Like Glee meets hidden camera meets Jerry Springer. Mobbed a spontaneous eruption of song and dance by strangers in a public place will air on FOX following American Idol’s elimination show. Howie Mandel (Deal or No Deal) is the writer and host behind this special. In my conversation with Howie, he dishes about the show and Twitter.
“I have ADHD, so Twitter is a great way to communicate and not spend too much time on one particular subject, and I’m just a huge fan of Twitter,” Howie said.
Mobbed, airs on Thursday night at 9:00 after American Idol.
Explain what Mobbed is all about.
Howie Mandel: Mobbed is based on an idea that’s been popular for the last 5 years online, a flash mob. They’ve been around for what seems to be a long time, and for those that don’t know what a flash mob is, it is the spontaneous eruption of song and dance by strangers in a very public place, whether it’s a mall or a train station. Billions of people have been downloading these, and I thought how can we bring this to television and why is it more than just this two-minute song and dance. Then I thought, what if we have to convey a private message. We all have something in our lives that we need to share, whether it’s telling your boss to take this job and shove it, whether it’s proposing to a loved one or telling someone you’re pregnant, and then what if we took this very private message and, unbeknownst to the receiver of this message, took them into a very public area and relayed this very private message in the most public, extravagant way possible with a thousand people in song and dance? How would they react? How would we pull this off? How can we do this? This is the biggest undertaking, production wise, of something without a net. There’s no script. We don’t know how it will turn out. It’s a great blending of hidden camera, hidden agenda, and musical theater all in one. It’s like Glee meets hidden camera meets Jerry Springer. It’s got every emotion possible from joy, exuberance, to drama, to awkwardness, to thrills. It’s just the most exciting television I’ve ever been part of.
Was there anyone who was not pleased or really surprised?
Howie Mandel: Well, everybody is incredibly surprised, and you have to watch it. I don’t want to give it away. This is a one-time special, and the idea that you want to wait and see whether we’re able to pull it off and how the person would react is the seed of the show.
You’ve been in showbiz for a very, very long time. Do you have any plans of retiring anytime soon?
Howie Mandel: You’re asking me if I’m going to retire? No, unless it’s forced. As long as people will allow me to do what it is that I want to do, and this is exactly what I want to do, and FOX was nice enough to allow us to do this. This is a huge undertaking for any network to give you this kind of money to produce something without a net. So, no, I have no plans for retirement.
Can you share with us a little bit on how your ongoing struggle with OCD has shaped your life and career?
Howie Mandel: Just a little bit on how my life was shaped? Sure a little bit. I deal with it each and every day. After this call, I’m on my way to therapy, and I’m medicated as we speak, and was medicated for this entire production. So, this has shaped everything I do, but I don’t know how to answer it any further or deeper than that. But, this was certainly a joy to work on, and I hope that everybody stays tuned after Idol and watches the show. Obviously, that’s a great vote of confidence from FOX to give me such a cherry spot on the schedule.
When the show airs for the first time, what will you to be doing?
Howie Mandel: I hope everybody’s watching. I will not be with anybody. I get really nervous when a project, and especially this one, this one was such a triumphant– just to sell this show was an amazing feat because you actually go in and you say hey I got an idea. I want to choreograph. I want to get the best choreographers. I want to get the best music people. I want to get the finest of everything. I want 26 cameras. I want to light two square blocks, two city blocks. I want cranes. I want everything that you can imagine that the most expensive exclusive television special could have. And then the normal question that a network would ask, “And then what’s going to happen?” and the answer is I don’t know. That’s what’s amazing about this show. It was the scariest undertaking. I was so thrilled at that moment when they said okay, so thrilled, and it turned out so fantastically. It’s so scary. It’s nail-biting television, and I can’t sit and watch with anybody. I’m just hoping that people tune in and that they love it. I think that there isn’t anybody that there isn’t something in this show for, all ages. It’s fun for the whole family. If you like comedy, there’s great comedy. If you like drama, there’s great drama. If you like emotion, there’s an abundance of emotion. It’s just a great– but I will not be with anybody. I can’t. I will be in the fetal position in a dark corner somewhere hoping and praying that everybody enjoys it.
