Mike O’Malley Looks Back on Hosting ‘Nickelodeon’s GUTS’ 25 Years Later (Exclusive)

Mike O'Malley
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The actor and writer opens up to ET about acting as an older brother to the sports competition’s many young competitors.

Some people might have forgotten that Mike O’Malley, who played Kurt Hummel’s dad and made you cry with his fatherly talks during six seasons of Gleeused to be a Nickelodeon game show host.

“I took the job very seriously,” O’Malley tells ET about hosting the ‘90s sports competition series GUTS, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. O’Malley, 50, was 24 years old when he landed the job. “I looked at the part like I was playing the role of an older brother. Like a cool camp counselor. I loved working with the kids.”

Each episode filmed on Stage 21 at Universal Studios Florida featured three teenage athletes competing against each other in four "extreme" versions of athletic events. In the final round, they raced up a “mountain” called the Aggro Crag, later renamed to Mega Crag. The show aired on Nickelodeon during a tween programming block that also included Legends of the Hidden Temple and Nick Arcade.

“[Nickelodeon] started making their own programing,” O’Malley recalls. “They didn’t have all the animated [shows]. A lot of their programming was kids’ game shows and sports action shows.”

O’Malley, who is from Boston, moved to New York after graduating from the University of New Hampshire in 1988 to study acting. “I did an acting showcase where casting agents come. I met an agent there. About six months later, I got cast as a host of a show called Get the Picture. We did [about] 120 episodes of that quiz show. Then I started touring around the country with Nickelodeon.”

That’s when he met GUTS creator Albie Hecht, who offered him the hosting gig on the show. “It was a fun time at Nickelodeon. Geraldine Laybourne, who used to run Nickelodeon, would talk about [how the network was] a place where kids are in charge. And so the programming was about them and their own wish fulfillment.”

Former contestants on the show included stuntwoman Anna Mercedes Morris (who coincidentally worked on an episode of Glee as Lea Michele’s stunt double), MLS soccer star Bobby Boswell, Hamilton West End actor Gregory Haney and Backstreet Boy AJ McLean. “I don’t remember [McLean]. I remember Jana Helms, who actually now is sadly paralyzed.”

Helms was known on GUTS as Jana “The Warrior” Waring. “She was an unbelievable athlete,” O’Malley remembers.  Helms was part of the show’s second season one-hour special, Nickelodeon GUTS All-Stars, where three perfect-scoring players from the first season competed against each other. Five years later, while performing as a gymnast at Sea World in Orlando, she broke her neck and became paralyzed from the chest down. Helms is now married and living in Los Angeles.

After GUTS, O’Malley went on to host his own show called The Mike O’Malley Show, which aired for two episodes before it was canceled in 1999. In 2000, he starred as Jimmy Hughes on the CBS comedy Yes, Dear for six seasons, and had a role as Stuart on My Name is Earl. On both those shows he worked with producer and writer Greg Garcia. O’Malley has also spent the past 15 years expanding his career offscreen, with writing credits on Shameless and as creator of Survivor’s Remorse on Starz. Most recently, he and Garcia teamed up to co-write Escape to Margaritaville, an original story with songs by Jimmy Buffett set for Broadway in February 2018.

As for GUTS, O’Malley, who still speaks passionately about the show that could be considered his breakthrough in the business, believes a reboot would do well on TV today. “I think they should do it again. Yes.”