They're eager to embarrass themselves on TV

March 16, 1992|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Staff Writer

There was the woman from Baltimore whose wig went airborne while playing basketball with the grandchildren. The man from Highlandtown who collects old washing machines for a hobby. And the Norfolk, Va., student who had stuffed the front of her dress to simulate a bigger bust, then discovered over dinner that she was deflating.

They were among the nearly 200 game-show contestant wannabes who tried to top one another by telling weird or embarrassing stories about themselves. They were willing to bare all, figuratively speaking, in front of a room packed with strangers.

And it was all for a chance to appear on a new game show called "You Bet Your Life," which is scheduled to premiere in the fall on CBS (WBAL, Channel 11).

"I'm ready now!" said Patrice Lovett, a 20-year-old from West Baltimore, who arrived at the studio a half hour early, perhaps hoping promptness would win her points.

The program -- as introduced to the contestants on the pilot show -- stars "the mother of all TV hosts," Bill Cosby. It is a new version of the old "You Bet Your Life," which began in 1950 and ran for 11 years with Groucho Marx as the host.

On the new show, contestants have a chance to win up to $10,000 by giving the right answers to questions asked by Mr. Cosby. And they can win even more money if one of them unknowingly utters a secret word.

In the '90s version, a wise-cracking Cos will take the place of the wise-cracking Marx. A cigar-chomping goose takes the place of Marx's rubber duck who dropped from the ceiling when contestants said the secret word.

The contestant search, which was held at WBAL studios last week and will continue today, drew people of all ages. The homemakers, students, engineers, teachers and others spent about two hours listening to stories ranging from the dull to the ridiculous.

They had come from far and near in response to an ad seeking contestants. "I was on vacation in Florida and saw the ad," said Mike Moshos from Silver Spring. "So I called them up."

Throughout the day, people gathered in a studio where they initially watched a pilot of the new game show before talking a few minutes about themselves.

"We are not looking for actors or actresses. No sword swallowers or rap singers," said Carole de Braganza, administrative coordinator for the Carsey-Werner Company, which produces the show. "We are looking for ordinary people with a sense of humor. People like plumbers, bus drivers, school teachers. People who perhaps have changed roles in their lives."

The producers ended up choosing six "ordinary" people who played a mini-version of the game while the camera rolled. With a producer filling in for Mr. Cosby, they talked about themselves and answered a question.

These tapes will be sent to the Carsey-Werner office in Los Angeles, where the final decision will be made. The winners will appear on the show, which will be filmed in Philadelphia, Mr. Cosby's hometown.

Mr. Moshos was among the lucky "ordinary" six to be chosen. That is, if "ordinary" means being a former topless-bar owner who dropped about 200 pounds after having his stomach stapled, his breasts reduced and liposuction.

The 42-year-old got out of the topless bar business about nine years ago after being shot at twice. He is now a produce manager for a Silver Spring grocery store.

"I was real nervous," he said about trying out for the show. "My stomach was tied in knots," he added -- apparently with no pun intended.

"You had breast reduction?" asked coordinating producer Bobby Edwards, who has probably heard it all. "Yes. I was real big," said Mr. Moshos, holding his hands out in front of his chest.

Maryland state trooper Dorsey Skinner also made the first cut by telling of an "ordinary" day at work.

The handsome 26-year-old from Woodlawn warmed up his audience by mentioning that he was single, which drew a murmur of appreciation from the females.

Then in a strong, compelling voice, he told of getting a call about a body in the woods. It was a dark night but after searching a bit, the troopers discovered the body of a woman. Trooper Skinner was the first to approach. As he reached down to see if there was a pulse, the woman's eyes popped wide open and stared at him.

"What are you doing?" she asked, more than a little annoyed at being disturbed. "I said 'Oh! She's OK.' " Trooper Skinner said. Nobody in the room found out what the woman was doing there, but the trooper's story won over the show's producers.

Although only six people were chosen, most said they had a good time.

"I just thought it would be fun to do something like this," said Anita Weintraub, a 61-year-old retired teacher from Aberdeen, who talked briefly about her days as an assistant in a store's complaint department.

But there were those who were clearly disappointed that Bill Cosby himself did not make an appearance. "I actually came here thinking I would see Bill Cosby," said Chinyere "Chi-Chi" Eleonu, a North Baltimore fashion designer who had hoped to pitch her African-inspired creations to Mr. Cosby.

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