The Bizarre Scenes Behind "Let’s Make A Deal"

BuzzFeed visited the set of the revamped version of the classic game show, hosted by Wayne Brady. The largely improvised reboot is surprisingly weird.

1. A man in a turkey suit and his zebra mother stood behind a giant strawberry in line to be in the audience of Let’s Make a Deal.

Ariane Lange/BuzzFeed

Garrett Smith, the turkey, was in Los Angeles with his mother, Julie Balzer, vacationing before his reassignment to the Army base at Fort Bragg. Later, they were sitting in the audience when producer Chris Ahearn announced that there were a lot of “Marines here today.” Balzer pointed proudly at her Army son and said something inaudible over the cheers of 200 people. Her son laughed and shushed her.

Ernie Collazo, the production manager at Let’s Make a Deal, explained that the line to be in the audience is “designed to be like a ride,” with snacks, costumes to rent if you didn’t bring your own, and a big green screen if you want a souvenir photo.

In the waiting area, a woman dressed as an oven with her pregnant belly poking out of the oven door passed us on her way to the bathroom. “I’ll be out there a lot today!” she said. She closed her oven door, covering up the bun.

2. “They don’t have to dress up to attend the show, [or] participate, but we do encourage it,” Collazo said.

Ariane Lange/BuzzFeed

This morning, Collazo said the final number of audience members (“traders,” he called them) was 205, and it seemed they were all wearing something odd.

3. Mike Richards, executive producer of Let’s Make a Deal, has a giant blue sign in his blue office.

Ariane Lange/BuzzFeed

The sign, he said, used to be on set, and he always found it hideously ugly. When the set was redesigned and the sign was removed, he found it in his office the next day.

Richards was one of the people who pitched the Let’s Make a Deal reboot to CBS; originally, it was pitched as a half-hour show, which was the length of the original Monty Hall–hosted version in the ’60s and ’70s.

“They said, ‘Can you make this an hour?’ And I said, ‘N-yes.’”

Part of what makes it work as an hour-long game of “do you want this, or do you want that?” as Richards put it, is Brady’s madcap improvisation, which includes occasionally making unscripted offers (recently, an unauthorized offer of $5,000) and frequently ignoring the producers’ suggestions as to which audience members to make deals with.

“Our job is to build it so he can’t break it,” Richards said.

4. Stage manager Dency Nelson retired as stage manager for the Oscars this year. Let’s Make a Deal will be his last stage managing gig.

Ariane Lange/BuzzFeed

“This is my swan song,” Nelson said as he stood just below the center platform where Brady makes his deals. He said there was something poetic about working his last stage managing job at Bronson Studios since one of his first jobs was on the same lot, “guarding doughnuts and answering phones” at Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.

5. Cat Gray improvises the music for the show on his crooked keyboard.

Ariane Lange/BuzzFeed

Gray sets his keyboard aslant because when he played with bands in the ’70s, he noticed his solos weren’t getting as much attention as the drum and guitar solos.

“I’m doing the same thing, if not better; I’m not getting the same reaction,” recalled Gray, who’s worked with Stevie Nicks, Purple Rain, James Brown, Sly Stone, and Stevie Wonder. “I flipped my keyboard forwards, and then, when I did my solo, I got the same reaction.”

He started working in television “because I don’t like traveling.” Having live, improvised music on Let’s Make a Deal allows Brady “more freedom,” including the freedom to “make up songs, which happens frequently.”

6. This is Gray, playing during a show. “There’s never silence in here,” he said.

Gray also tours with Brady for comedy shows — the first improv show he did with Brady was an impromptu affair one week after they met in the early ’00s.

“I understand him,” Gray said.

7. Jonathan Mangum, the announcer, has known Brady since they were teenagers.

While Mangum was in his dressing room, Brady knocked on the door and handed him a copy of Grand Theft Auto V, just released. Mangum, who described Brady as his best friend, said they both love video games, and that the gift was also partially a taunt, since Brady knows Mangum won’t have time to play the game for at least a week.

“No one makes me laugh like he does,” Mangum said. “Anything he says about me is a lie. You should know that upfront.”

9. In most of the games on Let’s Make a Deal, there’s a risk of getting a “zonk,” something that is essentially worthless. See below: candy dispensers with cast heads.

Ariane Lange/BuzzFeed

The real prizes backstage included a car with each of its tires perched on a little wheel so the crew could quickly roll it onto the stage; a giant set of useless teeth was sitting near a useful bedroom set. “You missed it; yesterday we had a huge fortune cookie,” Collazo said.

Gesturing toward the hot tub among the real prizes, Collazo remarked, “Hot tub. It’s always a hot tub, yeah.”

(Disappointingly, neither of the two shows they filmed the Thursday of BuzzFeed’s visit resulted in someone winning the hot tub prize.)

10. The Let’s Make a Deal audience doesn’t let its odd clothing get in the way of its ebullient dancing.

Ariane Lange / BuzzFeed

A pirate couple bopped in front of a giant baby, while a banana swayed, center.

“There always seems to be a banana,” Vernon Cheek, the show’s publicist, observed with a chuckle.

At one point, when a lacy pirate was making deals center stage, Brady and Mangum improvised a poem-clue about what was behind a curtain. Brady rhymed a little, and at the end of the poem Mangum said, “You won’t need a banana to rock that hammock.” Suddenly, there was a real banana in Brady’s hand, which he peeled seductively and offered to the pirate, who, after embarrassed laughter, took a small bite. “I can’t believe you did that to me,” she said.

11. According to Brady, Let’s Make a Deal is like Whose Line on steroids.

Ariane Lange/BuzzFeed

Brady later said he didn’t know where the banana came from. When asked what he did to prepare for the show, he said, “I show up, I put on the suit, and I grab the microphone, and I walk on-camera.”

Aside from the descriptions of the prizes, all the dialogue on the show is improvised. Brady describes it as “Whose Line on steroids if cash and people with weird-ass costumes were involved.”

Brady told BuzzFeed that initially, when he was offered the Let’s Make a Deal gig, he said no several times. “Being a regular host on a regular game show is like being a guy who’s a news anchor at Good Day, Tacoma,” he said.

(During the conversation, several audience members filing out of the studio called out to Brady to tell him that they loved him, and every time, he turned and said, “Thank you.”)

12. Among those in the audience were Jorge and Anna, dressed as doctor and nurse.

Ariane Lange/BuzzFeed

She had W-A-Y-N-E B-R-A-D-Y spelled out on her nails, and everyone in the room seemed charmed by their incredible enthusiasm. At one point, she cried. More than once, they kissed.

They didn’t go home empty-handed.

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