[06/02/08 - 12:27 AM]
Interview: "The Mole" Host Jon Kelley
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

You're amongst a group of people trying to achieve a common goal but someone � one of those around you � is sabotaging your every move. The only problem is that you have no idea who the dastardly SOB is. No, we're not talking about your 9-5 job. We're talking about ABC's reality game "The Mole," which returns to the air Monday after a four-year absence.

Here's how the wildly popular game is played - 12 contestants are sent on difficult missions around the globe and, while working to accomplish the task at hand, each contestant must also figure out which one of their teammates is "the Mole," a saboteur trying to keep them from winning a large cash prize. After each mission is accomplished, the contestants take a quiz to see who they suspect the mole to be. The contestant that is knows the least about the mole's identity is "executed" out of the game. Ouch.

While there have been four installments of "The Mole" since it first premiered in 2001 (two non-celebrity and two celebrity versions), this new, non-celebrity edition has the primary components of the original game with some exciting tweaks to bring the game into the present day. With a fan base dubbed "Mole-aholics," and a broader inclusion of the Internet, "The Mole" is set to be one of the wildest reality show rides this summer.

One of the most obvious differences with the fifth edition of "The Mole" is the host. Following in the footsteps of a pre-CNN Anderson Cooper and Ahmad Rashad, Jon Kelley steps in to guide the contestants from adventure to adventure. Speaking from Los Angeles, Kelley, former co-anchor on the weekend edition of Extra as well as veteran sports broadcaster, is not exactly keeping how feels about his new job a secret. "I've been in this business for over 15 yrs and I can say without hesitation that this one of the coolest, unique gigs I've ever had due to the travel - going to South America and enjoying that - as well as the intriguing and challenging way the show is done." How does Kelley feel about taking the torch that was once held by Cooper, who has gone on to much bigger things as one of the most respected newsmen in the business today? He admits that Cooper set the bar pretty high since he hosted the first two non-celebrity versions of "The Mole." However, Kelley didn't take that as a cue that he should mimic Cooper's hosting style himself. In fact, Kelley revealed that he intentionally didn't spend a lot of time prepping for his duties. "I didn't go into any preconceived notions on how to do the job. I wanted everything to organically take place so I could watch the show as it unfolds." Like the contestants throughout the game, Kelley is not any more privy to the identity of the Mole as they are. Instead, he says his job is to be the contestant's, "virtual tour guide" in that he is the one who throws them curve balls along with the twists and turns. In many ways, though, he is playing the game along with the contestants in that he also was trying to figure out the identity of the mole.

And, as we all know, you can't ignore the power of the Internet when launching a new or returning show on the television landscape. That power has only grown since "The Mole" left the air in 2004, a bit of knowledge that was not lost on Kelley and the producers of the show. "When I met with the producers," Kelley explained. "They were excited that they were bringing the show back but [they also wanted] to include the viewers who love [to experience] the show in a more intimate/interactive way." So, in this new edition, the Internet will become an important part of the show. Not only will John be doing a blog where he can share his personal reaction and observations of the occurrences on each episode, but viewers will also be able to take the exact same quiz that contestants will be taking on the show so they can guess who the mole is right alongside the contestants. Also, as contestants are "executed" out of the game, video interviews and blogs will also give the viewers more insight into how the experience was for each ousted player.

In addition, "The Mole" experience is truly one that does not end with the actual viewing of the episode. In fact, that's just the beginning. Kelley added that a perfect example of how closely the fans of the show are tied to the Internet can be found in the vast number of people who have already logged onto the "Mole" site on www.abc.com. That's not highly unusual except that fans started posting theories on who they think the mole is before the first episode has aired basing their theories on the "Mole" website and by breaking down the ads. Since the www.abc.com site has multiple versions of the commercials that fans can watch over and over, the opportunity exists to scrutinize every bit of every frame shown. The site will truly grow after the first episode airs, which suits Kelley and the producers just fine. The additional interactive elements don't stop with the computer, though. Viewers that cannot get enough of the show can also sign up for mobile alerts to receive more clues and information. And, of course, you can join fan pages on popular sites Facebook and MySpace.

Finally, there would be no "Mole" without the twelve contestants. After having celebrity editions over the previous two seasons, the contestants are now regular people and, as Kelley points out, the show has, "12 great characters---loveable ones, the villain, the comedian. We have them all." He stated that the new contestants definitely have an advantage over those in the first installments. All twelve players this season, he said, were also fans of the show so, "they came in knowing intricacies of what makes ['The Mole'] a great game and how to be a great player." But, Kelley warned against typecasting the contestants that you see in the first episode because, in playing the game to their advantage, he said that, "some of the players were chameleons who came in and would change episode to episode so they were good at keeping people off balance." With everything these contestants will go through over the course of the game, Kelley points out that once the experience is condensed, it becomes a very concentrated test of the player's individual mental and emotional capacity.

Time will tell the identity of the Mole but from the ads, the internet buzz and the strong fan base from previous seasons, there's no doubt that the producers of "The Mole" are using every element they can possibly think of to make sure there are many more "Moles" to come.

  [june 2008]  


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