the contestants? I’m going to stick around to see the show later. Any chance of, err, getting an shot at this one?

Actually, all the contestants are picked absolutely at random, to keep things fair.

During your career you must have met some pretty big superstars, right? Ever been star struck? And who is the most amazing woman you’ve worked with?

Sure, all the time. The rockstars often make me a little starstruck, and of course I’ve interviewed lots of people. Al Pacino and Robert de Niro must rank up there, and interviewing Jennifer Aniston was pretty cool.

I’d have to say Julia Roberts was one beautiful woman, but the most amazing person I’ve been involved with was Oprah Winfrey. There’s just something special about her.

And as far as the stage show goes, you must have had some disasters in all the shows you’ve done.

That’s right – we’ve just gone past 1,000 shows so in that time there have been some memorable moments. One theme of the TV show was contestants running down to the stage area and picking up Bob, the host, in celebration – you can see some highlights on the big screen during the stage show. Well, Bob was a pretty small guy but I’m pushing 220 pounds [for the record, Todd’s built like he could go and play American Football at any moment] and it isn’t quite so simple. We had one contestant who ran up and grabbed me, and tried to lift me and spin me around. I knew things weren’t going to go well when I heard the grunt.

One of the best loved segments of the show is ‘Cliffhangers’, where this little toy mountaineer – we call him Johann – climbs up a mocked-up mountainside, depending on how far out the contestant is in their pricing of some products. Not so long ago we were just getting ready for the show when we realised he’d gone missing, obviously nabbed by someone as a trophy. We had to scramble around to basically knock up a replacement out of whatever we had lying around.

We also had one memorable moment when one lady got very excited when she had a chance to spin the big wheel, a classic part of the show. In fact she was so excited she lost a little control, and without realising it she – well – wet herself. Our producer, Kathy, had to urgently get the cameramen to focus above the waist, but the audience all saw anyway – poor lady.

With that it was time to take in the show and see if it had a similar effect on me. All through the interview it was difficult not to be swept up in Todd’s enthusiasm for what he does – he has to be the most positive person I’ve ever met, certainly in Vegas – and I was trying to keep my objective journalistic head on. Truth was, before I met him I didn’t really think the show would be my kind of thing, but I was ready to sit through it.

At this point a strange thing happened – I had a great time. The show is a bit like The Generation Game – kind of part cheesy, part serious. You can well imagine how an American TV star would be smooth and very good with the contestants, but Todd’s just an amazing stage presence, and this being Vegas he tends to have a laugh both with and at the contestants. The show’s obviously very slick, with over 1,000 editions behind them, but you almost can’t help getting involved with the excitement as the place goes nuts for every winner. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’d have to recommend it to anyone looking for an amusing afternoon in Vegas, possibly with the addition of a cocktail or two. The TV show’s run for over 50 years – think of how many British TV shows about which you could say the same thing – so they must be doing something right. Come on down!

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