NBC Says 'Thank God' for Improv

The thing about writing about an improv-comedy show is that the people involved tend to, you know, improvise when they speak about the show.

So when you ask "Kids in the Hall" and "NewsRadio" alum Dave Foley about how he judges the performers on NBC's new improv show "Thank God You're Here," he tells you this:

"I've spent a lot of time up at CalTech, working with a team up there to develop an algorithm that applies to all the sketches so there's a scientific outcome. The person who wins is scientifically proven to be the best."

Or this, in which host David Alan Grier explains how Foley arrived at the ah-ooh-ga sound effect he uses to signal the end of a sketch: "He doesn't like to toot his own horn, but he was woodshedding for months, working, trying different things ... to really see the psychological effects they had on the viewer, before he settled on the ah-ooh-ga sound."

Fortunately, we can turn to other sources to get the explanatory part of the story out of the way. Based on an Australian show of the same name, "Thank God You're Here" takes well-known actors, puts them in a costume and then throws them into a scene they know nothing about. Working with a regular group of performers, the guests have to improvise their way through a scene or, comedically speaking, die trying.

The premiere, airing at 9 p.m. ET Monday, features former "Seinfeld" regular Wayne Knight, Joel McHale (E!'s "The Soup"), Jennifer Coolidge ("Best in Show," "Joey") and Bryan Cranston ("Malcolm in the Middle"). Future episodes will include the likes of Jason Alexander, Wendie Malick, Mo'Nique, Harland Williams, Angela Kinsey and George Takei.

A lot of those actors are used to working with a script, so "Thank God" might present a few challenges, Grier says.

"You don't come in rehearsed and planned, and if you blow this big monologue, then the whole scene collapses," says Grier, a veteran of "In Living Color" who will appear in some sketches. "You don't really know what's going to happen or what's going to be funny. So you can't really prepare for that."

In fact, he says, he'd rather step into an improv situation than be saddled with a terrible script. "There is nothing worse than that," Grier says. "There's no turning back, because you've sold your soul to the devil. At least with improv you can say, 'Well, I had a bad day.' [A bad script] is the worst. And I've been there many times."

Both Daves say, though, that none of the guest stars they've had on so far have really stunk up the joint. "There were certain times where I should've been buzzed out of my misery," Foley jokes.

"But did anyone bomb? No, not so far. I hope someone will at some point, just to keep it all credible."

"Just to show how hard it is," Grier interjects.

"I'm sure if I were doing what our guests do," Foley adds, "I'd have at least a 50-50 chance of bombing at it. It is difficult."
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"Thank God You're Here" premieres at 9 p.m. ET Monday, April 9. It will air in that spot again April 16 and move to Wednesdays starting April 18.

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