Catching Up With Christopher Knight
I didn't plan it this way, but Tuesday I found myself on the phone with the third former "Brady Bunch" star I've talked to in the past couple of years. They just keep bubbling up in my path like so many smiling spectres. And, like Cousin Oliver and eldest brother Greg before him, Peter Brady is totally nice -- perky and self-effacing, just like on TV. Except that, of course, I realize that the man on the other end of the phone isn't really Peter Brady; he is Christopher Knight and really, it's not nice of me to keep calling him Peter because he's done a lot in the past few years to get beyond his Brady-ness and Monday will move even further along that continuum when he makes his debut as a game show host.
"How do game show hosts get started?" asks Knight as we talk about his own predicament.
That predicament being his new gig as host of "Trivial Pursuit: America Plays" (debuting Monday on syndicated TV and in D.C. on WDCA). He's got it down now, says Knight, but those first few months were shaky. A lot harder, it seems, than the projects that brought him back to our TV dials, "The Surreal Life" and "My Fair Brady," the spin-off that charted his whirlwind romance with "Surreal" co-star Adrianne Curry.
Although Knight dismisses himself as boring compared to most reality stars, he concedes that he was initially nervous about baring his life in a notoriously circus-like atmosphere.
"I asked Dave Coulier and Erik Estrada their advice and they both gave me the same advice, which I tried to take and didn't after the first three hours, which was, 'Do the show but don't drink.' I found out quickly that that's a tall order. That's tough."
Still, Knight came across as a likeable guy -- to the audience and to fellow season four inmate Curry. A romance developed and quicker than you can say "fan favorite" Knight and Curry had sold VH1 execs on a spin-off and became reality's "It" couple for a three-season stretch.
How's it going now that the cameras are off?
"She's an incredible and beautiful person and I at times can take that for granted," says Knight. "Which is a problem and I have to remember that."
Still, he said the couple is going strong, planning for kids in the future and maybe a script-based treatment of their "'Honeymooners' meets 'I Love Lucy'" life together.
In the meantime, Knight -- who took a two-decade hiatus from showbiz to ride the tech boom -- is taking his chances on the game show thing.
For Knight's take on the best game show hosts, escaping the child star curse and whether or not he could take Chuck Norris in an Octagon match, read the full interview transcript after the jump.
(Yep, it's long, but it gets more interesting the further you read. Promise.)
Liz: Tell me about Trivial Pursuit.
Christopher Knight (CK): "Trivial Pursuit: America Plays" debuting on Monday is nationally syndicated so you'll have to check your local listings. Unless, of course, you're in Washington at which time it's on at 3 p.m. on WDCA.
Liz: How prepared of you.
CK: It's Trivial Pursuit, so that concept is easy to understand. It's a bunch of trivia questions in different categories being asked to our studio players. But what makes us unique is that those questions being asked are totally user generated. Maybe I should say viewer generated. They are questions that have been sent to us by viewers who have taped themselves asking that question. If that question is selected, not only do they get to see themselves on a big screen TV asking the questions and challenging them to answer, but they become part of the competitor team, the America team, which is asking the questions and playing against the studio team, which is answering the questions. Ultimately that studio team of three players is reduced down to one player answering and all these others individuals asking and if the America team wins, then the individual who asked a question on that show will split evenly the amount of money in the bank at the end of the show.
And you can send in unlimited amounts of questions so that person could theoretically be sitting at home watching and at the end find out he won and be sent a check.
Liz: So can you tell us how to submit questions?
CK: Certainly. Visit www.tpamericaplays.com. There are instructions there, but hopefully you have a connection and some kind of eyeball camera that will be able to digitize your video. It's very easy to upload. But if you don't have a connection big enough to send video, you can always just record it to tape or to DVD and send the tape to an address on the Web site. There are instructions. And you can send an unlimited number of questions.
Liz: Okay, so we're not going to be cut off after we send our fortieth question?
CK: No! Keep sending them.
Liz: So are you a fan of the game or is this a new thing to you?
CK: I'm a board game geek going way back, but yes, Trivial Pursuit was one of my board games along with Monopoly and Risk. And Trivial Pursuit became not just a game. It seemed like the dice at times could get in the way. What it was about was getting the questions and I think I learned graphically, or clearly when playing Trivial Pursuit that I had strengths or weaknesses. Like pop culture or music, I'm terrible at those. Everywhere else I could rip it up.
Liz: Not good at pop culture? That's surprising coming from a guy who as part of "The Brady Bunch" is a cultural icon.
CK: It's proof that just because you're the product of something doesn't mean that you're a student of it.
Liz: So tell me how you're adjusting to being a game show host.
CK: Well, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I started because it wasn't easy. And the producers hung with me because they thought as a concept my energy and my persona matched well with what they were intending, but I had no experience being a game show host and they knew only too well what that meant going in. I didn't. It seems easy. It isn't. It's really difficult.
Liz: What are the stumbling blocks?
