Host Penn Jillette and Executive Producers Ben Silverman and Andrew Golder discuss the importance of 1st, 2nd and 3rd impressions.
We recently had a chance to sit on a press conference for the new game show Identity. This is a new game show from Reveille, the producers of NBC's The Office, The Biggest Loser and Ugly Betty where contestants size up a group of strangers in an effort to match their identities and win a top prize of $500,000. The ultimate mind game is hosted by Emmy Award-winning comedian/magician Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller). On hand was the wickedly funny host as well as executive producers Ben Silverman and Andrew Golder.
Ben, I was just wondering what you think of first impressions?
Ben Silverman: First impressions are something that we all use and it's very difficult to divorce yourself from them. Many times, I think instincts are your best choice.
Does this show have a point to make? It seems like highly regarded celebrities have been misread by their fans because of certain statements they've made? Is the program saying not everything is at it seems?
Ben Silverman: I think that that's an element of the program. The program is really just to entertain. It is much more informed in the fun with trying to identify people, and playing on first impressions. There's no question that it isn't always what it seems.
Penn, are you ever misguided in how people can be in reading others?
Penn Jillette: It is remarkable how wrong people can be. It's not really a topical show. You really need to know who you're dealing with. What I thought was so fascinating about this show when they first brought it to me, is every other game show that I can think of... you have to decide to play along. This game show, I believe that if you just showed our twelve strangers on TV, people would automatically play it. Every place you walk down you see people and say, "What's their story?" We really do care about human beings and this is a fun way to do a caricature of what are you? What do you do?
Penn, how did you get involved with this show?
Penn Jillette: It amazes me that people like Andrew and Ben, who are brilliant at these kinds of shows, would spend all this time building a 747 and then put a nut in the pilot seat. They came to me and I didn't know it. I didn't know that all the time I was doing 50 shows a day out in the blazing sun, eating fire... I was actually preparing to host this game show. Howie and Saget both told me this, before I got the game show, it's remarkable how the skills... we have in talking to people, end up being pretty good for doing a game show.
Do you still get fooled by things on Identity or do they kind of let you know in advance what's happening?
Penn Jillette: Game shows are so well policed in this country that if we had half that amount of diligence with our government, we would be living in a much better country. I don't know anything... they have separate entrances, separate people dealing with them, we have no idea who the strangers are. That allows me to really play along with the audience and the contestants. And it also allowed our whole crew to experience it. What really blew my mind were these jaded soundmen who've seen every show in the world, and they come over to change my battery pack, I have never had anybody talk to me about the show. They would come over and go, "So Penn, how's the show going? Do you think the one in red is the sword swallower?"
What's the idea when you get the 12 people for the show together?
Andrew Golder: We absolutely are looking for a diverse mix of people. For identities that are complimentary, amusing, or distinct. Some of the picks start off easier, then you build up to something like a kidney donor and it gets really hard. The show's have different mixes and what seems to be easier for some people is where people grew up, which may not be as easy for somebody else. Identifying a comic book writer for a woman is not like identifying an opera singer.
What was the FBI profiler doing there?
Andrew Golder: Part of the game is we have a panel of experts who can offer their advice one time only to a player. Our panel of experts for this particular sequence of shows included an FBI Behavioral expert, a Psychologist, and a body language expert.
With networks cutting costs are you finding that field is wide open in terms what you can put on the air?
Ben Silverman: Well, it's all about good shows to me and not about the genre. We make shows whether we make the most dramatic half hour on TV... and when looking at the marketplace for us it's all about the good idea. We loved Identity. It was just something that was informed by the past but something that was totally original and new. We just felt really opportunistic. It wasn't because of how much it cost or because a genre was opening up, it was we really liked this show.
Penn, how much of your comedy informs your hosting style?
Penn Jillette: What I like about hosting is that you get to be a little more yourself. Art thrives in it's limitations. When I'm doing a show in Las Vegas, I always have to... it's my show with Teller, and yet I have to accomplish something. In the game show because it's so regimented in what has to be done, I think you get a chance to be more honest. In a game show, because it's not the Penn & Teller show, because I'm not doing magic, I think a tremendous amount of my personality comes across. It's a part of my personality I haven't shown as much publicly before. It's really fun to do.
You do a show in Vegas every night. When do you have time to do all these TV shows?
Penn Jillette: We do the Penn & Teller show 36 weeks a year, 6 nights a week, and I do a radio show every morning from my home. There is other time and you end up doing it efficiently. We gangshot these in 4 days during the time that the set was being redone at the Rio in Las Vegas. I really, really love to work and they've been very kind and considerate on the scheduling. I never like to have to choose between projects, I want to do them all. I was not looking for work it's just that I thought Identity was too cool an opportunity to just say, "Well, it's gonna be heard and I'm gonna have to skip sleep a few nights."
Since we're talking about your show Identity, what was your first impression of Teller?
Penn Jillette: You know my first impression of Teller was a very strong one. The first time I laid eyes on him he was reciting poetry that he'd written in Latin, while pretending to be blind and selling pencils outside of a comedy, classical music show at Amherst College. His sense of humor was so incredibly intelligent... and the very next time I saw him, he was swallowing 100 needles and 6 feet of thread, and did a mouth examination. Which was an improvement on a trick that Houdini did. I was watching him do this performance, not speaking, and doing this thing that was on paper just grotesque... and in his hands done like the needles were jewelry. That first impression was that Teller was one of the smartest, bravest, most in control performers I had ever seen. I have not been disabused of that 30 years later.
Identity premieres Monday Dec. 18 at 9/8c and December 19-22 8/7c on NBC.