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Wednesday, March 28, 2007 - Page updated at 02:00 AM

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Television

Who wants to be a game-show contestant?

Newhouse News Service

Want to be a contestant on the NBC game shows "Deal or No Deal" and "1 vs. 100"? You'll have to get past casting producer Neal Konstantini, who reviews videotapes submitted by hopeful viewers.

Does "Jeopardy!" get your competitive juices flowing? You may have passed the 50-question test, but contestant executive Maggie Speak and her staff have to like you. Really, really like you.

Bob Harris, a game-show veteran, wrote a book about his experiences on "Jeopardy!," "Greed" and another, less memorable show called "Shmoosh!" The book, "Prisoner of Trebekistan" (Crown, $23.95), takes Harris from failing the "Jeopardy!" test five times to a trio of tournaments and various misadventures along the way.

One of Harris' most memorable moments on "Jeopardy!" was losing everything on the first day of the two-day final of the 1998 Tournament of Champions. When Alex Trebek said some great champions had won from that less than advantageous position, Harris said, "I don't want your pity, Alex." Thus, a legend was born.

"The ultimate purpose and goal of game shows, from how the hosts and the players are chosen, is to have people on TV that you would want in your living room," Harris says. "If they [casting people] don't want you in their living room, you're not going to go on."

Konstantini concurs. On "Deal or No Deal," there's a shadowy figure, the Banker, who may be the first game-show villain. "The Banker is a bad dude," Konstantini says. "I have to ensure that people are not rooting for the Banker when I pick a contestant."

According to Konstantini, some 250,000 people have either sent videos or appeared at casting calls for "Deal or No Deal" or "1 vs. 100." He says he and a staff of eight spend one day a week reviewing tapes.

He has three basic tips for viewers who submit a tape based on actual submissions. "Here's what's not going to work — costumes. Dressing up as a chicken or a gorilla is not going to help. I don't know what you look like.

"Nudity is also not what we're going for. This is a family show," Konstantini says.

"We have also received a percentage of tapes where the person shows us their job, supporters ["Deal or No Deal" has a cheering section], their house, where they work, but we never see them on camera. That's a surefire way not to get on the show."

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Konstantini says being energetic and talking about your life honestly are pluses. He says for every 100 video submissions for "1 vs. 100," one person might get a phone interview (you also have to pass a 30-question, multiple-choice test for "1 vs. 100" after the phone interview).

For "Deal or No Deal," it's more like one out of 500.

"Now is a good time to send a tape," Konstantini says. "We have more time to go through them since we're done casting for this season."

The shows hold open casting calls in some cities (a schedule will be posted on the shows' Web sites soon). In Chicago, 8,000 people came out for "Deal or No Deal," and Konstantini and his staff interviewed for 16 straight hours to give everyone who came out 60 seconds to close the deal. Some people waited as long as three days for that minute.

"We find most of our contestants that way," Konstantini says.

Speak says "Jeopardy!" recently tweaked its contestant-selection process. Prospective players can now take the 50-question test online before showing up at an audition in the show's home in Culver City, Calif., or at contestant searches held around the country. The invites to those searches are limited to people who pass the online test.

"In Culver City, we book groups of 21, and all of them take a second test," Speak says. "I don't think people cheat for the most part, because they wouldn't want to get on the show and be embarrassed. But if someone gets a 40 [out of 50] online and a 15 in person, we notice."

Once contestants pass the second test, they get to play a mock game, using real buzzers and a game board, complete with show announcer Johnny Gilbert reading clues.

Speak says "Jeopardy!" wouldn't use video submissions, since you couldn't figure out a player's skill level from watching a video. However, if you can pass the test and haven't been on "Jeopardy!" before, you're welcome to try out.

And she says the best way to prepare for the "Jeopardy!" test is to — big shock — watch the show.

Harris concurs.

"When people ask me what they gave me to study before I was on, I tell them they gave me the show."

"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" has a similar casting process to "Jeopardy!" You take a 30-question quiz in the ABC cafeteria after watching a taping. If you pass, you get an interview with one of the show's staff.

"I passed the audition for 'Millionaire' twice," Harris says. "When I sat down with the producer, she looked at me and said, 'You have a really unusual score.' I think I got a perfect score. She gave me a weird look that told me it was over. I lasted three minutes before she decided I wasn't particularly entertaining or charming. You know what? I don't fault her for that. Home viewers make that decision just as fast."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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