CK: There are just so many layers. Firstly, because it looks like there's no work going on, there's all kinds of work going on. But it has to get to a point where it becomes almost natural and to get to that point you have to get to a point of being comfortable. But there's so much mechanical stuff that you're also juggling. You're running the show, you're responsible for its pace, for the drama, for the suspense and then you have the game to play itself and the mechanism of game play.
So at the very beginning, I'd come in with a personality, but I had to focus on the game. But in doing so it becomes totally mechanical, there's no personality left -- all it is is game play and you can't have that. But that was the early stages and luckily the producers saw something in me that they didn't give up on because it took a few months to get to the point of saying "Yeah, we made the right decision." And I'm grateful for the time they spent with me.
It brings to mind a question that I have: How do game show hosts get started? Maybe it's like that for all of them. I heard that Drew Carey had the same problem with doing "The Price Is Right." And that he was very nervous because there are so many things going on and you have to let your personality out and how do you do that? How do you balance the two and stay on track?
But ultimately he's doing it and I think that looking back on it that show's probably the hardest of all. Bob Barker's brilliant for how easy and fluid he made it look. I don't know how game show hosts get their first jobs.
Liz: There's a documentary for you to do.
CK: I guess maybe you get it after doing it a few times. For me it was so hard because I never saw any of the difficult parts until I tried it. I guess the next time I'm interviewed for a game show I'll understand that better. But in every case you have to learn the game.
Liz: So you mentioned Bob Barker a few minutes ago. Are there any other hosts who leaped into your mind as folks you think did the job well?
CK: Absolutely. Richard Dawson because he was so unique for his day. I'd love to emulate that, but I'm nothing like Richard Dawson. And our game doesn't work like that. I'm more of the enthusiastic type. I think what Howie Mandel has done and sort of the refabrication of self in this position -- not just in a different venue, but a different energy level and a whole new persona. Going way back, Bob Eubanks is somebody I grew up with. Chuck Woolery because he's the kind of guy you'd invite to dinner.
Liz: It doesn't sound like it from reading your bio, which leads to my next question. You started acting when you were a small boy and have had several different careers over the years. How is it that you managed to escape the dreaded child star curse? Or did you?
CK: I think there's a lot made of the child star curse that is true, but I think we forget all the other people we haven't heard about. Who haven't brought themselves back in to focus by unfortunate means. I mean, what is Bobby Sherman up to? You don't hear when somebody is doing good, no matter what it is. Just their failings. So when you hear about all the failings of ex-child stars, you think every one is failing. I don't buy in. It isn't that way and there are quite a few who have made the transition into adulthood well.
Though, I do believe that it's troubling for any kid to be given that much attention only to have it taken away. That's going to be a problem. If that child truly becomes addicted to that attention and believes they are deserving of that attention and not recognizing that it's capricious and not going to be here forever, the day that it ends is the day they'll go off the deep end.
Liz: Now you talked a minute ago about not hearing about the former child stars who don't cycle back in to the public domain because they haven't done something outrageous, but we do see a lot of those people -- and especially in the reality TV genre. You've managed to break into that genre without having this infamous past...
CK: I think in the area that I am unique -- most of the individuals who have been on reality used in the function I was used in, as sort of the grounded one -- I mean the Dave Couliers, the Erik Estradas -- they do the show and then it's gone. And it's not them who is approached because they weren't the lightning rod.
Oddly for me, and it's probably because of Adrianne and the oddness of the relationship, that there was a residual benefit or a residual effect after having done it that sort of worked in my case. And in my case, it was also recalibrating an audience on who I was today and I'm just grateful, but I'm not sure why exactly. My whole fear was, "Well, I'll go on the show, but I'm not outrageous." And they said, no -- they really do, they cast these reality shows so that they have a range of personas there and they need someone to act as the ground and someone to be really off the handle. And so they're carefully choosing their casts to supply all these needed elements.
But it's normally not the person who is the grounded one who is getting the attention. And I was afraid I was going to come off looking really boring, but that's me and I'm not afraid of being boring if that's what I am. And it turns out that somehow, because it was grounded and maybe because of Adrianne, I got a lot of attention from doing the show.
But we just tend to create those people who don't create a great deal of drama. We don't talk about them. They're not watercooler stuff.
Liz: A lot of people may not realize that you did take a big break from show business, basically spending two decades in the high tech field. What made you decide to come back and take VH1 up on this offer?
CK: Well, I turned it down originally. The reason is that I decided I wanted to take a break from sitting behind a desk. I was between jobs, leaving a company that we had sold and was working back for them but had spent enough time working back for them after they had bought our company and it was time to move on anyway. I was living up in northern California and wanting to get back down to L.A.
And I wanted to some time to get back into being healthy. I wanted some time to work out and take care of myself and remembered that the entertainment industry was not only an industry that had the spare time to do that, but that you could justify whatever time you spent on such narcissistic things because it was part of what you were selling. So it was sort of woven into the fabric of that industry and I started realizing that was a part of life that was missing being behind a desk.
I also wanted to get back and check out the entertainment industry because I really ran away from it 20 years earlier because I really didn't want to be a slave to its whims. And had established that back-up plan and ran with it for 20 years and gave myself another industry that would have me back if I needed to go back there, but thought I'd go back to L.A. and check it out.
