M. Roach: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for calling in today. On the line with us are the The Moment of Truth's Creator and Executive Producer, Howard Schultz, and the show's host, Mark Walberg. And as a reminder, the Moment of Truth premiers Wednesday, January 23rd at 9:00 p.m. after American Idol. Howard will explain how the show works, I think at the outset and then we'll just open the lines up to questions.
Howard Schultz: Thank you, good morning everybody or afternoon, depending upon where you are. Basically, here is how the show works. The game within the show is the device to have people tell the truth about their lives and what not.
There are six levels of questions. The first level is six questions. If they answer truthfully to all six questions, they can make $10,000. The next level is five questions. If they reach that, it's $25,000. The next level is four questions, for $100,000; three questions for $200,000; two questions for $350,000; and one final question for $500,000.
The process is done this way. We find a participant. We research their background and their past, and we talk to their friends and family and co-workers, all the people in their lives. We assemble a list of questions typically numbering between 50 and 75 questions. We give them a polygraph examination by a certified polygraph examiner.
We then select 21 questions from those questions that they were asked. They do not know which 21 we will select and they do not know the results of their polygraph. Those 21 questions are then asked on the show. If you add up six, five, four, three, two, one you get to 21. That's how it works, very simple.
The participant is alone on the stage with Mark. Their friends and family are nearby on a couch, watching. And so they are answering these questions in front of their family and friends.
Hello, Mark. Hello, Howard. I was just wondering, Howard, how is the American version different from the original Colombian version of the show?
Howard Schultz: It's virtually identical except there is one additional piece in the American episode. The American episodes have what we call the friends and family button. There is a button sitting in front of the friends and family, and they can press it one time as a group. They can only use it one time. If that button is pressed, we will substitute a question for the question that they do not want to hear the answer to.
I will tell you that with all of the tapings we have done, it has not been used very often. And typically what we've found is when a sensitive question is asked of a participant, and we thought that the friends and family would press the button in order to save the participant from the embarrassment of whatever the question might be. As it turns out, oftentimes the friends and family want to know the answer so badly, they won't hit the button.
Howard Schultz: But it has happened about four or five times.
It's funny. Sometimes the participant will actually pause and wait and give the family space to hit the button. And they won't hit it anyway. But that's the only change. The only other change is the dollar values in the United States are much greater than they are in Columbia.
I watched the screener the other night, it's only like four minutes long. But some of the questions look like they are really hard hitting questions. I was wondering. When you're up there, do you get uncomfortable like the contestants do?
Mark L. Walberg: No, I spend most of the time on that stage a little uncomfortable. It's just funny to me that I ended up hosting this show because I like to keep the peace. I don't like a whole lot of confrontation and yet, I find myself in these very confrontational shows. So I guess the best way I can answer that question is, I feel like the best way to be a good host and I sure aspire to be one of those, is to be as empathetic as you can be with whoever the subject is, the participant. So really if they're nervous, I'm nervous for them.
And my whole realm of being on the set is really just trying to let them know all of their options and hope that they can get through this process with as much money as they want at a level of comfort that they are comfortable with. And so, yes, there are times when I've even said to them, "You've got a lot of money. I really don't want to have to ask this question. Please, don't make me read it." And they say, "Bring it on."
So they're allowed to quit whenever they want.
Mark L. Walberg: Oh, yes. What you don't necessarily get in the promos, but you will see in the show, and what I love about the show is that there is so much power in the seat of the participant. They've heard every question already. The lie detector test happened at an earlier date. They can change their answer at any time if they feel that in the first test, they may have answered incorrectly. And they can stop at any time. So with all those mechanisms in place for their own protection, they really are driving the bus. That doesn't stop them from driving it off a cliff sometimes.
What is the criterion for the questions?
Howard Schultz: What do you mean when you say, what's the criteria for the questions?
On the screen liner, some of them are like, "Have you stolen from work? Have you cheated on your wife?" Are those always in there?
