Flash mobs seem so 2009.
But that didn’t stop comic Howie Mandel from pitching a TV show where secrets and surprises are revealed using flash mobs as the gimmick. Fox picked up the show last year as a a series of occasional specials. Wednesday night’s episode drew 8.5 million viewers, retaining a little less than half the “Idol” audience.
This past Wednesday night was focused around 37-year-old Atlanta marketing director Art Siegert. He was born poor in Ohio with a teen mom. He never knew his dad James, never even met him.
For many years, he wondered but never tried to track James down. When he was 25, he used a search engine and found James’ address and number but didn’t pursue it. After he got married, around 2004, he finally called James. They talked on the phone for an hour but neither side followed up.
Why not? “I just wasn’t ready,” Art said.
Fast forward another seven years. Art now had two young children. His mom had died a couple of years ago of complications related to smoking at age 52. By now, he was living in Atlanta.
He watched the first episode of “Mobbed” in March, 2011 featuring a marriage proposal and decided to send in an application. Two months later, he got a call.
Why “Mobbed’? “I’m a sucker for a good story,” Art told me in an interview today. “I wear my feelings on my sleeve. I was so moved by the proposal.”
Then he was thrown a twist he didn’t see. Mandel and his team tracked down Art’s dad Jim in Ohio and Jim agreed to meet his son for the first time.
At first, Art was given the impression he was going to do a flash mob performance for his dad. Mandel’s team convinced Art he needed to compete with another person to be on the show. They competed via dance. Naturally, Mandel paired Art with an actress named Rachel who was clearly a pro. Art, on the other hand, was no Fred Astaire. “I’m comfortable with knowing where my strengths and weaknesses lie,” Art said. “And dancing is not one of my strengths.”
Later, Mandel set it up so Art met the comic at a bowling alley so he could get the news. Mandel was bowling alone, an excuse to blow off steam. He even had Art look away while Mandel bowled. Art said he figured, given Mandel’s quirks, this all seemed perfectly normal.
Then Mandel broke the “bad news.” Art was not going to be in the flash mob because he felt he hadn’t tried hard enough. Even with that insult stinging in his ears, Art didn’t get angry. He merely appeared dejected. “I was more frustrated,” Art said.
Mandel left Art along for a couple of minutes. Then he cued the music and the bowling alley transformed into a dance sequence. Art said when the girl Rachel he “competed” against showed up, he realized he had been “Punk’d” and just went along for the ride.
When Art entered the a big center space of an open-air mall, he saw hundreds of volunteers dancing to the Temptations classic “Get Ready.” Art said he was merely enjoying the spectacle and bracing for the big moment.
After a couple of minutes, his dad finally showed up (not dancing). Art had never even seen a picture of his father but knew instantly they were blood. They hugged for a long time while the flash mob sang the Jacksons’ “I’ll Be There.” (Earlier, when Mandel had asked James if he was going to fly out to Los Angeles for the taping, he had said, “I’ll be there.”)
“It was overwhelming,” Art said. “I wasn’t prepared emotionally. I was caught off guard by the mob.”
Art said he hung out with his father for another hour or so after taping was done last August. And since then, he has spoken to James every couple of weeks for an hour or so each time, gradually learning more about him, catching up on a lost 37 years.
He is sad his mom wasn’t able to see this. “She would have been thrilled about it,” he said.
As for Art himself, “I feel absolutely complete. My dad was a huge part of getting to know the other part of me. That’s really important. I’m different from a lot of people in my family and I could never explain it.”
He said he’s learned his self discipline, communication skills and work ethic came from his dad.
And not surprisingly, after the show aired Wednesday night, his email, voicemail and Facebook page “blew up.” He spent hours Thursday responding to friends and family.
“Outside of having my kids, this was the greatest experience I’ve ever had,” Art said.
Mandel, he added, “is brilliant and creative. He knows how to push buttons when he needed to. He knows how to make things look good on TV. He was phenomenal with my kids and wife. I have the utmost respect for him.”
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk