‘Wait, What Happened?’ tapes quiz show in New Orleans | Entertainment/Life

‘Wait, What Happened?’ tapes quiz show in New Orleans | Entertainment/Life

For the game show contestants on “Wait, What Happened?,” filmed recently in New Orleans, it was never about having the ability to be a “Jeopardy” player. As host Frank Nicotero says, “You don’t need to know the three branches of government to qualify.”

The streaming quiz show, soon to release four new episodes shot in the Crescent City, is about answering multiple choice and true/false questions about funny trivia from news stories recently aired on TV stations around the country.

They are the kinds of stories that local news programs tend to run at the end of the newscast. Known as kickers, these stories are meant to leave audiences on a lighthearted note after a half-hour of murder, mayhem and contentious city council meetings.

The premise is to find locals wherever the show is shooting, give them the opportunity to have a little fun and perhaps let them win a couple hundred bucks.

Locations for “Wait, What Happened?” could be any of 35 cities where Hearst Television has news stations. In New Orleans, Hearst owns and operates WDSU. As Nicotero strolls through the city connecting with locals, you can’t miss the familiar locations, from the French Quarter to Washington Square to the St. Roch Market.

Nicotero says New Orleans is one of his favorite cities, “not just for the food, but the fun people. I was eager to come back,” he said. “There was no pressure on the contestants either. This isn’t ‘Deal or No Deal,’ where if you miss a question, you’ve just forfeited $400,000. This is all about fun, where families can play along.”

From couch-surfer to contestant

The show leans heavily on the host’s ability to engage in humorous banter with the contestants, which isn’t much of a stretch since Nicotero is a longtime standup comedian. He has not only previously hosted various game shows, but was a contestant himself once upon a time.

“I had moved to L.A. from Pittsburgh, was couch surfing at my cousin’s place so I could try and make it on the comedy club circuit, when I saw they were casting for contestants on a quiz show called ‘Debt,’ hosted by Wink Martindale, famous for his stint on ‘Tic Tac Dough,'” Nicotero remembered.

“I auditioned, got a perfect score on their test, and went on to make $14,106 on the show — what seemed to me like a lot of money back in 1995,” he said.

The casting director at the show was so impressed with Nicotero’s performance that she passed his name around to producers on other game shows, and when prospective contestants needed a run-through before the TV cameras began rolling they’d call him. Before long, Nicotero had been asked to become a writer on the show, and quickly made his mark in the industry with his knowledge and quick wit.

The next step was to begin hosting game shows, as any good host has to be able to engage the contestants in lively exchanges, reminiscent of Bob Eubanks on “The Newlywed Game.”

Soon he was hosting the popular syndicated show, “Street Smarts,” which had a bit of a cult following. It was about a guy traveling the country and asking questions of random people on the street, with no advance warning. New Orleans was among the cities the show visited.

Back in the studio, contestants were wagering on who they thought would get the answers correct. Not unlike the old “Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” which was known for its crazy man-on-the-street bits, people can be unpredictable and hilarious.

Nicotero initially saw potential with the syndicated show, but it aired on different channels at different times in different cities. When he heard where the show had been placed in New York, he thought it was doomed to fail.

‘It turned out to be great’

“It aired in Manhattan at 4 a.m., and I remember thinking we got buried with that time slot, but it turned out to be great,” Nicotero said. “People were getting home from bars, they were drunk, and of all things, they were watching our show.

“Meanwhile, the superstation in Chicago, WGN, aired the show at 3 p.m. and 11 p.m., so everyone with cable across the U.S. had that station. Warner Bros., which owned the show, thought if we were lucky, we’d do a year, but we ended up doing five. It got me out on the streets doing comedy which was integrated into this game show. It was the first time that had ever been done.”

So, when “Wait, What Happened?” came along, and Hearst Television was looking for comedian hosts to do a man-on-the-street game show in Pittsburgh, Nicotero’s hometown, he told his manager that if he didn’t get the gig, he was retiring. So, far they’ve shot in Pittsburgh and Orlando for Season 1. Season 2 is in Cincinnati and New Orleans.

Nicotero recently moved to Las Vegas from Los Angeles. He’s taken on another gig while awaiting news of a third season for “Wait, What Happened?”

He’s hosting a gambling and sports entertainment show called “Punch Line” live Monday through Friday from the South Point Hotel Casino & Spa in Las Vegas. And next month, he’ll be headlining at Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club.

The first New Orleans episode airs April 24 on Hearst’s Very Local App, as well as on Roku and Amazon Fire TV.

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