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Interview with Gary Kroeger

Gary with the blue and red teams

Gary Kroeger, as we all know, is the host of Beat the Clock.  If you didn't know that, shame on you.  Gary sat down with the Beat the Clock Fansite to have an exclusive interview about Beat the Clock and all sorts of stuff.

This interview was conducted by email on Monday, December 16th, 2002:

BTC Fansite:  How were you approached to host Beat the Clock?
Gary Kroeger:  I have worked for the parent company (Fremantle) for some time doing announce for Card Sharks and Whammy!  I also do audience warm up to fill in the time when I'm looking for work.  Based on my energy and fondness for interacting with people, Fremantle simply asked me if I would be interested in Beat the Clock.  They, of course, had looked at other people, but I had a nice “in” by being friendly with the executives.  I still had to do a pilot for PAX, but it scored very high with test audiences and so we went into production soon after.  While waiting for a season 2 pickup I’ll go back to my duties as announcer/warm up for Whammy! because I enjoy it so much.

BTC Fansite:  What was a normal day in the life of Gary Kroeger like while you were filming Beat the Clock?
Gary Kroeger:  We do 6 shows a day which is a lot.  I get up around 7 so I can have all of the cobwebs out by the time I get to work (which is 9).  Then its wardrobe, make-up and a briefing from Mark Maxwell-Smith (the executive producer).  He and another producer devise all of the stunts and we go to the set where we block all of the games and I figure out as best as I can how to explain them (this is where I get the chance to try them myself or to have demonstrated to me that they can be done).  The audience loads in, I go say “hi” to the contestants (make sure I've got their names correct) and we slam out 6 shows.  9 hours later we usually wrap up and I go straight to bed.

BTC Fansite: What was the funniest thing that happened on the set while hosting Beat the Clock?
Gary Kroeger: We did a water balloon stunt where the man is in a tub with a tennis racket with pins.  He has to swat 3 water balloon thrown by his partner so that they won't break.  Of course, some do, and the floor gets wet.  After a team won, I was so excited I ran to them and my feet slipped straight into the air and I landed with a thud from 3 or 4 feet in the air straight onto my……

BTC Fansite: What changes we can expect for season two of Beat the Clock?
Gary Kroeger: There are always some set changes.  I would like to dress more “athletically”, preparation for games and contestant debriefings will improve.  Those are mostly “invisible” changes, but I would imagine that bigger stunts and maybe tweaking the Swirling Whirlwind will happen.

BTC Fansite: What's your favorite stunt on Beat the Clock?  Least favorite?
Gary Kroeger: I loved the water balloons, I love what we call the Butt Pens where a woman draws an object or spells a word with the huge magic marker attached to her fanny.  Ice cream scoops were always fun.  Anything that makes a mess or where we all look silly works for me.  The potato stuffing gag is a good one, too.  My all time least favorite was getting clothes off of a clothesline- a big “so what?”  I didn't care for the football through the wringer bit either.  It never seemed to work.

BTC Fansite:  Why did the producers decide to film Beat the Clock at Universal Orlando?  Was there any other locations being discussed?
Gary Kroeger:  Florida is where PAX is located and it is easier for them to keep involved with it.  Also, the abundance of tourists that we use as contestants is a factor.  Production costs are better in Florida, as well.

BTC Fansite:  What has been the most ever won in the Swirling Whirlwind?
Gary Kroeger:  I'm not sure, but total cash and prizes were in the neighborhood of 20,000 once or twice.

BTC Fansite:  We have some viewer questions for 'ya Gary.  The first is from Joe Beim, he asks, "What ideas for the current version's format were tried and abandoned?"
Gary Kroeger:  The old show has been watched reverently.  We think that it is hard to duplicate such a popular show- so our goal was to search for the “essence” of the games.  Parlor games where a person can look silly doing a simple task (but without embarrassing themselves) was and remains the goal.  We did try to use a couple of the original games such as stopping a tin pie plate with a football helmet, and I believe even our popular  “ice cream” drop came from the old show.

BTC Fansite:  Here's another viewer question.  This is from Kelly Smith, who, by the way, was a contestant on Beat the Clock.  She's wondering, "Did you ever get to go into the whirlwind of cash and prizes to see what it was like?"
Gary Kroeger:  I got into the Whirlwind once and I hated it.  Couldn't see (I went in without goggles) and didn't grab a thing.

