Jeff Probst feels he’s already survived the daytime-talk wars to a degree, months before his own entry premieres.
A Primetime Emmy winner each of the past four years, the host of CBS’ “Survivor” — which starts its 24th round Wednesday, Feb. 15 — will be in league with Katie Couric, Ricki Lake and comedian Steve Harvey in launching a syndicated weekday show this fall. The competition to land stations and time periods got so thick, he’s just happy to have made the cut.
“I’m not in the full-on battle zone where the guys who are selling the show are,” Probst tells Zap2it, “but I was just one step removed. They kept me pretty updated, and it was really crazy. There were all these shows and only certain time slots, and everybody vying for them … and everybody having something different to offer.
“Because I was new to it, I didn’t know how it was going to go. I didn’t know how likely it was that we would end up on the air vs. how likely it was that we would never get a shot. CBS (which will distribute the show) kept saying, ‘We’ll be fine, we’ll be fine.’ When we finally got the NBC-owned stations’ slots, it was fantastic. I e-mailed a few of the NBC guys I’d met to say, ‘Thank you.'”
Additionally, Probst thanked NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert “for believing in me,” and he also sent his gratitude to the person he may owe most for his new gig, CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves. “It was really his doing, at a lunch we had. I just threw it out — ‘I think I want to try to do a talk show’ — and he said, ‘Sounds good. You’re going to do it with us.’ That really is how quickly it started. Seven weeks later, we were shooting a pilot.”
Something else will be shooting for Probst soon, and he’ll be the one literally calling the shots. Before he flies off to tape another “Survivor” season in March, he’ll direct his second movie: “Kiss Me,” a coming-of-age-drama set to feature John Corbett and Sarah Bolger (“In America”).
“I did the first movie basically when ‘Survivor’ started,” Probst recalls of the Ryan Reynolds-starring “Finder’s Fee.” He adds he was “so naive” then, “I just didn’t understand anything. When 57 million people watched the finale of our first season, I thought, ‘That’s cool.’ I had no idea what it meant to beat ‘Friends’ and be the No. 1 show on TV.
“I was happy for Mark (Burnett, executive producer of ‘Survivor’). I knew it was exciting for him, and I was happy to be a part of it … but I didn’t have any perspective. I started riding that train, and just this last year, I got this surge of energy and thought, ‘I’m ready for more “Survivor” and something new as well.’ That was when the talk show started, and I’d also been looking for material to direct, and I found this amazing piece.”
In Probst’s view, the projects match up well. “I’m getting ready to do a talk show in which the key phrase is, ‘How about now?,’ so I’m going to take my own advice. I’ve got a window before I leave for the next ‘Survivor,’ so how about now? We start shooting the movie in just a few weeks.”