On his new variety series, Best Time Ever, the 42-year-old entertainer sings, dances, performs
stunts, competes against celebrities, and finds unique ways to surprise
unsuspecting audience members each week.
It’s a combination of what Harris does best as a go-to awards show
host, with a dash of Ellen DeGeneres’ casual candor with her audience of her
daytime talk show, all mixed with the unexpected danger of being live. And he’s
working hard to make sure fans are having a good time -- whether they’re
watching at home or in the studio at Kaufman Astoria Studios in New York City, where
the show is taped.
Based on the British variety series, Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Harris' show is also not entirely
what U.S. fans are used to. And Harris admits there’s been a learning curve as viewers
get to know an assortment of new segments, including Sing-along Live, End of
Show Show, and Undercover.
“Each segment had to be explained initially and then
we can do a little less explaining as the weeks go on,” Harris says of the
first few episodes, adding that the in-studio audience has been “getting more
and more excited” as they become familiar with the format.
So far, the two most popular segments have been the
celebrity-filled games, Voices in Your Head and Neil Versus. In the former,
Harris has recruited Britney Spears and his former How I Met Your Mother co-star, Cobie Smulders, to playfully prank
unsuspecting victims. During Neil Versus, Harris has challenged his celebrity
guests to a variety of games, including scaling a mid-air, X Factor-like obstacle course against a very nervous Reese
Witherspoon. “I did not know that this is what we were doing,” Witherspoon shouted at the host. “You are off the Christmas list.”
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“There was a little kickback from celebrities' representatives in the notion that they don't want to be thrown a curveball live on national television,” Harris says of the premiere’s stunt, revealing the Oscar-winning actress was hamming it up for the camera. “I will say that Reese is a friend and was a little bit more aware than we both led onto about the overall idea of what the stunt would be. We intentionally didn't throw some insane thing at her live as peer pressure. And she played it up tremendously well.”
But two (budding) stars fans shouldn’t expect to see are his 4-year-old twins, Harper Grace and Gideon Scott Burtka-Harris. Harris says he doesn’t want “to be a parent forcing my child to perform at 4 p.m. at a pretaped event, where they're required to do something specific if they didn't want to do it.”
While he may be pushing some celebrities out of their comfort zone, what people will never see on the show -- at least in the remaining five episodes of the first season -- is Harris having fun at someone’s expense, especially an audience member. “I don't like the idea of someone being excited to come see this show and then be publicly embarrassed on live TV and then sent home.”
Harris’ show is all about everyone having a good time. “I hope people that are already on board to do this show see the good nature of all of it.”
Best Time Ever airs live on NBC at 10 p.m. before moving to 8 p.m. starting on Oct. 13. Tonight, Shaquille O’Neal will be the show’s celebrity announcer while Zachary Levi will be in the hot seat for a round of Neil Versus.