TORONTO (CP) _ With pulsating, synthesized music playing in the background, contestants crying and passing out in the foreground, a gaggle of beauties on the sidelines and the silhouette of a banker looming above, it’s hard not to get swept up in the drama on the set of "Deal or No Deal," says host Howie Mandel.
"In my heart, I want people to walk out of there with as much money as they possibly can, and it breaks my heart to see somebody get crushed and walk out of there with nothing," the Canadian comedian said in a recent interview ahead of Sunday’s debut of "Deal or No Deal Canada" on Global.
"But I’m not allowed . . . to tell somebody what to do, so all I do is I point out evenly both sides because there always is another side."
The Toronto-born funnyman, who starred in the 1980s TV medical drama "St. Elsewhere" and has had his own talk show, has gone through a resurgence in fame in recent months as "Deal or No Deal" fever draws in millions of viewers a week. The U.S. version of the show began airing on NBC in December 2005.
The flashy game show, which originated in Denmark, sees contestants choosing one of 26 numbered briefcases that they believe is holding $1 million. That case is then put aside while the contestant continues to pick other briefcases that are opened by models in slinky gowns. An anonymous banker also calls the host throughout to offer deals to the contestant, who could potentially end up getting just $1 in the end.
Producers say the Canuck version has been tailored to suit the country’s style, with a new set, all-Canadian cast and home-grown fashion designer for the models.
The bald-headed Mandel surmises the "Deal or No Deal" brand is such a hit because people can somehow relate to it.
"It’s just an emotional roller-coaster of heights that I’ve never seen before," he said. "I’ve seen like, devastation to excitement to, I don’t know, I can’t pick out one particular thing. You know, men are brought to tears, people pass out."
The first version Mandel ever watched was in Italian, and although he couldn’t understand it, "you could sense the tension and you could feel the drama," he said.
Yet Mandel didn’t want to do the U.S. version when it was initially pitched to him. "It doesn’t make any sense on paper," he said over the telephone from L.A., where he lives with his family.
In fact, it took three presentations from producers for Mandel to finally come around, and he did so only because his wife, Terry, persuaded him.
"I showed it to my wife and my wife seemed to get it more than I did, so she happened to be right," said Mandel. "She’s the smarter one of the two of us."
It’s no surprise that Mandel, who performs over 200 stand-up shows a year and is reviving his Emmy-nominated children’s series "Bobby’s World," would shy away from the idea of being a game show host.
After all, he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition that, for him, has resulted in mysophobia _ a fear of germs.
Mandel handles it well though, and viewers of the show may not even notice his idiosyncrasies.
"What I really can’t do, because of germs, is I can’t shake hands, you know, but I can hug," said Mandel, who can often be seen performing hidden camera bits on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.
"Intellectually it probably doesn’t make sense to people but I deal with it and I go to therapy for it and I’m OK with it and I’m comfortable with it and I’m highly functioning and doing pretty well with it."
Having a sense of humour about the situation also helps, said Mandel, who has talked about the condition publicly on talk shows and joked about it on his blog.
"I know it’s actually a pretty serious thing, but you know it’s actually funny," he said. "But most serious things are funny and ultimately it’s a part of who I am, and I make fun of many aspects of my life and situations."
The first of five episodes of "Deal or No Deal Canada," which were taped last week in Toronto, will air immediately following the Super Bowl. The rest of the segments will be broadcast Thursdays beginning Feb. 8.
Mandel, who considers himself to be a conservative gambler, says he thinks contestants do better on the show if they take "the deal" earlier in the game from the banker, whom he calls "a nemesis" and "evil dark side to the show."
"I’ve seen him but I don’t like him," jokes Mandel.
"(The banker) is really talkative. People always ask me if I’m making up what I hear. No, he is talking to me on the phone, the offers are based on odds in a mathematical equation and he’s playing a totally different game. He’s trying to get you out of there with as little as possible."