Did you have a major input with the way the format is on the show?
Howie Mandel: Absolutely, and that’s part of the show. You’ll see that in the show. You’ll see what was always missing for me on the Internet is, I would see the end result of just a bunch of people dancing, but you don’t see what goes into it. This is– you’ll see everything, and I’m involved and on camera, along with my whole producing team of choosing someone to prank, for lack of another term, to mob, and then deciding how we’re going to do it. And my input and pushing everybody to their limits, everybody, every department, whether it be music, whether it be the dance department, whether it be the set design department, whether it be the wardrobe department, I’m involved in every facet of it, and you will watch that. You watch the process, which actually adds more drama to it because you see how much is involved and how many people are involved, how many hundreds of people are involved behind the scenes, let alone the thousand people that are dancing. You see that, and we’re building to something that you’re clearly aware we have no idea how it will turn out.
Talk about the emotional underpinnings of this show, of staging this big reveal for someone in many cases and why you signed on?
Howie Mandel: Well, it’s not necessarily a cheerleading, do-gooder event. It’s just an intimate, the basic concept was to take something that it is traditionally intimate and making it public and public on steroids. It’s not only, did you do it in front of everybody, but the message is being conveyed along with a thousand strangers. And not only is there a thousand strangers, but there’s a thousand strangers singing and dancing. And not only is there a thousand strangers singing and dancing, but is being recorded and for a television special. So, it goes beyond your wildest dreams. And the idea, the emotion of it is, you don’t know how somebody’s going to react. You don’t even know — you’re saying it’s uplifting… we don’t know that for sure. We don’t know whether, even if it’s a proposal, that somebody’s going to say yes. In fact, by choosing the, I’m using the wrong term, but by choosing the victim, we chose somebody that wasn’t cut and dry. We chose, whether it’s a proposal, we wanted somebody with somewhat of a rocky relationship, because we want to see how far we can push it and that’s me. I’m always one that wants to push the envelope. I want it to be a little edgy. I want it to be on the edge. I don’t want to just see, if it’s a proposal, I don’t want to see two people who have been together forever and for sure she’s just going to say yes and this is going to be her dream. I want it to be a little rocky. Maybe this will throw them. Maybe this will not work out the way we would hope. That gives me the nail-biting aspect of the show. It’s not clear-cut how it’s going to end and where it’s going to go to. By the same token, even if it is a yes on a proposal, then I want to push it even farther and say, “Well, if you say yes are you willing, in a giant musical, to get married right now?” Is somebody that ready to take that plunge? These are all very “dangerous” choices. But, we wanted some danger. We wanted some funny, and before it’s even asked and before we embark on the actual mob, there’s a hidden camera element where we put people through kind of an obstacle course of emotions before we even embark on the mob. So, it was quite an undertaking, quite scary. But, if I feel comfortable then it usually doesn’t entertain me. If I feel like I’m on the edge and it’s somewhat awkward and somewhat uncomfortable, to me, that’s almost good entertainment.
Is there a possibility that this could become a series?
Howie Mandel: That’s up to the public. Ultimately, I just had this idea to do this special and FOX believed in it so much that, number one, they financed it. Number two, they scheduled it in a plum spot, and if the audience should decide that they want to tune in or stay tuned in after Idol and watch it, I would imagine there’s a possibility that they could call me and ask me to do more, and I’m available.
Can you talk about preparing for the event and some of the things you weren’t expecting to experience?