Howard Schultz: No, the questions vary from participant to participant. We custom design the questions, based upon who's sitting in the chair. We do a lot of homework. We call their families, their friends, their co-workers, their high school chemistry teachers. We reach deep into these people's lives to create what I call a mosaic of them, if you will. We really do get a pretty complete picture of who this individual is and we use our own intuition.
So sometimes we'll create questions, there's nothing that anyone has told us specifically, but we get a general impression of this individual. So we'll add some questions into their polygraph exam, based upon our intuition into their life.
Mark L. Walberg: Can I interject a little something on that as well? One of the things, as a host you see a lot of formats over the years and you can really see which ones last and which ones don't. And one of the things I really love about this format is that there are those questions, did you cheat on your wife, did you rob a bank that are what I would call a generic question that could apply to anybody. And they certainly are riveting to hear a few times.
But where this show really lives for me is that it becomes a personal journey. Very quickly you start to learn, not just the information on the questions, but all sorts of information about this person, their family, their friends, their life. So what was really interesting to watch, and I'm going to just suggest might be the reason why the show may be sustainable, is that with every person there are personal questions that are far more riveting than just simply did you cheat on your wife or steal some money.
So you find out something about this person. Then you find a specific question that only relates to them and that's when it becomes really interesting to watch and is different with every single person that is in the chair. Every single time you tune in, that episode is entirely different in tone, in flavor, in questions than the one you saw last week.
I also saw that little four minute preview, which made me want to ask more questions than I even know the answers to. First of all, when you cook up these questions for the people, when you custom make the questions, do you ever get to a point where you go, "Oh, that one crosses the line, that's too squirm-inducing, that one is too uncomfortable." Has that happened?
Howard Schultz: Well, there is only a couple of areas that are off limits to us. One area is we won't ask any question that in any way, shape or form can harm a minor child under the age of 18. So we would not ask, for example, a question of the person in the chair, "Have you ever used your child as a pawn against your ex spouse?" We wouldn't ask questions where children could be watching and could be harmed by the question.
We obviously can't get into certain questions that would go beyond the restrictions of the FCC, sexual questions and things of that nature. Aside from that, pretty much anything is fair game. And interestingly enough, many of the best questions comes from the family and friends themselves.
There was a woman who we taped who had separated from her husband for a year and a half. Neither of them had filed for divorce, nor could they get back together again. They were sort of just stuck in a stalemate. And when we called him on the phone, we asked him, "Are there any questions you would like to ask your wife?" He said, "Yes, I have one question. Did she ever really love me?" I mean, that's a pretty cold question. It's a hard question. So some of the best questions come from the family and friends.
For both of you, have either of you done a polygraph prior to being involved in this show? And did it work out okay? Did it work out bad? I'm remembering the only time I ever did a polygraph 25 years ago for a job interview and I freaked out.
Mark L. Walberg: I work in show business, so no one has ever asked me to take a polygraph to test my integrity because that's never on the chart in show business. Truthfully, I've never had to have a lie detector test, a polygraph of any kind. So, no, I haven't. And having sat next to the machine now for a while, it's a little nerve racking.
Howard Schultz: I've not had one either. Now, I'm not afraid of it. Actually at some point, I probably will do one, just because we're around it so much, I'm curious as to how well I could do. I think I know some of the questions that for me, would pose some difficulty. But I'm not afraid of it. I think it's just an intriguing piece of equipment.
And it's interesting how people approach it. I mean as you well know having done one yourself, you feel the pressure the moment you're wired up. There's something about it that just changes the game right then and there, the moment the wires are on you.
I've been reading little bit and Mike Darnell has said that a few of the participants that were meant to be on the game have dropped out because it is so hard. On the other side of the coin, have there been a lot of contestants so far that are going all the way and are wining their top prize?
Howard Schultz: I will tell you that thus far, no one has made it all the way.
Howard Schultz: There's basically two ways to win money on this show. You either have to quit or you have to go all the way. So the people that have made money have quit at some point because of the pyramid nature, the higher you go on the peak, the more intense and personal the questions become.
