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Jim Peck GALACTICA.TV interview
Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Some time ago Mike Egnor caught up with Jim Peck, better known to Battlestar Galactica 1978 fans for his part as the Commentator on Caprica, reporting the Cylon attack on the Colonies. Though this was his only movie role, which he got through his friend, director Richard Colla, Jim Peck is well known as a game show host in the 70s-80s. We talk about his career, his part on Saga of a Star world and what he's up to these days.

This is Mike Egnor for GALACTICA.TV and today I'm talking to actor Jim Peck. Mr. Peck I want to take the time to thank you for doing this interview.

First of all, call me Jim and I'm delighted to do it.

Alright Jim. First question, let's start at the beginning. What made you decide to go into acting?

Actually, I went into acting when I was in college. Then I really got away from it. You're looking at one of two instances of my acting in my entire professional career. The only one that was on film was Battlestar Galactica. I did one other play in Los Angeles some years ago called The Tree in the Middle of the Garden. It was a Ron Alexander play. Other than that, I've not been an actor. I was a talk show host, a game show host, a home shopping host, you name it. If you wanted to pave your driveway and wanted me to cut the ribbon and talk about it for ten minutes, I'd come over and do it.

Okay (laughing). I looked over on IMDb.com and it lists your first TV experience on a show called Honey Bridges.

No.

That's not true?

No. I don't know how it got in there. They must have had me confused with someone. There are a couple of James Pecks around. There's also a J. Eddie Peck who did, or may still be doing soap operas for all I know, but I did not do that.

Okay. You're also credited or miscreditted as being in the film Pet Cemetery II.

No. I wish I had been. I'd probably be getting checks.

And The People vs. Larry Flint?

No.

Okay.

Sorry. Other than that, how's the interview going? (both laughing) There's nothing like working with really good first rate material.

You're exactly right! So, let's talk about the game show experience. How did you get involved with that?

It was something that I kind of thought of doing. I was at a station here in Milwaukee, and I'd done news, I'd done talk, commercials, and all those sort of things. And I thought: "Well, what else can I do?", and I had been watching these game shows and I thought: "Shucks, I can do that!". So I got an appointment, I told people I was coming to New York, and I got appointments with game show producers. One of them, Ron Greenberg, was doing The Who, What or Where Game at the time. They had a show that was ready to present to the network and didn't have a host anymore, and he was willing to take a shot on me, even though I hadn't done it before. So I went in and did a run through for him. He liked it and we ended up doing the program, and it was called The Big Showdown. It went on the air about a year and a half later on ABC. That was my first game show.



Jim Peck     Jim Peck

Jim Peck

Jim Peck as a gameshow host on various shows



Where you nervous starting out? Did it take time to adjust to the format?

No. Adjusting to the format wasn't too tough. Especially when you do that first shot, you do have nerves. Back when I did the pilot for The Big Showdown, there was still the rule that you couldn't rig a pilot. It was close enough to the game show scandal, that any kind of "fabrication", if you will, was just impossible. What that meant, was that you had to do a pilot just as if it was a show; you didn't know if you were going to have a winner. I need to explain that a little bit. These pilots are tested. They have test audiences, they push buttons, they make notes when they like something, they make notes when they don't like something.

Obviously it works best when they have a winner. Now this is a show that never is going to be on the air, so now the procedure is to make sure that you have a winner, so people can look at the show the way it would be on the air and get that excitement. Back then, you had to do it for real and it was nerve racking because if you did the pilot and you didn't have a winner, it would be kind of a downer. The chances of that one selling when you had the big excitement ... "That's RIGHT, you have just won a trip to... whatever!!!" is kind of pale in comparison.

How is it different to being a game show host and being an actor?

The main difference, I guess, is that game shows are all ad lib. Other than the rules of the show, there is no preparation, because I can't prepare for what you might say in answer to a question. Whereas in acting, obviously you have a script, you have your character development, you have your lines to give, and you're getting your motivation from the director as well. For game shows you get out there and wait, and if you ad lib well it's just more fun than anything.

Let me ask you this. What don't we see on TV when we watch every episode. What is there behind the scenes...

Things you wouldn't see... For example you wouldn't see a situation that had happened to me. I was doing a show, I think it was... it doesn't matter, I can't remember which show it was. I've been always very quick at adding. Someone would buzz in and I'd say (speedtalking): "That's right for $25, that gives you $50, would you like to go on for another $25? Next question. That's right! You now have $75, etc." and I misadded at one point... Nobody realized it and we were going along and about 4 minutes later somebody, the director, calls "Cut!". The person who was doing the machine who gives the read-out of how much money each person is getting, was taking his queue from me instead of adding it himself on his machine. So he just put in the wrong number and finally somebody realized it. 

