Craig Ferguson on Playing Detective & Hosting ‘The Hustler’ Game Show

ABC/Christopher Willard

It’s time to put on your detective hat.

The game is afoot as Craig Ferguson hosts the sleuthy new ABC series The Hustler. Each episode sees five contestants working together to answer a series of trivia questions worth $10,000 a pop. The goal is building a collective prize pot. There is a catch: one the players already knows the answers.

The Hustler is tasked to keep their identity under wraps. Two are anonymously eliminated by the Hustler, leaving three finalists in the end. If they correctly identify the Hustler, they share the pot. Otherwise, the Hustler gets the cash if they’re wrong, which could mean a more than $100,000 payday.

For Ferguson, it’s the ultimate exercise in not judging a book by its cover. Ahead of the game show’s formal premiere (ABC aired a sneak peak on January 4), we did our own line of questioning with the Emmy-winner.

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The competitors of this ABC game show reboot will have their work cut out for them against the titans of trivia.

How much detail do you know going into each game?

Craig Ferguson: I prepare for this the same way I prepared for my old late night show in the sense I don’t prepare for it at all. I just put the suit on, turn up and let the games commence. When we play this game, I don’t know who the Hustler is. I don’t know the hidden liar. It’s a fun game for me to play by just playing it. I get to host, but I also get to play it at the same time.

The Hustler

ABC/Christopher Willard

How good are you about choosing the Hustler successfully?

I’m very bad at it. I used to think I would be a good detective. I can sometimes figure out detective novels or detective shows on TV. I think with someone who is lying and smiling at the same time, I’m not very good at all. I’m actually quite bad at detecting who is telling the truth and who is lying, which would explain my career in Hollywood for the last 25 years. If you’re an optimistic person like I am, where I always believe someone is telling the truth when they’re not. That’s the name of the game. It’s very interesting…I think if you were a detective or a cop you’d probably be good at it. Cops are used to being lied to all the time.

But if you assume someone is lying when they’re not lying, you’re going to suck at the game as well. I notice people get the most angry when they’re telling the truth and nobody is believing them or believing them based on assumptions being made about them. It’s interesting to see that frustration play out.

How much do the contestants interact beforehand?

I know there is a protocol for that. I’m not privy to it. I’m also kept separate from the contestants as well before the game commences. I haven’t seen them. I haven’t been around them or talked to them. Whenever I talk to the contestants, you see it. I don’t get any other information that is not part of the game. I think that is useful. As far as I know, that’s what they do with the contestants as well. They keep an eye on them and don’t let them talk to each other in case they start forming alliances.

The Hustler

ABC/Christopher Willard

The show very much reminds me of Clue. What do you think will be the biggest key to its success?

It’s really about people. It pulls you in and does that in a very psychological way. A game show is a game show. You either know the answers to the questions or you don’t. This one knowing the answers is not enough. You have to be able to say, “Why is this person pushing an answer that is clearly right or clearly wrong. What is their motivation?” I think the real spin on this is its a murder mystery and a game show. It really is a hybrid of both.

What do you think is the biggest mistake players make?

People make mistakes stereotyping the people they don’t know based on their look, style, accent, age, gender, race. You suddenly realize all of the assumptions you make about people are right sometimes and others completely wrong. It’s quite interesting because you have to challenge your own thought process as well. It’s not heavy-handed. It’s a funny show, but it makes you think. For example, is a geek always a nerdy looking man with glasses? Absolutely not, but people make assumptions.

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Do you think it’s possible to ever do a celebrity version of The Hustler?

We did talk about having a celebrity one. It would have to be finding something about the celebrity Hustler that is not Googleable, so you can’t read up on them. That will take a bit more research and digging. It could be done, of course. My guess is it will be done at some point, and I’d enjoy it.

The Hustler, Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC, beginning Jan. 7