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Discover the DNA of a Game Show

December 21, 2006 By:
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"Identity" host Penn Jillette
Oy-dentity?

No such problem for NBC's new game show, "Identity." It knows what it is: a clever, cunning ka-nock to any conceit that first impressions are the best impressions.

Impressing during a five consecutive-night showcase ending this Friday, "Identity" is the latest stamp on Ben Silverman's passport to popularity.

The series exec producer and Reveille's founder/CEO who's responsible for such hits as "Deal or No Deal," "The Biggest Loser," and such non-game shows as the Peabody Award-winning "9/11" and this season's "Ugly Betty," knows comedy can be ugly.

And that may be part of the beautiful appeal of this series, in which contestants need to size up 12 strangers and match the cleaned up "dirty dozen" to clues provided.

A game of "Clue" for the clueless? The "Match Game" of matching wits and insights? "To Tell the Truth" that lies somewhere in between?

You bet your life -- and the contestants are betting their abilities to a $5000,000 stakes.

The price is right: No fool that guy Silverman, the Jewish gent who has staked out his own corner of the sky beclouded by so many game shows one almost suspects the late Bud Collier to give up the ghost and return for another shot.

But this one has, on the face of it, an edge the others don't. For those contestants who can read between the lines of a face cragged by capers and careers, the edge may be theirs.

After all, acknowledges Silverman, first impressions need not be the most lasting. Does the Jewish guy with a calculator dangling from his belt need be an accountant? Couldn't he be a Borscht Belt prop comedian, a 14K Jewish Carrot Top?

And what made you think he was Jewish to begin with?

A $500,000 ante on semantics -- or misconceptions based on physical impressions?

"We definitely all use them," says Silverman of first impressions, the DNA of "Identity." "We can't divorce ourselves of them."

Divorce? How about a trial separation? "Many times, instincts are best," he insists.

But what happens when a person's inner self gets the best of him? Do we really know what a person's like because he looks or acts a certain way?

Mel Gibson, Michael Richards ... can you come out and play? What matter impressions if a debonair Hollywood dynamo is a man of two faces? Or a hipster doofus doodles mentally, figuratively using big lips and big noses when thinking of blacks and Jews?

While conceding that "Identity" identifies itself as an entertainment and nothing more, Silverman adds that "no question, [appearances] are not always as they seem to be."

Show host Penn Jillette, razor sharp as part of the Penn-Teller tandem, a magical duo that knows the value of misdirection, says, yes, "it's remarkable how wrong people can be" when they try to size other people up.

But that's ... shoe business; people-watching is something else entirely. And he should know; his stage presence is a gift of gab and greased lightning disillusionments.

But, he cautions, in that rasp of a roar, "Identity" "is not a topical show," but an entertainment with an evolutionary ethos, adding that "the need to identify people you bump into" has been evolving for millennia.

A towering inferno of an illusionist, would he ever be mistaken for other than he is?

Someone, replies the protean performer, "would see the blisters on my mouth and know that I'm a fire-eater, the callouses on my hands and know that I'm a bass player, hear my voice, which shows me to be a carnie.

"I think I'm an easy read."

Sure. If you subscribe to Cliff's Notes.


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