So then we had to stop and go back. Everybody gets to keep the money that was erroneously rewarded, so you have to be very careful about that. But then you need to go back to the point where I'm giving the wrong amount and we'd edit and say: "That's right, you have $75 and now move on for $100." Something like that you wouldn't see. Normally on a game show, most game shows, it's done live to tape, so very seldom there is a cut. There might be... I remember I was doing Joker's Wild. The person would pull the handle down on the big slot machine and once a season you could count that handle coming off. The person would be standing there with the handle in his hand and of course you'd have to stop the tape, put it back, and then do an edit. Some things like that.

Well, let me ask you this. You talked about, in the first example, that you had to go back three or four questions prior and redo the math. Would you follow that with the next question by the person that got it right and ask that same question and let that person answer correctly?

No. You'd have to... That's where it gets very tricky and why you try not to do any editing in game shows... That would be up to the standards and practices of people. There is somebody there either form the network or from syndication at all times during the taping, and they would make that distinction on how it would work. If you could see, you'd see that it would really annoy somebody that got the lead and now you need to go back and redo it and they don't know the answer to the next question. That's up to them and usually when you'd have a stop like that, which are very rare, but I imagine I'd try to get my foot in that one. It takes about a half hour to forty five minutes before you can continue the show, because everybody needs to be in agreement on it.

Okay. I've read there was an interesting experience that you've had in Joker's Wild that ended up still being shown on TV. Do you know what I'm talking about?

If you're talking about what I think you're talking about. That actually occurred in The Big Showdown, where I made my entrance and instead of just walking through the curtain or being thrown on the podium, we had a set where it was thought it would be a wonderful idea to have me coming down a spiral stair case. Now I am, I've got to tell, the most un-gamely person in life (laughing). I at one point hit the wrong part of that stair and went right on my butt and bounced all the way down the stairs. I said something that got a laugh and I thought: "Oh, I better keep going. If the producer wants to stop, that's up to him." So I got up and continued, and the producer was sitting up in the booth and said: "Oh, that was a wonderful moment. Jim is fine. They loved it so let's leave it in." That was actually just on the air about a week ago again on one of the blooper shows. And the nice thing about it is, that they still send me a check (both laughing). It hurt my feelings at the time and other parts of my anatomy, but it's nice to get that.



You can view the video of Jim Peck's fall on The Big Showdown by clicking on the "PLAY" button below to start.




Jim Peck's fall on The Big Showdown



Do you ever watch yourself on the game show network?

I have not. I am told that some of my stuff is up there periodically. I don't mind watching myself. I can watch myself and it's like looking at somebody different. I don't get the feeling that I'm looking at me. I just don't happen to catch video.

You don't have one?

I don't

Let me ask you this. Who would you consider the best game show host?

I would say Monty Hall. Monty was just an icon as far as I was concerned. He understood game shows better than virtually anyone I ever met. He's very, very smart. Let's Make a Deal is one of the best classic game shows. He just knew how to present the dilemma to the person and then got out of the shot and let the camera get the contestants face. "What am I going to do? Am I going to take this thing or am I going to go for something that might be better or worse?" and he'd have to make that decision. Monty was just a pro at that. He was also a very good actor by the way and did some television. I don't know if he did movies, but he did some television. He never got the credit he deserved for the talent he has. He's still in great shape. I saw him at a lecture about a year ago in LA. He's very active and he really looks good. Other than the fact that his hair is white, it looks like Monty. He's as charming as he ever was.

That's wonderful. Let me move on. You were the host of the television show Divorce Court?

Yes.

Can you tell me honestly... Were these real couples or were they just actors?

No, no, these were real. The cases were real, but the people were actors. You can't get people to reenact their divorce, especially when the subject would be wife beating, or husband beating, or whatever it might happen to be. So, the first year we did it, we used actual cases. I think it was the second or third year, when we went to a more dramatized version based on a real case. So we would take, Oh Gosh... The issue was... I'll just pull one out of my hat: The husband never wanted to spend money, whatever. Then we would write around them. We would write a script for that. Those were actors always from the beginning. I think the first three years, all of the attorneys actually were attorneys.

They didn't have to be practicing, but they had to have been admitted to the state bar of California and that was great fun. We had people like judge Kean. Judge Kean was a judge on that show and he had been a judge out there for twenty years. He was the original judge on the Manson trial. So he was very well known and a lot of the attorneys would practice before him to audition to come on the show. It was great fun, because there'd be a lot of interplay, you couldn't do in court. They would banter back and forth with each other.

