Chris Hardwick: Because the World Is Toxic, ‘The Wall’ Is a Safe Haven

'We're looking for people who really want to change their lives'

THE WALL—’Noah and Lisa’ Episode 203. Pictured: (L-R) Lisa, Noah, Chris Hardwick. Justin Lubin/NBC

Chris Hardwick seems to host everything lately—@midnight, Talking Dead, Stand Up to Cancer, oh and a game show too.

With more than $12 million on the line every night and up to $3 million on a single drop at four stories high, The Wall is a big money show, one that even surprises its host.

“I know what’s going to happen on the show, and when I watch I’m, like, ‘wha—ah!’ I get freaked out,” said Hardwick, who is an Executive Producer of the series (along with LeBron James, Maverick Carter and Andrew Glassman), at a recent Television Critics Association event.

Hardwick explained how his extensive experience has helped him front the show. “I’ve been hosting shows for over 20 years. Hosting a show is kind of like driving a car—you understand what all the mechanics of it are, and then once you get that down, you can be yourself. I’ve been doing this for so long that I understand how to operate the mechanics, and I can still be myself. That frees me up to actually be invested and talk to the people.”

But, even the seasoned host knows that not everything that hits the air works. “The only thing you can do when you’re making a show is say, ‘Do I like this? Do I feel like this is a good show?’ Then when you put stuff out there, you never know what people are going to respond to or what they’re not going to respond to.”

He does feel that the success of the show is because, “There’s a little bit of something for everyone—it’s about relationships, so there’s that element. Then there’s the element for people who just like watching a game. Then there’s the stakes being upped and there’s the level of money. I think at the end of the day, it’s just—it’s human.”

Talking about what the production team looks for in contestants, Carter explained, “For LeBron and myself, when we started developing this game with Andrew, one of the things we always talked about was looking for contestants who were important in their community, but also really had a plan for the money. One of the questions we talk to them about is, ‘What will you do with the money?’ If the answer is, “Move to Florida and buy a big house and a couple cars,’ that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for people who really want to change their lives, their family lives, and the people in their community.”

The big money prize isn’t just to gain attention for the show, said Hardwick. “It’s legitimately life‑changing money, and I don’t want that to be lost on anyone and to be taken for granted. On every level, this show raises the stakes. On a financial level, it raises the stakes, on an emotional level, on an empathy level, on a competition level, and on a level of just chance.”

Because contestants can walk away with that life-altering cash, Glassman says the producers make a conscious effort to stay in touch with former contestants. “One thing I always [say to] them as they leave is, ‘don’t be a stranger, and let us know how it’s going.’ We definitely feel fondly about everyone who comes to our stage.”

Having worked on other competition shows, Hardwick added, “I think you have to understand, most game shows, there’s really kind of a turnstile. The contestants, they just kind of come in and answer the questions, and they win money or they don’t, and they leave. But this show really spends time with people. There’s is a level of empathy that exists.”

Carter talked about one of the series’ early success stories. “[There was this couple], John and Angel. LeBron and myself actually delivered them their winnings, and we had a conversation with them about what they were going to do with it. They were very committed to helping the community. They have two kids, and they want to raise them in a community that was great for the kids. When we took them the money, to see their faces, to see how excited they were, and to really hear what they were going to do, was amazing.”

Giving a final topical reason to tune into The Wall, Hardwick said, “You know, it feels like a very stressful time in the world. There are so many things that kind of remind you, like, ‘Ah, the world is toxic.’ So to have a safe haven for this hour of television [in which] you know that good people can have their lives changed and do positive things with that, it feels really nice.”

‘The Wall’ airs Thursday nights at 9pm e/p on NBC.