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'Estate of Panic' a Panic of a Thrill

November 20, 2008 By:
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The house, the host (Steve Valentine) and the horrors -- all in a Sci-Fi phenom of a show. Photos courtesy of Sci-Fi Channel

Let's make a doozy!

That's exactly what Richard Hall has done, with "Estate of Panic," a state-of-panache of a reality show. But then, who could expect less from Hall, son of legendary game show host/producer Monty Hall, whose "Let's Make a Deal" -- and wide-ranging work on behalf of Israel and international Jewish concerns -- proved him the gamest of great entrepreneurs and TV entertainers.

The full Monty: Dad Hall gave it his all, whether to Israel Bonds, bonding with Jewish groups to whom he often spoke, or a variety of other causes -- including Variety Club, for whose telethons he regularly served as m.c. -- as well as serving as a good example for millions as a nice-guy gamer, whether traveling down "Video Village" in the '50s or dealing in more doors than Jim Morrison ever did.

Giving back -- tzedakah -- was Hall's hallmark. And what he gave his son is a sense of an exciting life that comes with a dynasty of deal-making.

The son/scion knows from Halls of fame. Richard has enriched the TV environment with his own brand of brava entertainment. And the latest, "Estate," airing in prime prime-time real estate on Wednesday nights on the Sci-Fi Channel, offers doors to explore, too -- but open his and you're more likely to find a cobra rather than Corvette behind it.

"Estate of Panic" is a haunted hunt for treasure, in which contestants sense the true taste of being survivors -- all set out to uncover the cache of money stuck around a mansion that is more Boris Karloff than care package, with -- horror of horrors -- horrors awaiting them at every catastrophic corner.

In fact, is that Morticia lurching about in the kitchen? "Panic" is no picnic for participants; grab the least money, be the last one out of the room -- there's also a sense of serpentine suspense, as Hall finds a hallowed tradition in people's fears of snakes, which seem to slither through each scene -- and be eliminated. Down each of the hallways, Hall has hollowed out a cornucopia of creepy critters that go s-s-s-s- in the night.

In a way, "Estate of Panic" is Sleepy Hollow on a hell-raiser. But not without a quirky comic sense, provided by host Steve Valentine, whose droll wit amid the draconian detritus drapes the show and the former "Crossing Jordan" star with a cross of comic/drama masks.

What, Me Panic?

It's edgy and enervating, as contestants con each other in and out of money on challenges that can be electrifying -- watch out for that fence of fire! -- or flooded with a waterworld that would have caused Kevin Costner to show emotion.

Is that a chill in the air -- or just the chill thrill of a cold, wet slap in the face that comes with uncovering thousands of dollars underneath a bank of quivering worms?

This mansion has its own version of a doghouse -- but who knew Cujo would be its sole occupant?

And, for the finale, the last contestant standing vaults into the ultimate challenge -- stranded in a vault, attempting to uncover the cache of cash, grasping for greenbacks while a tim-er clicks off his last gasps for breath.

Take a breath: Ghouling for dollars? Exactly, all the while proving that greed is not so much good as it is grimy in this panegyric to panic.

And here's Hall, the show's exec producer, whose association with Endemol USA has played a major fear factor in the unorthodox and, at times, unctuous and anxious world that is TV's reality showdown with repercussions.

What's the deal, Hall? Like father -- and everyone in Hollywood really likes and admires his dad -- like son?

"You know, the competitive reality genre is sort of the game show taken to locations."

And to extremes. "I started on 'The Amazing Race' and have been working in competitive reality since," with "Fear Factor" a factor of Endemol USA's success, the be-all, end-all of reality TV producers whose sizable stable of stars includes "Deal or No Deal," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "Big Brother."

We are family: "It gave me more to talk about with my dad and his colleagues from the sets."

Know your market, and this one deals in the unknown. "This," he says of "Estate," "was more of a show about the people, dealing with the unknown, which is a little bit different from that other genre."

"Deal" dealt with choices: Take what's up Monty's sleeve -- it could have been an onion or enough money to finance a year of Oneg Shabbats -- or what's in the drawer dressed in gold, as Hall played the man with the golden arm, wrapped around contestants in a gesture of camaraderie even as they made the biggest commitment of their lives.

Of course, part of the "Deal's" dynamic was each contestant dressing in the most elaborate and garish costumes imaginable. With "Estate," the players are essentially addressing the great unknown, outfitted in frissons of fear, emotionally naked in the night in their cobweb-creepy quest for big bucks.

The buck doesn't stop here, and it began a long time ago on quiz and game shows. Have father and son dealt with the difference?

"He's a big fan of all the innovations in TV," Richard says of his dad, "and, of course, he sees the seeds of what he's done, and other people from his generation in TV, to what's happening today.

"He loves it and he's very dialed into it."

Monty, phone home -- your kid's carrying on the tradition just fine, adding his own twist of terror that makes "Estate of Panic" the dominant player in what could best be described as the new millennium's own BooTube.

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