Howie Mandel: Well, in preparing for a flash mob, number one, I don’t nor does even the top choreographers in town, know a thousand dancers that are willing to show up. So, the first order of business was how do we accumulate this many people? We want it to look bigger than anything you’ve seen on the Internet, bigger than anything you’ve ever seen on television. So, how do we get these people? So we did things like, Napoleon and Tabitha who are renowned choreographers, made a YouTube video of the choreography and posted it. We were surprised to find that they have this huge international following. We only had 48 hours to put it together. People flew in from Canada just to dance with them, just to be choreographed by Napoleon and Tabitha. We had no idea what would show up and how many people, how big a crowd. Depending on that, that was very loose. It’s not like– these are not paid performers. These are just people that will show up and be part of it, part of the public. So, that was one. Number two was: Will the person that this is all meant to give a message to, will that person show up? Anything can happen in that two days, since we decide to do it. They don’t have to show up. And then if they do show up, how will they react? And will they just turn and run away or will they react badly or will this whole thing go south? The last lady was asking me about this very uplifting, well even something that can seem uplifting, like a proposal, can turn very dark. Somebody can be rejected. We can end up with a dance number to no one. You don’t know. And, then how will they react if they do stay? Will you get emotion? Will they become emotional? Will it be given away before? That’s also scary. There’s so many loose ends in this whole production that therein lies our fear. I didn’t sleep for almost a week just trying to put this together.
What is it about surprising people in real life that’s so rewarding to you?
Howie Mandel: Because I think that’s the only real reality TV there is. I think when people aren’t expecting it, I think it’s the most relatable television there is, because you put yourself in that position. You put yourself in their shoes. How would you react to that? And you’re getting something that’s not scripted, that’s not produced, that’s very real, and I think there’s something fascinating and we’re all fascinated by watching something real, whether that real be uplifting or you’re craning your neck and watching a train wreck off the side of the freeway. That’s what we seem to be drawn to. And that’s what, more than evening comedy, more than a joke, I like… when people, that’s why I like hidden camera. I like– Allen Funt was my hero. I like seeing how people react in real situations.
Who did you get to co-produce this show with you?
Howie Mandel: My partners are a company called Angel City Factory who was partners with me and a couple of other people, Three Arts, which is my management company, and Kevin Healy, who I did Howie Do It with, and Alevy, which is my company, are the four partners….and Howard Kitrosser and Darryl Trell, the young guys who originally came up with the concept.
How long did it take to get everything together?
Howie Mandel: About a month. We hired a casting person to put ads in nationally in newspapers, asking people if they had, and various Websites asking people if they had a private message that they wanted help conveying and if they would be interested in doing it in a public way, and we got a lot of responses. In fact, on the show on Thursday night, at the end of the show, I have a call to action which I continue to produce to say if you have an idea or you have a message or a surprise, or you’d like to surprise somebody, or tell somebody, or quit a job or do something, contact us at a certain website. And then we started receiving video tapes and messages and my partners and I, we just screened them all and decide why we believe that this was a good candidate.
Was there any thoughts about doing the show live or at least doing the reveal live?
Howie Mandel: There was no talk of that because at the time when we did the show, there was no air date. If we did some in the future, that would be something to talk about, but at that time, nobody knew how it was going to turn out. So, it’s one thing for FOX to commit this amount of money to produce the show. It’s another thing for them to commit an hour of television to something. Now that they see that we can do it and it does work, who knows, the next time you see it, if we’re lucky enough to do another one, if you would see it live. But at that point, no, we just taped everything.
How involved are you with Twitter?
Howie Mandel: More than promotion, it keeps me informed. Right now, the people I’m following I’m aware of what’s going on, and the people who are following me are aware of what’s going on, and there’s only 140 characters. I have ADHD. It’s a great way to communicate and not spend too much time on one particular subject, and I’m just a huge fan of Twitter.
Is there a story in particular that touched your heart while working on the show?
Howie Mandel: Yes, and it would be the one that you’re going to see on Thursday night, and I don’t want to give too much away because the whole crux of the show, you know that we’re delivering a message and you know if you’ve been watching the ads at all that it’s a proposal, but I don’t want to give away what was touching and what was emotional and some of the things we did because the surprise element of the show is what makes the audience and you stay tuned to the show. There are moments when I was touched and worried that it was going wrong and going south. Will it even happen? How will she react and can we go forward? Can we go all the way? I was always, as a producer, I was always concerned with if it goes the wrong way, and there is no wrong way, can we create a train wreck? Can we make good television out of a train wreck? And the answer is yes. So, you don’t know if you’re going to watch something incredibly uplifting or you’re going to watch a phenomenally entertaining train wreck. Nobody really knows what it is, and I don’t want to give too much away.