And Mark is there to really help convince them, because he doesn't know the outcome of the polygraph. So he's there just trying to help them through it and say, "Hey, look, $100,000 is a lot of money. Are you sure? I know it's tempting. It's only three more questions to get to $200,000, but do you really want to risk $100,000 for that?" And just there to help out, convince them.
But in the end, it's in their hands. And what we find is you know there are people who come on the show and oftentimes they just can't believe that they are lying. So, they go for it and they go one question too far.
Okay, so if a contestant drops out, wins the money, generally the family and friends in the audience are they happy for them. Or do you get them being angry because of what is being revealed on the show?
Mark L. Walberg: I noticed that when someone stops and they are taking the money, there is not only excitement because of the money, but a huge sense of relief that we're not going to ask any more questions. Howard could speak a little bit more to what happens after the fact because I'm not so much privy to that.
But from my seat and from my interaction with the participants, you have to know that all of the questions that get asked on the show they have heard before they get on the program, so it's not a sucker punch. Sometimes the reveal of their truth is a sucker punch. But yes, there are some raw nerves, there is some emotion to this. Certainly there are tears; there is anger at some point. But my experience is that those who take money and leave are thrilled to have it and are grateful for the process and oftentimes even thank us for bringing up stuff.
There are times when you ask a question that the audience groans or moans or freaks out about. And then you suddenly realize that this is a question that whether it's been spoken or not, has been in that family's living room for 20 or 30 years. So sometimes they come up to you afterwards and go, "Thanks for just letting us get this done, get it out in the open, talk it through and be done with this finally." So it's an interesting dynamic.
What conditions were taken in the actual polygraph test to avoid some of the reasons why as a rule, polygraphs are not admissible in court, for example?
Howard Schultz: Well, first of all, that's not completely accurate. Polygraphs are admissible in some courts in the country. It's not admissible in other courts. It really is a state by state thing. We use a certified polygraph examiner; he's a member of the American Polygraph Association. This guy has been doing polygraphs for more than 25 years. We allow him to conduct the polygraph under the same circumstances that he ordinarily would in his normal day-to-day business.
When he tells us that a person is being deceptive, then they are being deceptive. When he tells us that the person has told the truth, then they are telling the truth for the purposes of our game. We do not get involved in any of his decision making. He tells us what the decision is and we live with it. And so from that standpoint, I think we maintain every ounce of integrity we possibly can to make it as legitimate as we possibly can.
But going off of that, you said the person is telling the truth for the purposes of our game. But there is still a reason why polygraphs are not admissible, as you say, in some courts. Are you worried that there is a reason why that is the case?
Howard Schultz: No, you know, first of all, the polygraphs from the research that we've done, polygraphs are estimated to be 94% to 98% accurate. That all of the participants in the show have signed a release where they have stated their willingness to accept the polygraph as the rule in the show. So that is what they are accepting and they are fully aware in the release that whether they still believe it to be inaccurate for the purpose of the show, they are willing to abide by the polygraph's results.
To your knowledge, has the show ended any marriages or resulted in any arrests?
Howard Schultz: No marriage yet and I sure hope one doesn't end because of it. I can tell you that there was a young man on the show and his girlfriend was sitting on the family and friends couch, and we just found this out last week. That on the drive home from the show, they broke up. And he has spent the last month and a half trying to get her back and we found out that he just got her back. So that's all we know so far.
We tend to do follow ups with the people once, obviously things change once shows air. So we're really waiting for the show to air in order to do those follow ups.
That's great. I'm really looking forward to that.
Howard Schultz: Same here.
Have there been any family members that have opted out from coming on the show, noting what it's about? Maybe they feel that they'd get an embarrassing answer about something they didn't know or just elected to say, "Hey I'm not coming on the show." Has that happened?
Howard Schultz: Of course. We don't hold a gun to their head to come. It is an invitation to them to support their family member who is participating in the show. We can't coerce them to come on the show, we welcome them.
We also make it a point, the questions are not directed toward the person on the couch. The participant has elected to do the show. The family member is electing to sit in a passive role. So we're not there to pose difficult questions to anyone in the friends and family section. That's not to say that they can't be affected by questions that are posed to the participant.
