Neil Patrick Harris came to the TCA Summer Press Tour to plug his new, live, eight-week variety show for NBC, Best Time Ever. Asked if he’d watched Fox’s very short-lived Knock Knock Live, which the network put out of its misery late last month after just two low-rated episodes, Harris said, “I didn’t…I didn’t even know it was on,” adding, “it’s a hard conceit to do as a new idea.”
The Ryan Seacrest-hosted Knock Knock also was a live show; it traveled the country rapping on people’s front doors and giving them a chance to win prizes and meet celebrities. But the series failed to get off the ground in its July 21 premiere, opening with a 0.5 rating in the demo and 1.7 million total viewers in fast nationals. That tied summer 2014’s improv comedy show Riot (0.5, 1.3 million) as the lowest-rated Fox series premiere ever and one of the lowest on the Big 4. The second week dropped 17% in the demo and 11% in total viewers.
Harris said he signed on for Best Week Ever because it’s a well-established and popular show in the UK, and Siobhan Greene agreed to come from that iteration to EP his. “That was incredibly important to me,” Harris said. “This is a new idea for a show [in the U.S.] and a little difficult to explain in many ways,” he said, adding, “I didn’t want to put out a show live with brand new untested material.”
Greene said the UK producers had long wanted to do the show in this country but always were stopped by the host question. In Harris, she said, “You’re taking what I think is the Rolls Royce and putting it with the best driver in the world, who is going to drive this as it should be driven. …I’m telling you now this is the show and you are going to have to watch this show live and he’s in it and it’s like nothing you have ever seen — I’m telling you now!” she enthused.
Asked if veteran UK hosts ever had been asked to do something “lethal or maming,” she recalled happily that once the UK co-hosts thought they were getting in a a cage with a real gorilla “and they were bricking themselves.”
Harris said the short eight-episode order is intended to convey that the series “is something of an event.” Greene, on the other hand, put it like this: “It’s eight one-hours of entertainment perfection where you are going to be gagging for more at the end and I’m telling you that!”
Harris, who has for years been considered the go-to-guy for hosting live trophy shows, helmed the most recent Academy Awards which was considered by some to be a rare mis-step. Today he was asked about that experience. Saying he was “honored to be asked to be part of the ceremony, he also said he suspected “there would be a lot of bulls-eye’s on people’s backs and that there is an Oscar night “negativity” popular among those who watch but are not involved in the production.
“It’s a rare ask, and it’s a lot of effort that goes into something that, at the end of the day, becomes inconsequential,” he said. “If you think about it you’d be hard pressed to remember the nominees. It just goes away and there’s a new thing. That’s the interesting dynamic. You spend an asinine amount of time overthinking it and as soon as it’s done it just sort of vanishes. I’d do it again if I was asked. I had a really fun time.”
Last October, Harris, who made no secret of his desire to host an Ed Sullivan Show-esque variety series, finally got a taker, when NBC announced it would bring Harris to the network for a new primetime variety series based on the popular UK format Ant And Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.
Month earlier, Harris told Howard Stern that CBS CEO Leslie Moonves asked him if he’d be interested in doing a late-night show for the network and that he turned him down and said what he really wanted to do next was host a weekly variety series. In so saying, he was re-iterating what he told CBS’ then-Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson: “I want to do an Ed Sullivan–y kind of show, with all the variety acts.”
When the NBC project was announced, Harris said he watched the UK version and “couldn’t stop smiling. Now that I’ve seen many seasons, my face hurts. It’s a game-changer. Nothing like this has been done before, and its unique structure fits right into my random skill set. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and have some fun!”
Best Time will debut the week before premiere week, on Tuesday, September 15, in its announced 10 PM time slot, behind the season finale of America’s Got Talent. For the following three weeks, until October 6, Best Time will air at 10 PM after two-hour episodes of The Voice. Starting October 13, Chicago Fire will return to its 10 PM slot for a fourth season and Best Time will move to 8 PM, with The Voice temporarily shrinking to one hour (9-10 PM). That setup will be in place for four more weeks, until Best Time wraps its initial cycle.