EXCLUSIVE: Will Arnett Opens Up About Reviving 'The Gong Show,' Talks 'Arrested Development' Season 5
By Jennifer Drysdale
Will Arnett has a solution for the oft-reported division in America, and it starts with a woman playing the harmonica with a tarantula in her mouth. Yes, really.
The 47-year-old actor serves as executive producer and judge on ABC'sThe Gong Show, a revival of the beautifully bizarre amateur talent competition, which ran originally in the late 1970s with host Chuck Barris.
"I think that we're living in a time where people need to just have a few more easy laughs," Arnett told ET on Monday of his motivations to reboot the show. "We've often had a lot of shows on the air in the last few years that have been just sort of competition shows, all about finding the next great singer or dancer or whatever it was, and I just wanted a show that embraced the weird and the different, the unusual."
"I wanted [the reboot to] really capture the spirit of the old show, which was just fun, a good, you know, kind of easy show to watch. Literally, you could watch it with the whole family. I don't even mean it in some cheesy way, I mean it quite literally. You would put it on, sit down, and everybody would sit together."
In addition to unique talents, viewers will also be introduced to the show's host Tommy Maitland -- a "Cheeky Brit. Comedian. Ladies Man," according to his Twitter page, which already has thousands of followers -- played by Mike Myers.
"I've heard a lot of people say that about Mike Myers, but the host is Tommy Maitland," Arnett insisted over the phone. "I was a big fan of Tommy's work. I got to see him perform in the U.K. a few years ago, and I always wanted to figure out a way to work with him, and then when we started talking about doing The Gong Show, I thought, 'This is the perfect thing for his particular brand of talent and humor and comedy.'"
"Not a lot of people are familiar with Tommy's work," he added. "He's kind of been flying under the radar, especially for audiences over Stateside."
While Maitland will be a fresh face for viewers, Arnett has managed to attract a few famous ones to help him out on the judging table.
"Once the show came together and we knew it was going to be something fun and different and we had a host as interesting as Tommy come into play, I was able to reach out to a lot of people and say, 'Hey look, this is going to be a really fun time for you,'" he said of reaching out to celebrity pals like Jennifer Aniston, Zach Galifianakis, Elizabeth Banks and Jack Black, to name a few. "I was really psyched at how many of my friends were like, almost every single one was like, 'Yeah.' And the people who couldn't do it just couldn't do it because of schedule, and often they were really bummed that they couldn't participate. It was just such a fun time, and I think people recognized how fun it was going to be."
Galifianakis and Ken Jeong will join Arnett as judges for Thursday's premiere, which features the tarantula-mouthed woman who plays the harmonica, mentioned earlier.
"We did a bunch of open casting sessions around the country, and that's where we found the bulk of our... I guess I'm going to say talent," Arnett laughed of those bringing what they've got for the show's prize of a Gong Show trophy and check for $2,000.17. "But I think the question you really should be asking is not who finds these people, but who are these people?"
"What's amazing is it didn't take much digging to realize there's a whole, huge slice of the population out there that has done all these bizarre things. So many times during the shows, somebody would come out, whether it was the woman with the tarantula in her mouth who was playing harmonica, or somebody doing something equally as bizarre, and myself or other judges would say, like, 'How did you start to do this? How did you get to the point where you're putting a tarantula in your mouth? That's bad enough, but then you decided that 'That's not enough. I gotta play a harmonica now.' Like, what?"
While Arnett will be judging the characters on The Gong Show, he's also gearing up to reprise his Arrested Development character, GOB, when the series returns for season five next year.
"Arrested Development is happening, and I was just talking with [creator] Mitch Hurwitz about six minutes ago about schedule stuff and script stuff and just sort of general, Arrested housekeeping things," revealed Arnett, whose own Netflix series, Flaked, just debuted its second season. "But it's happening and it's moving ahead. And we don't actually have an actual start date, but it's very soon. I will say that."
As for what fans can expect of the new season, which will debut five years after season four, and 12 years after season three, Arnett said he "knows a bunch," but doesn't want to spoil it for the fans.
"I always like to leave that up to people to see," he explained, "because we live in a world where it's too much about how the sausage is getting made, and then nobody knows how to enjoy the sausage anymore."
The Gong Show premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.