On the Scene: What’s the ‘Deal’ With Howie Mandel?


Ratings grabber? Howie Mandel on the case:

And that's the case in point. What it is, says the normally manic, always-moving comic of his latest project, is a quiz show in which contestants pick metallic case after case filled with any amount from a penny to the plentitudes that a million bucks represents, hoping to eliminate all but the biggest bucks for themselves while still being given the chance to quit at any time with a cash prize negotiated by a mysterious off-screen banker.

Howie Mandel as a Monty Hall for the new millennium? What's the deal? It's "Deal or No Deal," being broadcast for five consecutive nights beginning Dec. 19 on NBC.

It's a big career change for a comic with a case history of wackiness, one that continues still in Las Vegas, where Toronto's favorite former carpet salesman commutes from his Los Angeles home to perform regularly – when he's not also making those hilarious "hidden camera" appearances on "The Tonight Show."

And what's he got to show for it all? At 50, fame and a following that has fans trail him anywhere and "St. Elsewhere." (Mandel's forever young as Dr. Wayne Fiscus in reruns of that popular NBC med series from the '80s.)

The erstwhile opening act for Diana Ross has made the supreme choice now – serving as a game show emcee, a role that has minted millions for others. Who wants to be a millionaire? Ask Regis Philbin.

Better yet, ask Howie Mandel. "It's in 41 different countries now," he says of international versions of "Deal or No Deal."

Se habla hot-hot-hot?

"In Spain, the king offered the host hundreds of millions of dollars to stop hosting" because "Deal or No Deal" was proving more popular than the king's own program on a competing network.

More appealing than playing the palace? Among those countries with their own versions is Israel, where some wags may think "Deal or No Deal" ("Dil oh Lo Dil") is named after the history of Mideast negotiations.

How about celebrity contestants? Ariel Sharon trying to make his case? "I don't think it would be good if it's celebrity-driven," says Mandel of his NBC version.

Mandel is certainly driven, but then, the comic concedes, he's been afflicted with ADD since early on and has to deal with obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Luckily, his deals aren't sealed with a handshake; he refuses to shake hands with people because of OCD.)

Indeed, the quick-witted comic says the fast and furious nature of "Deal or No Deal" is a big plus for him, appealing to his ADD affliction.

Seems like a good deal for the comedian/actor over all. And, to think, Mandel's mission all started with a pastrami sandwich.

A sense of the wry? "Well, I love deli," the Jewish jokester says of the deal-maker.

Cut the Mustard
Actually, it was at Jerry's Deli, the legendary L.A. corned beef cornucopia, where Mandel cut the mustard – and the "Deal." He met there with the show's producers – the people behind "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Fear Factor" – and overcame any fear or second thoughts he may have had about becoming a game show host.

(For those who worry that Mandel has to submerge his wacky side for the show, well, there's always "Wack a Howie!" – a howl of a game offered on his popular Web site.)

Mandel can empathize with the contestants whose chance of a lifetime may be a change of a lifetime. Show 'em the money – and show them a new beginning. "At any given moment, [deciding on] deal or no deal, these people are changing their lives," says Mandel.

What's the deal that changed his? It was his appearance at amateur night at L.A.'s Comedy Store while the Canadian native was on vacation. A talent scout sought him out and before long, it was Howie's World – and welcome to it!

And, later, it would also be his long-running Emmy-nominated "Bobby's World,"an animated children's show, that was given a welcome by audiences who enjoyed its life lessons and laughter.

Mandel supplied the voice of Bobby, Bobby's father and a host of other characters on the show, still seen worldwide in syndication, and admired for its reasonable approach to family.

What – Howie Mandel a voice of reason? For a man who once made audiences laugh by putting a latex glove on his head and then blowing it up by sucking on his thumb, it may be hard to figure why he was fingered for the role of host of "Deal or No Deal," a part which may appear to be in a different dimension from his usual dynamic daffiness.

But Mandel – who also has appeared in films and hosted a talk show – has had a three-dimensional career. And, for the comic, who can kiddingly recall a Bar Mitzvah in which "I got envelopes with nothing in them," and Yom Kippur observances that had no end date ("I fasted for the holiday, which was on a Tuesday. I passed out on Saturday. Nobody told me to stop!"), the feast is now on for five consecutive nights.

And, he promises of "Deal or No Deal" and its metal money bags, "there will be no latex gloves in any of the cases."


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