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Many shows hit the road to look for contestants

August 24, 2000

Many shows hit the road to look for contestants



By KEVIN CLAPP / Staff Writer


It used to be that to become a contestant on a game show meant heading west to California to try out.

But those days are gone as shows including "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" hit the road throughout the year to recruit contestants from across the country.

"A lot of the people you love on the show have very busy lives. To come out to L.A. and try out for a game show for a couple of days is very hard," "Jeopardy!" senior contestant coordinator Susanne Thurber says. "If you come out to where they are, they may only have to take a half-day off."

Since most shows discourage people from flying to California just to audition - the programs don't pay to bring people in - hitting the road allows them to reach more people and create a more diverse contestant pool.

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On Saturday, Oct. 7, "Wheel of Fortune" producers will be at Fell's Point in Baltimore with their Wheelmobile to find contestants. The following week, Sunday, Oct. 15, through Tuesday, Oct. 17, "Wheel" will tape episodes in Washington, D.C.

"We're looking for contestants that have a nice, natural presence about them," "Wheel" contestant coordinator Gary O'Brien says. "We try to get all different people. That's why we travel a lot."

"The Price Is Right" tapes in Los Angeles, but still draws on people from across the country. According to CBS publicist Kevin McDonald, producers like selecting people in the military and college students, who usually travel to the show in packs while on school trips.

Cult favorite "Win Ben Stein's Money" on Comedy Central does not travel outside Los Angeles to audition contestants, and talent executive Harv Selsby says that impacts who tries out and gets on the show.

Because prospective contestants have to pay the freight for two trips to L.A. - one to try out, the other to tape the show - it is often not cost- or time-effective for people from the Midwest or East Coast.

It doesn't help that "Money" is more about trumping the show's host on difficult trivia than the payoff, which is a maximum of $5,000.

"We do find people who will do it," Selsby says. "Ben is an incredibly bright man. He works very hard to make sure you don't take his money away, and people just want to beat him."

Still, show producers have discussed hitting the road to broaden their contestant base. There are no plans to do so yet, but that could change before casting begins next month for the upcoming season.

"We love it when someone is willing to come in from Baltimore and take the test," Selsby says. "I think the problem would be because you can't win the huge payoffs you can win on "Wheel of Fortune," for instance. Are you willing to risk the amount of expense you would incur to come out to Los Angeles? I think that's a big roadblock."

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