For the fourth straight year, actor Alec Baldwin will be wah-wah pedaling back onto ABC for a season of “Match Game” starting tonight, June 12. Baldwin wields the skinny microphone made famous by the Goodson-Todman Productions show’s founding host, Gene Rayburn, in the 1970s, while the celebrity guest panelists have upheld the original’s boozy, bawdy atmosphere. We asked Baldwin, 61, why an Academy Award-nominated star wanted to give away prize money — and give up being President Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”
Full disclosure — I was in a cab in downtown Manhattan when I saw you on the street and called out to you how much I like “Match Game.”
I remember that and I was glad I had security with me that day.
It’s fun. The first time I did it, I thought, “What the hell am I doing?” Because I so often was looking for jobs like the Capital One commercials and Amazon Echo commercials and things to fund my charity [Hilaria and Alec Baldwin Foundation]. … I did it the first year and I had so much fun that I kept coming back. It’s something I look forward to every year.
Do people often ask why an accomplished actor like yourself is hosting a classic game show?
All my life — perhaps to a fault — I didn’t care how something looked. I’m always looking for jobs where I can stay home. I’m remarried and I’ve got four little children. People would come to me with very worthy projects and say, “Are you going to go to New Mexico for five months or Vancouver for six months to do an eight-part miniseries?” A lot of opportunities that I would have lunged at years ago. Everything I do now, I try as best as possible to stay home, and this has been a tremendous opportunity in that regard.
Were you a game-show fan growing up?
When I was a kid there was a period in my life when I was 10 or 12 when I didn’t feel like going to school. I told my mother I didn’t feel well, and she literally didn’t make me go to school. She said, “OK stay home.” Maybe she was just lonely, I don’t know. And I would lay on the couch and I would watch every ridiculous TV show.
I became a connoisseur of “The Galloping Gourmet.” I could always tell when Graham Kerr drank too much. I’d watch talk shows — Virginia Graham and Dinah Shore. These are shows that date me. I’d watch game shows. “What’s My Line?” “To Tell the Truth,” “Match Game,” and “Password” with Allen Ludden. I devoured them because they were funny. They were very witty.
They were edgy too for that era.
Back then those shows had a lot of Broadway musical theater talent. Charles Nelson Reilly, Robert Q. Lewis, Peggy Cass. New York-based people who cut their teeth on live theater and musical comedy and they always had impeccable timing. I thought it had this cocktail party feel to it. I want to go and hang out and have dinner with these people.
Did you have a favorite panelist?
I thought Charles Nelson Reilly was unstoppable. He was always funny. When Whoopi Goldberg did “Hollywood Squares” she was fantastic. She could be funny and not cross the line. You can’t be too mean when you do these shows. And I really loved Kitty Carlisle. She was that wonderful straight woman. She wasn’t really very funny. I loved that the panels were balanced like that.
Kitty Carlisle brought class to those shows.
Yes. There you go. We don’t have anyone like that on our show. We have no class on our show. We need to find class to put on our show, so thank you for that reference.
Alcohol consumption was a very important ingredient in the 1970s version of “Match Game.” Which panelist drinks the most on your show?
It’s a tie — there are six or seven of them who really just enjoy themselves. There is a bar there. There are some friends there. There are some comedy peers. Everybody’s loose and wants to have a good time. And the next thing you know they’ve had three or four cocktails and have to go out and do a TV show. There are a couple of them who have been extremely happy at the start of a show.
This job requires you to interact with contestants. How did you learn how to do that?
The people here from Fremantle, who run the show — especially Scott St. John, the minute-to-minute producer of the show — were very kind to teach me about the little nuances. We want the contestants to win. When contestants win $25,000, when they go all the way, that’s a great show. … I try to keep the focus on the game. It’s supposed to be funny. But $25,000 can make a big difference in their lives. They can pay their kids’ tuition.
Is there a bible from Goodson-Todman that tells you what you can and can’t do in this format?
We do have a methodology here to make sure everyone is playing the game, especially the celebrity panelists. All game shows function under a slight awning of the old quiz show scandal. We’ve actually stopped tape on the show when someone very innocently changed their answer after the card was inserted — they took it out and did it again. The voice in the sky said — “OK stop.” And we stopped to go back and the instructions were given to the actor again. They want everything to be legit. It’s as much of a contest as it is an entertainment show.
On the old “Match Game,” the network had a list of words the panelists absolutely could not use. Is there an answer today that you were surprised you could get on the air?
I can’t remember that. But I know we have a collage of cards on the wall in the green room — and those are all the cards of the absolutely disgusting and vulgar things the panelists have put up as answers and wound up getting bleeped and taken out of the show. We’ve had many, many of them.
You recently said you don’t plan on doing your impersonation of President Trump on “Saturday Night Live” anymore. Has executive producer Lorne Michaels tried to persuade you to come back?
Lorne is my dear friend and if he asked me to continue to do it per my availability I would do it. I don’t know how available I’m going to be, because I really have to go to work full time. My wife and I had a baby last May and I took a lot of last year off. I haven’t worked on anything substantial. Now this fall that’s going to end. I’ve got a bunch of things lined up. I’ll probably wind up doing something that’s a big commitment TV-wise the following spring.
But I just get tired of the whole culture of [the Trump impersonation]. What is it changing? What is it accomplishing? I’m somebody who’s a fairly politically minded person and I wonder what other things I could be putting my energy into.
Should I be working toward voter registration? Should I get back into campaigns for actual candidacies? What should I do with my time?
Most of the work my wife and I do with my charity is arts-related. We’ve given away a substantial amount of money over the last several years to arts-related organizations and I’ve withdrawn to a large degree from this kind of partisan politics.
Doing the Trump thing, there are days I go, “What does this accomplish?”