How much research did you put into the flash mob phenomenon prior to the show?
Howie Mandel: Well I’m nuts about sitting on the Internet constantly, and I’ve been a fan. The first time I think I saw flash mobs was maybe five years ago, and I’ve been informed since that networks have pitched it numerous times. In fact, they’ve even shot pilots. I don’t know that FOX has, but other networks have shot pilots and it hasn’t really worked out, and I was wondering why 2 billion people are downloading these things or watching these things, or 20 billion people worldwide, we did some research, yet, they can’t make a television show out of it. And I think the missing ingredient was a story. What is the story behind the flash mob? Is there a reason for the flash mob? How do you build the flash mob? And how are people reacting? It’s not just about– it’s very passive when you see it online. A bunch of people are dancing in a mall and people just walk by and go, “Oh look, people are dancing,” and they snap a picture. But, what if we got into people’s lives and it was more emotional and there was a reason for it and you watch the people behind the scenes, how much it was at stake even for us as producers to try to build this and put this on. Therein lies about three or four different levels or stories. And that’s what television is. Television is a medium where we can tell a story and that’s what we’ve done using the element of the flash mob.
Was there ever a time while filming that you were saying to yourself, there’s no way we are going to pull this off?
Howie Mandel: Yes, in fact, in the midst of it you’ll see me say that. In the midst of the production, yes. And I didn’t sleep for a week. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever done, the most emotional thing I’ve ever done, and many times throughout it I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life.
Were there any limits as to how far you could go with these special announcements?
Howie Mandel: Well, yes is the answer to your question. I think one can go too far. I try not to go too far. Sometimes we make impulsive decisions. The beauty, and also the horror, of doing shows like this and doing what I do is you don’t know how people are going to react. You don’t know what button you’re going to hit. As much as that’s exciting or entertaining, I would be devastated if somebody was hurt by this. Ultimately, my goal is to entertain and especially with a show like this, entertain the whole family. I want kids to sit around. I want the parents to sit around. I want everybody to watch the show. The answer to your question, one more time, is yes. I don’t intentionally go too far, but when you are dealing with something that is unscripted and you don’t know and it’s not somebody who has been hired, the person that the prank is on is not somebody that has been hired and vetted and they’re not reciting lines and they’re not being produced as it were, you don’t know where you’re going to take them. So, that is always an element of fear and angst in my world. And I have to say as much as people have written in the past that some of the hidden camera pieces I’ve done are mean, you have to also realize that if you saw it, then ultimately these people were on board and signed a release and were more than happy to be part of this. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. But, yes it can go very wrong. It can go bad. That is the excitement of doing the show and in no way do I want to see it go wrong. The Simpsons show, as you’re quoting from, is an animated show, and they can go much farther in animation then we can in real life and by no means would I ever tread that far where somebody thinks that a loved one is gone. You will never see that on Mobbed.
Howie Mandel’s Last Words:
This has been such an important project as far as I was concerned. I never dreamed in my wildest dreams, that I wanted to do this, and from the first time I saw a flash mob online, and I never dreamed that I would be given the opportunity. I understand, I’ve been in the business for over 30 years and I understand production, and I understand the amount of money and what it takes to put on a show, and to go to a network with an idea that is virtually insane because this was a huge undertaking and I’m sure a lot of you on the line have seen the show, it’s a huge production. It’s a very expensive undertaking, and to have FOX support me in the sense that this could have fallen apart at any given moment, and they committed to me is just a huge joy and a pinnacle, one of the few pinnacles in my career, to just allow me to do this as a producer and to allow me to put it together. And the fact that once we put it together, and it’s a show that I’m very proud of, to give me this cherry scheduling spot is even another great pat on the back. Hopefully, you and the press will support me and get as many of your readers out there to see it and just watch it and to enjoy it like I enjoyed producing it. Just enjoy it. I think it’s a great hour of television, and I’m proud to be part of it. I would love to do more but if I never get to do more, I’m so thrilled that I got to do this. That’s it. Thank you.