Neil Patrick Harris Talks About Giving Audiences the ‘Best Time Ever’—and That Scary Reese Witherspoon Stunt
A fair few live hosting stints meant Neil Patrick Harris wasn’t exactly unprepared to take on his own live variety show. But those were one-offs, with months of preparation prior to each. NBC’s Best Time Ever With Neil Patrick Harris is an eight-week endurance test (the second episode airs tonight at 10/9c before settling into its 8/7c timeslot next Tuesday) during which Harris, who is also a producer, has to maintain a level of energy and charisma that would drain even the most manic performer.
Production is headquartered in Astoria, Queens, just over the East River from Manhattan. The massive soundstage is abuzz with the sound of power drills and jaded teamsters the day before the second show. Harris comes into the well-appointed “VIP room” during a break from rehearsal. He has strange red marks on his wrists that look a little concerning—is the stress proving too much? Is he feeling all right? No, he says with a laugh, they’re from a stunt he’s been working on for the next show, something involving a trampoline and a run up a wall that he first saw performed by Cirque du Soleil. “I’ve got whiplash, too,” he adds. “It looks so, so much easier than it actually is.”
That’s the driving force behind live television, as well. All involved must seem effortlessly vibrant and charming, without feeling too rehearsed at the same time. Harris says that’s something he learned from the first show last week: ” I wish we had the time to riff on things. Because what we do, since it’s live, I just don’t want any missteps,” he says. “But I think I also need to be a little more personable at the beginning of the show, maybe free-form a little bit, a little more improv-y, a little less hyper-scripted.”
As for (mostly facetious) stalking concerns for segments like “Sing Along Live,” in which seemingly random viewers in households across America are chosen , with a camera already in place, Harris has some reassurances ready: “Everyone on the Sing Along Live segments has a spouse or friend who’s reached out to us,” he says. “And the people we follow for the longer pieces have reached out to be on a reality show or game show they think exists but doesn’t.” In other words, unless you have a particularly cruel loved one, the odds of you appearing on the show are minimal. “I don’t want people to be frightened of us,” he adds.
That includes the guest hosts. BTE has a different guest announcer every week—Reese Witherspoon got the spot last week, Alec Baldwin joins tonight. (“He’s got such a great voice,” Harris enthuses.) Witherspoon found herself confronted with the unenviable challenge of beating Harris to the top of a very high steel tower, then ziplining down to the street. “I was most nervous she would opt out in the commercial break, decide she didn’t want to do it,” says Harris. But the producers had sussed out whether Witherspoon had any particular fear of heights, and taken every safety precaution imaginable. ” It was high!” he acknowledges. “But we were on cables, we were assured that everything was going to be okay. If we’d fallen off that thing, we’d have fallen four or five inches and stopped. We were playing up the fear element of it, because that’s what we’re supposed to do—the last thing I want for any potential future guest announcer is them deciding not to play, for fear I was going to put their life at stake.”
As for those future guests, Harris’ dream announcer is, perhaps somewhat strangely, Bill Clinton. Not that he anticipates Bubba will stop by—even if he did, Harris jokingly notes, they’d then have to open up the field in favor of equal time for all manner of politicos, which might present too much of a challenge to the show’s mission statement: “We want the show to be as good-natured as possible.”