"The draw of Hole in the Wall is the same thing that happens when you watch your best friend walk into a window because they think it’s open and they crash and fall down," says Burns, who seems to have some experience in such things. "Your first reaction is ‘Oh my God, are you OK?’ but you can’t really get that out because you’re laughing so hard. It’s back to the simple pleasures in life."
After getting a limited sampling in two sneak preview airings, Hole in the Wall has its time period premiere on Thursday (Sept. 11) night. Based on a wildly popular Japanese format that has already be successfully transplanted to over a dozen markets, Hole has a mighty simple premise. Contestants stand at one end of a platform and try to wedge their bodies through holes in a rapidly approaching wall. If they succeed? Glory! If they fail? Splash!
Joining Burns, who maintains enthusiasm on the gaming floor, is co-host Mark Thompson a Los Angeles TV favorite.
Of his responsibilities, Thompson explains, "Things can get a little bit far afield. You’ll see in some of the other episodes that the celebrations go on forever. The guys come out of pool after being knocked in and they’re grabbing Brooke and she’s soaking wet and there’s mayhem that begins to take hold and I think my job is to drive the agenda along so we don’t lose track of why we all sort of came here. In addition, I get to break down the contestants’ attempts, which I really enjoy doing anyway. I’m really one of those guys who goes, ‘Well shouldn’t that guy in the center have been lying flat?’ I’d be doing that anyway at home, so for me it’s a natural inclination."
Indeed, Thompson’s skills as a backseat Hole-filler have been on display in the early episodes. But what special insight does Thompson, who has never faced a wall himself, possess?
"Basically, I bring nothing and that is, of course, what makes me even more clinically arrogant in my breakdown of their attempts," he laughs. "I have absolutely no idea what I would do but probably just pee my pants if the wall was coming at me. It’s very hard. I’ve seen so many walls and it’s just very difficult. All the walls are doable."
Burns agrees that she’d probably be prepared to handle certain walls.
"Having been a ballerina for most of my life and being in pretty good shape, I think I could probably do most of them," she says. "The ones that I’d be worst at, I think, are the geometric shapes that you have to jump through. Knowing that I’ve broken my neck before, I think I have some sort of magnetic force that pulls my head toward the ground, so I’m thinking that could be disastrous."
As as for Thompson’s worries about rescuing Burns from dripping wet contestants, the Baywatch and North Shore veteran isn’t shying away.
"That is why I’m so perfect for the show, because I think most girls would be like ‘Hell no!’ And I, of course, find some sort of sick obsession with it," she says. "I think it’s great and fun and they’re like, ‘Don’t get wet! Don’t get wet!’ and I say, ‘If it’s good for the show, I’m going to get wet. I’m just warning you.’"
Of course, there are potential downsides to Burns’ combination of clumsiness, precarious high heels and a drenched set, specifically the tension-inducing possibility of an unplanned hosting wipeout.
"For some reason, falling flat on your face is always good television, whether it’s me or the contestants," she says. "I think people expect it from the contestants and they don’t from me and, by the way, at some point in the show it does happen. They’re going to save that for sweeps, I’m sure."
Other than the splashing, one of the hallmarks of the show is its relentless double-entendres, slips of the tongue that are avoidable when you’re dealing with contestants and holes and fitting one into the other.
Burns tries to explain one stunt, but the laughter overwhelms her, "When we have like a triple — here we go — a triple hole, some of them are not supposed to be each person for their own hole, some people are supposed to share the hole."
"It gets ridiculous at some point," Burns says of the "hole" jokes, still giggling. "You feel like you’re shooting a porn, because it’s too silly. It’s fun to look for them and find them in the right moments, but whether you can actually say them on FOX? That’s yet to be determined."
A couple other highlights from Zap2it‘s chat with the two Hole in the Wall hosts:
Thompson, on his unscripted banter: "I will say certain things that are double entendre-type-things, but they’ll cut it out if it’s too far over the line. In fact, what I told them is, ‘I’m just going to say a bunch of stuff, some of it will be funny, some of it will make you smile and finally some of the stuff will go ‘Well, that didn’t work.’ But if I try to only say stuff that will be home-runs, that will reduce the amount of stuff you have.’ They liked that plan."
Burns, on how her people responded to her returning to the hosting world: "My manager always understands my neuroses and my craziness. My agents, who are my film and television agents, always want me to stay doing film and television. I’ve come to the point in my life where performing is performing and I love all aspects of it and I love working. I’m doing another pilot called Mistresses for Fox and Lifetime and they said, ‘Here, we’re going to give you the opportunity to do both’ and I couldn’t turn that down. In the end, you have to remember works for who. They were like ‘We don’t know if you should do this’ and I said ‘But I want to!’"
Thompson, on the origins of the aspiring catchphrase "Gentlemen, it’s time to face the hole": "I think that was [FOX alternative programming guru] Mike Darnell. And it was so Darnell-ian, it was brilliant. I know there was debate on it, but it’s brilliant."
Burns, on the advantages of hosting: "I feel like hosting, for me, is much closer to my true personality. I feel like hosting and performing and being able to think on my feet has actually helped me in my acting career. I think life, in general, helps you with those things. I think the more well-rounded you are as a person, you have more life experiences and you can relate to, in hosting, more contestants and in acting, more characters."