By Rick Bentley
Except for a couple of guest-starring roles, Howie Mandel had not been seen in a regular prime-time television job since 1990. That’s when he starred on “Good Grief.” And you could argue “Good Grief” was seen by so few viewers that it doesn’t even qualify as a regular TV job.
Things changed in 2005 for the stand-up comedian. That’s when he agreed to host the NBC game show “Deal or No Deal.” Last year, he added a syndicated 30-minute version of the game show to his workload.
And now, Mandel is starring on a third television series. His new series, “Howie Do It,” debuts at 8 tonight on NBC. The “Candid Camera” style show also stars Mandel’s son, Alex.
“’Candid Camera’ was my inspiration. That’s the first time I actually ever saw anything on TV and was inspired as far as comedy is concerned. I have never been one to be entertained so much by a joke or even by an act. But that was the first time where something was really funny because it was real like I was in on this joke and I was watching real people in these awkward situations,” Mandel says during a telephone interview.
In the series, Mandel targets real people. These people will be put in odd and embarrassing situations while cameras roll. For example, in one show Mandel plays a waiter who puts his fingers in others’ food.
Mandel admits the idea for that sequence came from his own battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder about shaking hands and cleanliness. He says the way most people react to someone putting fingers in their food is the way he feels when he shakes a hand.
Alex says a trip to a restaurant with his father is an experience. The comic watches every move the waiter makes. He will only go to a restaurant that has been given a grade A by the state health inspector. He’ll leave if anyone sneezes.
This whole idea of pulling pranks on real people is nothing new for Mandel. As a 10th-grader, he contacted local contractors about placing bids to build an addition to the school library.
“I’ve always done this and have been doing it for 30 years or so. As soon as I got a video camera. A lot of it has ended up on ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘Regis’ and various other HBO specials. NBC has been nice enough to give me the opportunity to do it full time as a real show rather than just a hobby,” Mandel says.
The new show adds another dimension to Mandel’s career. He’s best known these days as a game show host and comedian. His animated series “Bobby’s World” brought him to the attention of youngsters from 1990-98.
And way back in 1982-88, Mandel was best known on TV for his serious work on the medical drama “St. Elsewhere.”