Not enough big bananas to make new ‘Deal’?

Times Staff Writer

Believe it or not, it’s not always an instant slam dunk these days to find people willing to dress up like giant bananas just to be on television.

Last weekend, a frantic cry went out from Audiences Unlimited -- the people who fill seats at TV program tapings and award shows -- seeking contestants for the new version of “Let’s Make a Deal,” which NBC is giving a prime-time trial run Saturdays beginning March 1.

“Do you want to be in the audience?” the online and e-mail message read. “Do you want to be seen on TV? They currently need people at BOTH shows tomorrow.... If you are interested, please go to the studio!”


Actually, the situation turned out to be not that dire. Executive producer Sharon Hall, daughter of original host Monty Hall, said the show had no trouble filling 200-plus seats for each of the five programs that were shot. The urgent plea was a mere precaution, she said, and Audiences Unlimited wound up providing about a third of the crowd.

“It was an amazing cross-section of people. I was really pleased to see that,” Hall said, noting that audiences once lined up around the studio for a chance to pick door No. 1, 2 or 3.

Tiffany Nelson, the group coordinator for Audiences Unlimited, conceded that she was a bit concerned about finding younger people familiar with “Let’s Make a Deal,” given that people of college age when the show was at its peak are in their 50s or 60s now.

“That’s not exactly the prime demographic anymore,” she said. “Sure, people remember the show, but some don’t.”

Nelson added that this can be a particularly challenging time for seat and audience filling operations. Series prototypes, or pilots, begin shooting soon, joining dozens of existing sitcoms and a horde of televised award shows. “Now is the time of year to honor yourself, repeatedly, if you are in the industry,” she said.

In keeping with the original “Deal’s” zaniness, more than 90% of those attending the Hollywood tapings showed up in costumes. Hall noted that plenty of people dressed up like fruit or another of the basic food groups, and that two audience members were ejected because of decency concerns. (According to Audiences Unlimited, “Guests may dress up in funny, goofy and eye-catching homemade costumes.... Store bought or commercial costumes are not acceptable!”)


Billy Bush, a correspondent for “Access Hollywood” and cousin of President George W. Bush, will be the host of the new version. Beyond that change and some minor tinkering, Hall said it’s pretty much the same show that people remember -- or don’t -- from the 1960s and ‘70s.

“The format worked for 27 years,” she said. “There was no reason to reinvent it.”