John Michael Higgins Talks ‘Split Second,’ ‘Best In Show’ Reunion, Favorite Hosts & More

Television

John Michael Higgins grew up on game shows as a child, so to play a host on TV or movies and then helm actual ones of his own is never lost on him. The prolific actor has been a popular fixture on the Game Show Network in recent years starting with America Says, which ran for five seasons over more than 500 episodes. The show even earned him an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Game Show Host.”

From there, Higgins has gone on to host a throwback in Split Second, which is currently in the middle of its second season. Based on the format from the legendary Monty Hall, the game sees three contestants decide in a split second which of the three general interest trivia questions they can answer.

The first player to buzz in gets the first pick with the last player left to answer whatever is left, which is often the most difficult. The player with the quickest response time and highest success rate answering questions over three rounds advances to the bonus game. It’s there where their ability to answer a rapid-fire series of questions could win them $10,000.

We caught up with the busy star to talk game shows and his upcoming scripted projects including a Best in Show reunion.

John Michael Higgins

Game Show Network

How much fun are you having hosting Split Second? How does it compare to America Says

John Michael Higgins: My executive at GSN says, “Well, this one has more thinky stuff. More trivia. You have to sort of know something to do it well.” I thought it was interesting. America Says was more about filling in the blanks of everyday life stuff mostly like mac and cheese as opposed to James Garfield. It is a different experience for me. Also, the game is more complex because every question has three parts and three people and the scores change depending on how many people get it right. There is a bit more game-running for me as a host. I think to the audience it’s a lot of fun, a fast-moving horse race. As the host, you do have to have your wits about you. Keeping it straight in my head is more of a trick, but it has been really fun. I love the format. I love the game. I love playing. I’m glad I don’t have to play because I think I would probably clinch up and die. I’m always impressed with the contestants and how they rise to the challenges.

Where do you draw inspiration from as a game show host? 

My inspiration came from the older golden age of game shows. People like Allen Ludden and Bill Cullen, Bob Barker, Art Fleming, and Alex Trebek. Gentlemen who have a courteousness and gentlemanly quality. What I took from them is this feeling like you are hosting a party and making sure they have everything the guests need. I think it’s about the contestants. It’s your relationship as a host to the contestants or your guests of any party, even a game night. To me, I like to think as the camera starts rolling on a new episode, that it is a game night. The four of us are going to have a little party. It should be fun and comfortable. People should be challenged and enjoy themselves at the same time. That is the secret to a great game show and episode. That’s why I think people watch it.

John Michael Higgins in America Says

The Game Show Network

What do you make of this game show explosion?

Game shows are an unusual piece of entertainment because everyone can agree on it no matter what your political stripe or social status or financial status. It’s the great evener of all those things. A question is presented, who is going to answer it quicker? It doesn’t have to do with money, politics, or history, it’s an immediate itch that is scratched. This is something everyone enjoys. It’s also age. What I have been shocked about since I became a game show host is the range of demographics that will approach me at a grocery store. Sometimes, yes, it’s a 90-year-old woman, but it’s also a 25-year-old guy. Maybe even a 6-year-old girl. It’s everybody. Everybody watches these things. I do think in these times, which are particularly polarized right now, that it is something everyone in the household can agree on. That’s the comment I get the most. “This is a show that everyone in your household watches and we all agree on it.”

Between your Pitch Perfect costar Elizabeth Banks hosting Press Your Luck, fellow Christopher Guest movie collaborator Jane Lynch doing Weakest Link and even Save By the Bell’s Mario Lopez doing Blank Slate, a lot of your colleagues have gotten into the game show hosting game. 

We were not from the game show world. We were actors and comedians. We’ve seen in the past comedians make that jump. It seemed a natural fit because they were fast on their feet and were fun. Mario, Jane, Liz, and I are not necessarily comedians. We’ve all done a lot of comedy. I don’t think any of us would identify as a comedian. I think what happened is the producers started to understand actors are actually good with people.

The actors can look someone in the eye and start a dialogue with them. That’s a really good skill for a game show host to have. It doesn’t surprise me at all that we’re seeing so many actors hosting game shows. That makes sense to me. In the old days, we would do our show at night when I was a regional theater actor and all go off to St. Louis from New York. What we were doing to pass the time was game night. Did I see myself becoming a game show host? No. Although I have to say as a kid I was fascinated by them.

BEST IN SHOW, Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins, 2000

Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins – Best in Show (Everett Collection)

Aside from hosting, you’ve also played a number of games yourself. What were some of your favorites? 

I’ve done celebrity versions of Wheel of Fortune, which I really enjoyed. I had a good time doing that even though my friend Nia Vardalos beat me. I’m really mad at her about it. I’ve done Celebrity Jeopardy, which was a pinch-me moment. I’m a crossword and Jeopardy person.I felt like I really had arrived when a few weeks ago I was an answer in a New York Times crossword puzzle. As far as I’m concerned, I can retire. What was the clue? Game show host John Michael b. A lot of people wrote me saying that the New York Times thinks I am fully described as a game show host. This was shocking to me because I’m late in my career and have been acting for 50 years. That was an interesting thing.

John Michael Higgins on Celebrity Jeopardy!

Tyler Golden/ABC

You are part of Spinal Tap II, as well as your Happily Divorced co-star Fran Drescher. How was it being on that set, reunited with Christopher Guest? 

It’s really exciting. We don’t get to do it as often. Chris Guest doesn’t do one every year. It’s usually a 10-year span between movies. This time it’s not really Chris’s movie it’s Rob Reiner. He is the one who did This Is Spinal Tap. This is the second installment 40 years later. I arrived on set a few months ago to do a scene. It was the first time there and filming in New Orleans. It’s very meaningful to me. This was a big part of my life doing those Christopher Guest movies. I did three or four of them. I made incredibly good friends. Jane was one of them. They are a real cauldron, those movies. They are all improvised.

To improvise with someone and the whole cast. You’re under the gun to produce good stuff. You don’t have writers to make you clever. All of us were in the same boat, so you became close. It’s a cauldron but really fun. Every now and then you get an extraordinary scene that is very memorable. Every day people will come up to me where I have to talk about Best in Show. I made that movie 25 or so years ago. I think this Spinal Tap II will be no different. It will be very funny from the stuff I’ve seen. There are fancy cameos, but the heart of it is not the fancy cameos but these extraordinary talents.

While we wait for that, fans of yours can see you in Prom Dates with Chelsea Handler. Was there a lot of improv on that? 

When it comes up, I try to do as many scripted projects as I can. So this movie showed up, it was really funny. We did a lot of good improv on that too but the script was quite well done. I did it because the script was so strong. Once we get there, you see very funny people like Chelsea Handler around. I often show up as the principal or judge to do a comedic two or three fancy scenes where I come in the left door and do something outrageous and leave like in The Break-Up. I’ve always been this kamikaze actor in a way. It’s a funny script. I was delighted. The young actors were also superb in that. I don’t usually have this problem, but there were several times I was laughing on set. To me, that’s a high bar.

Split Second, Weekdays, 7:30/6:30c, Game Show Network

 



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