BTC Fansite:  This one is from Anthony Gangi.  He wants to know, "How is hosting a game show different from your past jobs that you have done?"
Gary Kroeger:  Game show hosting is the most fun, and most difficult job I've had.  As an actor you memorize lines and usually have a few chances to get it right (with the exception of live shows like SNL).  In a game show the host has to know everything that is going on:  What's the game, what's coming next, what are the contestants names, what have we learned about them, when is the commercial break, what's at stake, etc. etc.  And you do this, while remaining in the moment yourself and with a big smile.

BTC Fansite:  On a particular episode of Beat the Clock, after the contestants got out of the Swirling Whirlwind and you chatted with them, you call over to Julielinh to see how much they won.  Julielinh hands you the money and prizes and says "Gary, all I can say is uh-huh" in an Elvis voice.  Then, after you give your good-byes, we see you dancing like Elvis.  What is the meaning behind that?
Gary Kroeger:  The Elvis moment:  Sometimes the interview I do with contestants gets edited down or out due to time restrictions.  In that episode we found out that the guy was an Elvis impersonator, so we rifled on that through the show.  Unfortunately, when the set up is edited out, it seems a little weird.

BTC Fansite:  Let's change subjects for a second.  You have done acting before.  Most notable is your 3 year role on SNL.  Why did you leave SNL?
Gary Kroeger:  What most people don't know is that SNL ended in 1985.  Billy Crystal, Marty Short and Chris Guest (as well as Dick Ebersol) didn't want to continue another year.  I went out with the bath water so to speak since I, and others weren't big enough to anchor the show around.  NBC had the summer to find something new.  I think they thought about replacing it with wrestling, and even talked to Billy about doing his own variety show (I think there were talks with Joe Piscopo, as well).  I immediately moved out west to look for new opportunities.  The next thing I knew is that Lorne Michaels came back and said he would continue SNL if, and only if, he could start over with a brand new cast.

SNL wasn't a good fit for me, anyway.  I never wanted to do that sort of thing and didn't have the ability to work to my best ability in that environment.  I came from a stage background where each actor supported another and the idea was to create characters, not to stand out.  I was doing an original comedy in Chicago along with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her husband Brad Hall which was a monster hit when SNL came along and offered us jobs.  But the reality was much too cutthroat for any of us.  Please don't get the impression that people at SNL (especially those who became stars) were anything but terrific, but it takes a certain kind of talent and confidence to make that show work.  I started to develop in my last season there and I was dissapointed when it was over, but I've never looked back since.  I take alot of criticism for SNL-ophiles for my career there, but I would have become much more of a force there if I had had more time.  Ce la vie.....

BTC Fansite:  You were the host of the Mrs. America pageant that aired on PAX TV.  How did you get involved?
Gary Kroeger:  PAX and I have a great relationship.  I support what they do in terms of good, clean programming and they appreciate my ability and enthusiasm for it.  They offered me Mrs. America and the upcoming Mrs. World and it looks as though Ill be doing them again this year.

BTC Fansite:  Did you always want to be an actor since you were little or was it something you stumbled on to later in life?
Gary Kroeger:  I have never had another goal other than to be an entertainer.  I admired Red Skelton and the shows from the 60’s so immensely that I never thought of another thing.

BTC Fansite:  What's your advice for someone who wants to get into television?
Gary Kroeger:  Advice?  Prepare your self - esteem.  Show biz is mostly rejection.  Big stars often seem aloof or even bitter and you wonder why with all of their money and fans that they would be that way- the reason is all that they put up with on the way there.  I donut personally have an agenda based on bitter feeling that need to be reconciled, all I ever wanted was to make a living, raise a family with it and maintain a personal integrity.  At times, when I read a scathing notice from a viewer or a belittling comment regarding my work my feelings have been hurt.  But, I rise above the moment when I look around and appreciate all that I have in terms of love and support.  In short, it's a tough business, so savor the good times, and keep a good sense of true self.

BTC Fansite:  Are you working on any projects currently or in the near future?
Gary Kroeger:  I keep my recurring gig going with NBC’s Hidden Hills.  My character is a real hoot and I thoroughly enjoy the people.  I've got Whammy! coming up and am up for a new pilot, game show (I would do both!) and a guest spot on ER.  Mrs. World comes up in June and Mrs. America again in September.  I guess I'm fairly (lucky) busy.

I would like to thank Gary Kroeger for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview.  I would also like to thank all of the viewers who sent in questions to ask Gary.