Reality television hoax series The Joe Schmo Show is getting new life 20 years after it initially debuted, but it will be without the main face of its original version.
Created by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, who would go on to pen Zombieland and the Deadpool franchise, the series launched on Spike in September 2003. Similar to Freevee’s recent show Jury Duty, which starred James Marsden, Joe Schmo featured a cast of actors pretending to be part of a reality competition series, with only one person not in on the joke and actually striving to collect the prize.
Over the three initial seasons, the one constant presence was that of Ralph Garman, a comedian and actor (his credits include Ted and voice work on Family Guy) who currently leads the podcast The Ralph Report and co-hosts Hollywood Babble-On with Kevin Smith. Garman led the proceedings in all three seasons of Schmo, which included adopting a British accent to host the second one and then returning in the third season as a bounty hunter.
TBS announced this week that it would be reimagining the project but with Cat Deeley as host for this go-round. Garman is not involved, and he tells that he had very limited interactions with the new version’s team about a year ago, during which he was offered a cameo that he says felt more like an “afterthought.” THR has reached out to TBS for comment.
During the below interview, Garman discusses the two calls he got from the new show’s producer, feeling “crestfallen” to not get asked to return as host, why the offer he eventually received — well into filming on the show — felt like “adding insult to injury” and that he hopes the reboot will honor the legacy of the series that helped launch the careers of Kristen Wiig and other notable names.
Is anyone from your version coming back?
As far as I know, there’s nobody connected with this version that was connected with the original. I heard that Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, who were the creators of the thing, apparently signed off on them doing this, but I don’t think they are even hands-on in terms of the production because they’ve gone on to big careers.
So you had spoken to someone from the new one?
I got a phone call in April 2022 from Dave Kneebone, who apparently is the producer of the piece. He called me and said they were bringing it back, and that they weren’t interested in having me host again, which was obviously disappointing. But they had an idea where they wanted to do a cameo appearance with me in the new show. Obviously, I was a little crestfallen because I was hoping to come back in my usual capacity. But I thought about it. I said, “It might be fun for the fans of the original series to see me in this one.” He proceeded to spell out the idea they had for me to appear in a cameo role, and I won’t get into it because I don’t want to spoil anything in case they’re still doing this storyline.
But basically, you would have been popping up in an episode?
Yeah, exactly. And I said, “I might be down with that.” And that’s when they dropped on me: “Well, we have to know sooner than later because we are already in production, and we’re coming up at the end of filming.” This is obviously just conjecture on my part, but I know how these things are put together. If you’re in the midst of filming, I got the sense that someone somehow connected with the project said, “We should probably have something that ties our show into the original, so that we can get some benefit of the original fan base.” It seemed to me to just be an afterthought.
So I said, “Why don’t you go back to my managers and talk to them about the deal — scheduling, salary.” They said OK, and that was the end of the phone call. And then I didn’t hear anything, and neither did my management team. So I assumed, “Wow, they changed their mind, or it didn’t pan out.” And then maybe a week and a half later, I got a phone call from a very chipper-sounding gentleman — I assume he was a production assistant — and he said, “Hey, Ralph, we have to get you tested for COVID because you’re shooting tomorrow.” I was like, “What?” He said, “Yeah, you’re on the call sheet.” I said, “I don’t know who this is, but I know that I don’t have a contract, and there’s been no further conversation about my involvement in the show.” And he’s like, “No, you’re here. So congratulations, you’ve got a role on the show.” And I was like, “Well, not really, because my people haven’t heard from the producers.”
I don’t know where the breakdown in communication was, but they came back with an offer, which, frankly, was adding insult to injury. I got the sense that I was not a priority on anybody’s list, obviously, by the fact that I wasn’t contacted between these two phone calls. But then when I saw what they were offering to pay me, I was like, “Wow.” You get a feeling in your gut about things, and I said, “This really feels wrong to me.” So I went back and said, “No, I’m gonna pass.” And then they came back and said, “What can we do to make you happy?” And by this point, I was unhappy. (Laughs.) I was like, “You know what? You do your Joe Schmo — go do your thing. I did three that we’re very proud of, and let’s just walk away.” So the cameo that could have been, never came to be.
So is your sense that they were hoping that you would promote the cameo and help bring the fans back on board?
I think that was what they had in mind. Once they announced Joe Schmo was coming back, people already have been reaching out to me and asking what my involvement is. Because they assume, after doing three seasons of it, that I would be involved in some capacity, whether it be as a consultant or appearing in the show.
The concept definitely felt innovative for back then, when reality TV was just taking off.
We revisited it three different times — the first time was 20 years ago. We let it rest for a minute. But I think with the success of Jury Duty — I mean, we didn’t invent the format. I guess you can call it The Joe Schmo Show, but I don’t know how much of the original DNA is gonna be there.
Have you been in contact with Cat Deeley at all?
No. When the announcement was made this week, I just tweeted out good luck to her because I know how difficult that gig can be. I haven’t heard back from her, but I certainly do wish her all the best.
Would you say that your conversations with the new show’s team were tense?
Not really because there were only two calls, and the second one was tense only because it was a complete shock and surprise. And I felt disrespected a little bit. There didn’t really seem to have been too put much effort or thought into my involvement.
Had the situation played out differently, and there was an opportunity to host you, that’s something you would have accepted?
Oh, sure. The Schmo Show is a big part of my life. I get people all the time who reach out and say how much they enjoyed it — one season or all three of them. I got to know James Gunn because he’s a massive fan of the first season of Schmo, and so we started having conversations via Twitter over it and became friendly. Of all the things I’ve done, that’s the thing people ask me about the most. Obviously, I’m real proud of it, and had they laid it out in a way that I thought was worthy of what we did with the first three, I would absolutely have been on board to host again. It’s an enormously fun concept, and it can be very entertaining. The way we did the first three, our focus was always on the comedy of it. We wanted to make it as funny a show as possible, playing less into the reality competition aspect of it. If they had good writers, and it was gonna be a funny show, then I sure would have considered hosting, of course.
Was there enough in the trailer for you to get a sense of what the new version looks like?
It’s hard to tell from the trailer. They’ve got a lot of wacky stuff in there, and that’s certainly a part of the format. But we focused on the relationships as well between whoever the Joe Schmo was and the characters that had surrounded him. It was always carefully crafted to make sure that it had an interesting storyline as well. I couldn’t get that from the trailer, but I sure hope they did it.
Do you plan to check out the new show?
I don’t know. After everything, I kind of feel like, best of luck to ’em. We did ours; these people are gonna do theirs. I’ll probably pass.
A cool thing about your show was that it helped launch the careers of a lot of comedic talent.
Kristen Wiig, one of her first gigs was doing our first season. We had [It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s David] Hornsby. We had Lance Krall. And then in the second season, we had Jon Huertas and Natasha Leggero. They always went out of their way to really cast the best people they could find for these roles. And that’s why I sort of knew that I was an afterthought because I know what the casting process is like. I know how far in advance they find these people, and they bring them together, and they rehearse the situation so that they have some idea what they’re getting into once they start filming with the Joe Schmo. So for me to be thrown into the thing while they were already in the midst of filming, toward the end of filming, it really seemed like an afterthought to me.
Interview edited for length and clarity.