And so, like in the case of the guy and the girl who broke up after the show, there were questions posed to him about his thoughts about the relationship that obviously caused her great concern. And that's obviously what caused her to break up with him. But we really try to keep the questions directed toward the participant. But we recognize that there is a residual thing, which is why we have that friends and family button.
As far as the contestants, they have the opportunity to leave at any stage of the game. From what I remember, there are certain segments, you win $10,000, you answer the next six or seven questions. Where there a lot of contestants that were just trying to get the first round completed and get out of there to save face or not to get embarrassed? Or did a lot of people really try to push it to the end and win a lot of money?
Howard Schultz: I think people really push it. It's not a very interesting show if somebody just comes on, tries to win $10,000 and gets the hell out. One person did do that and certainly they have the right to do that, but we're looking for people who are up for the challenge. Somebody who is going to quit at $10,000, they can do it, but I don't think most people are there for $10,000. They are there for the bigger sums of money.
I believe I have already run across casting for additional seasons or additional series. From the commercials, they look pretty shocking. They can scare people. I'm wondering if that has had any impact on brining new people into the show that might have seen those trailers online and said, "Oh my God." I think the commercial I've seen lately has been somebody asking if overweight people offend them or if they're disgusted by it. And I thought would this affect the future contestants?
Howard Schultz: No, we've had a couple of people back out because of some of the clips they've seen in the promos and whatnot. There are times during the casting process where people will say, "I want to come on, but please don't ask me any questions about my mother." And we tell them straight away, we make no promises. If you're agreeing to come on this show, you're agreeing to accept what ever questions come your way.
The first time around we had one woman back out after she took her polygraph exam. Interestingly enough, this was an individual who I called up on the phone to see if I could convince her to come back on the show and she said to me, "I could never come on the show and answer those questions. You don't understand, my parents have been divorced for three years and no one in my family knows." And I was like, a person like that, absolutely she can't come on the show. She is living a life that is so full of pretense, that this show would have that glass case that she lives in come crashing down around her. So that's not the kind of person that is going to do this kind of show.
So there are a couple of people that have backed out and that's to be expected. I'm not alarmed by it. I dare say that once the show airs, we're going to be deluged with people who want to come on the show. I think also you're going to find that while the show is very edgy and the questions can be extremely tough, there is also some great moments where people are healed in the process of the show.
There's a man on the show who was asked by his son, the story comes out on the show about this man who's had a problem gambling. And he even considers that he's addicted to gambling. And we surprised him with his son and his son comes on and asks, "Have you ever gambled away any of my college fund?" And the man says, "For five years, my ex-wife has been telling my kids that my gambling problem meant that I took money from them and took money from their college fund." He said, "I don't know what this polygraph is going to say, but I never did." And the polygraph proved that he never did. And he says on the show, "If I don't win a dime on this show, I just got my money's worth." So there's an example where the truth can do a lot of good. So it's not just there like, look how terrible it all is. There's also incredible moments where the truth really heals people and families.
It's not all destructive. There's some healing and some things that come out that help people as well.
Howard Schultz: Absolutely.
What do you hope the viewers take away from watching this? Is it strictly about entertaining the people with provocative premise? Or do you like to believe that it's going to accomplish something more than that?
Howard Schultz: Well, I actually have a very large purpose in mind. Part of the creation of this show stems from the fact that I believe we've become a nation of liars; that we've become a world of liars. That it is so difficult to get the truth from anybody nowadays. We're being spun up one side and down the other. We just are living in a pile of beans. And I would like to think it is my fervent desire that this show starts to breathe a dialogue about the truth; that the truth does matter.
And that the truth really can set us free and I think that many of the problems that exist in this world can be solved. Because we first become aware that there is something called the truth and that we can then start dealing with the hard realities of the truth and start to clean up our lives and clean up our world and clean up everything about what we're doing. I think it's as plain as day. And I think that everybody that is on this phone call knows what I'm talking about and that would be my fervent desire.
The Moment of Truth premieres on FOX January 23.