PASADENA, Calif. — "Deal or No Deal" just might be one of the weirdest game shows ever to hit television.
Basically, you don't have to be smart — you don't have to know anything — in order to win big bucks. You just have to be brave. And lucky.
"There's nothing else (like it) on television," said host Howie Mandel. "You can go home with a lot of money with absolutely no skill. And I think it's really obvious there's no skill. You can be a rock and move into another tax bracket."
And yet ... it's oddly involving. And addictive.
In a nutshell, each contestant chooses one of 26 briefcases that contain some amount of money between 1 cent and $1 million. The contestant doesn't get to open it but does get to open other cases. And the "banker" offers him/her money to quit and go home.
Watching the show, you end up wanting to grab these contestants, shake them and make them be smart.
"When they first approached me about hosting a game show, I didn't want to host a game show," Mandel said. "I didn't know if that was the next step in my career and how that would affect my career.
"When I started playing the game, you really get caught up. I've had people come up to me as home viewers and tell me they were screaming at the TV, yelling at each other, yelling at the contestants."
Mandel said he's tempted to offer contestants advice.
"I really do get involved with these contestants," he said. "The hardest thing for me is not to help them, because sometimes it just seems so obvious to me — this is the decision you should make. The odds are really against you. You've never owned a home. I'm offering you a quarter of a million dollars right now. Take the money. Go buy a home.
"And then when they say, 'No deal,' I just — I can feel their hearts pounding out of their chest, and I can feel that this means so much, and I want to go, 'Can we just stop the game? I'm going to tell you what to do. Just take the money.' But I'm not allowed to do that."
It's not like Mandel has any inside information. Executive producer Scott St. John said that nobody — not the host, not any of the producers — knows how much is in any of the cases.
"So even if you feel like, '(Gosh), please just take the money and get out,' you don't know. They could get really lucky. They could go on and get an even bigger offer," he said. "While you empathize with them and you do want to see them go home with something, we really don't know. And that makes it exciting."
"Deal or No Deal" is a show that families sat down and watched together when it aired the week between Christmas and New Year's.
"I've been struck by the fact that young people are watching it, entire families watching it together, which is great," St. John said.
Except that, apparently, "Deal" has, on occasion, been the catalyst for domestic violence. Mandel said that on New Year's Eve, he was beckoned by a man in Miami, where the comic was playing a stand-up date.
"I walk over to him and he lifts his arm, and he's, like, black and blue and bruised and horrible," Mandel said. "And he goes, 'Thank you for this.' And I go, 'I'm sorry, what is that?'
"He goes, 'A week of "Deal or No Deal." My wife was sitting on this side of me on the couch.' She would go, 'Take the deal!' and punch him for it."
On the air
"Deal or No Deal" returns to NBC this week with five episodes in five days — tonight through Friday at 7 p.m. on Ch. 5. Beginning March 6, the game show will air Mondays at 7 p.m.