But after being there and being offered the "Surreal Life" and turning it down in season three, I was asked again about season four six or seven months later and realized, you know, I'm here to work in this industry and if I have this attitude about turning down anything that's reality just because I wasn't a reality fan at that point -- and there was this attitude at that time that reality was temporary -- but I was starting to realize being back that maybe this wasn't temporary and that turning down reality wasn't the wise thing to do. I did check in with some individuals who were in the entertainment industry that I over the years have kept in touch with and asked if I was seeing this correctly, if I should say yes or no to this and how is this show regarded. And everybody said, "This is something you should do."
I mean, there had been things -- 'cuz I think some people looked at my career over the past few years and said there's nothing Chris won't do -- but there are things I've turned down, believe it or not, like "Celebrity Boxing." But "Surreal Life" didn't return that same value. It returned "do it."
And when I met with the producers and was confident that they were truthful in saying they weren't trying to jack anybody or ambush anyone, we're just trying to expose people for who they are, you're not going to have any problem. I asked Dave Coulier and Erik Estrada their advice and they both gave me the same advice, which I tried to take and didn't after the first three hours, which was "Do the show but don't drink." I found out quickly that that's a tall order. That's tough.
And there's a reason they like to get people and give them as much alcohol as they can. It lowers the defenses and gets people to engage and they have no show if people aren't going to be speaking to one another. So, you know, I was afraid of perhaps making a mistake, but I thought "What do I have to lose? I don't really have an entertainment career right now. I have an image of myself that I don't want to destroy. I don't want to embarrass myself or embarrass family or friends. As long as I avoid doing that, I can't lose because I don't really have a career that I'm protecting. If worse comes to worse it's been a great vacation away from the desk, but I'm going to need to go back there."
Liz: So it's all been up sides for you, though, hasn't it?
CK: It couldn't have worked out any better. I got tired of people saying all my life that I'm a kid from "The Brady Bunch." All of us are who were the kids on the show, but we're in our mid-40s, pushing 50 being called kids still. It's silly and ironic and a frustration -- that you can only smile at -- but it's real. Until you break from that context -- people referencing you as a kid -- they're confused as well because you're not still a kid. So, in a way, I was able to develop my own identity away from the Bradys and bring people current with who and what I was.
And yes, there's a lot of me that is Brady-like, but that isn't all of me.
Liz: It seems you've done a fabulous job of reinventing yourself. What else are you working on? Any other projects you want to talk about?
CK: I really can't. Until they're real, there are just so many things that bubble around. Adrianne and I are still interested in pursuing something more artistic, but still related to our relationship. In an interesting way, our relationship is sort of a modern version of both "The Honeymooners" and "I Love Lucy," because she really is sort of like a Lucy, but more edgy. And I'd love to be able to explore that in a non-reality format, but in a scripted realm.
Liz: I see you're also a spokesman for the Ab Lounge.
CK: Yes, for a period of time I did that infomercial and was a spokesperson for it. Of course, they were happy to have me because I was in shape. And that's run its course, it's over now.
Liz: What interested me about that was the parallels between your support of the Obama campaign (or so your MySpace page claims) and endorsement of the Ab Lounge vs. Chuck Norris's support of the McCain campaign and his role as spokesperson for the Total Gym. It really made me wonder, who would win in the Octagon?
CK: There's no accounting for being in shape -- it doesn't have a political party. He's a real fighter. I'd put him in the Octagon against Danny [Bonaduce] off his lithium.
Liz: So, do you pal around with any celebs, besides your wife, of course.
CK: I don't. I've never palled around with celebrities. I live down at the beach in L.A. where there's more -- where all the professional sports athletes live in Los Angeles. It's the quintessential California environment and that's 30 miles away from Hollywood and I've always lived away from Hollywood. I have associates and acquaintances in the industry.
Liz: And I'm assuming you still keep in touch with some of your Brady co-stars?
CK: Oh yes. They're like family. We've had this shared experience going back 40 years, so we're close. And even when we haven't seen each other for a long time, it doesn't take long. Frankly, just a week ago, Eve [Plumb] dropped by. She was driving through with her husband and had not yet met Adrianne. And coincidentally we plan to get together with them this weekend. But finally had the chance to introduce the two and I guess that's the last Brady for Adrianne to meet, but you know, I hadn't seen her in two or three years. And she only lives 40 miles down the road.
Liz: I have to ask, how is married life treating you?
CK: Well, married life, you know it's not my first trip. There are new difficulties because of the age difference and at times it's more difficult than others. But she's an incredible and beautiful person and I at times can take that for granted. Which is a problem and I have to remember that. I know I've been ready for this next phase in my life and I know we're going to get there shortly, but she's still got more career that she's pursuing. And we're going to try to see if we can have children without it affecting her career if that's possible.
Liz: Well, if Angelina Jolie can do it...
CK: [Laughs] Of course. She can pretty much do whatever she wants. We'll use her as our measure.
| September 18, 2008; 10:42 AM ET
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