I want to make a note for our listeners and I don't expect you to remember, but Anne Lockhart from Battlestar Galactica, who played Sheba, appeared as Mrs. Meechum in one of the episodes.

That's funny. I did not know that. She undoubtedly had no idea I had been in Battlestar Galactica. (laughing) Nobody would know. I don't know how you found out that I was in Battlestar Galactica! I think I was on screen for less than a second.

Well, I'm going to tell you how I found that out.

Okay!

Back, before VCR tapes and DVDs, they had these big discs. What are they called? Laserdiscs?

Oh, yeah!

The three part "Saga of a Star World" was made into one of those and on the back of it they gave more credits than you'll see anywhere else.

Oh, that's where that shows up! Thank you for clearing that up.

And you're credited as a "Commentator" on the series.

Yeah, it was sort of like the Hindenburg disaster, where the guy is out there and suddenly witnesses this. If I remember the script correctly, this was supposed to be a big peace conference and I was covering that and suddenly the Cylons come over and instead of peace, they destroy the planet.



Jim Peck as Commentator on Battlestar Galactica 1978

Jim Peck as Commentator on Battlestar Galactica 1978



...they start bombing the planet.

And I said at the beginning: "So and so, and so and so and this is a wonderful day... Oh my God what is happening?" and then it just falls apart. People are running past fires and explosions are going off. I'm trying to scream into the microphone what's happening. Then I think I'm just breaking down saying I've got to try and find my family. I think that was about the end of it. Not that that was ever heard by anyone, I might add! (laughing)

Well, as a result what happened was we see your face for less than a second and we see bombing the background and we assume you have gotten killed.

It was the first time I got bombed, yeah.

What people may not know is that the audio over the top of the whole sequence was actually from your scene. If you don't mind I'm going to play a few seconds of that.

I'd love to hear it. I love to listen to myself. That's perfect.

Here's the audio for the bombing of Caprica (playing audio). Do you recognize yourself from that?

Yes, I do. I don't know if anyone else would, but I know what to listen for and I'm the voice kind of in the background (doing high pitched voice): "I can't believe they're doing this and that sort of thing". I'm afraid that was the extend of my emotions. (laughing)

After you mentioned it. It's very reminiscent of the report of the Hindenburg burning.

That's what I was thinking of when I was doing it. It had to be that sort of a moment.

Let's back up. When you got the part, had you ever heard of Battlestar Galactica?

No. What happened was... The way so many things happen in Hollywood, I had a college friend who was a director. I was talking with him one day and he said he was doing a movie and said: "I have never done a movie. If any of your movies ever needs a spear carrier or an extra or something. I'd just love to be in one to see how it goes." He said: "Oh fine. That would be fun." Maybe a couple of months later I get a call from his assistant and his name is Richard Colla, by the way. Richard Colla's assistant said he had something for me to do and I think it was the Long Beach Civic Center where we shot that. It was going to be done that night at such  and such a time, and I thought: "How neat. That's going to be fun."

I took my son, and we drove down to Long Beach, and I went there and found someone and said: "I'm Jim Peck. I'm a friend of Mr. Colla." and he said: "Oh yes. Here's your trailer." and took me to a trailer. I thought: "That's snappy for just someone who's going to stand there and hold a spear." and they said: "Your wardrobe is in there and make-up will come by." I started to get nervous, because this was sounding a little more involved than just the guy who walks past with an envelope or something. And then the assistant hands me this page of dialogue and I said: "What's this?" and she says: "That's your dialogue, for your scene." "Oh boy!"

How much time was that before the actual shoot?

Oh, it turned out to be about forty minutes. I've got single spaced typed, one full page and I look at it and I think: "Oh my Lord, this is describing the end of the world." So the only thing that kept me calm, and I'm serious about this, was that this is my friend directing it and he‘ll get me through it. He'll not let me down, he'll get me through this. I keep waiting for him and I stuck my head out of the trailer a couple of times and they say: "Oh yes, Mr. Colla is coming. He knows that you're here." So now my friend shows and says: ‘Yeah, it looks good. Make-up looks good."

He's the one who suggested the mustache by the way. So I say: "What do I do with this thing?" and he looked me right square in the eye, full sincerity and says: "Find the truth in it." ...and left! (laughing) I thought: "If I hadn't been so petrified, I would have killed him." (laughing) Well, I memorized it and got out there, and I still figure: "He's going to work with me." Sure, he came over and put his arm around me and said: "There are all these explosions and all this stuff, and if we have to reset this it will take an extra two hours, so see if you can do this in one take." and left again. That son of a... I did it. I got through it and we did it in one take. Everybody seemed pleased with it.

Then the ironic thing was that he and the producers had a disagreement. He left as director and they basically came back and cut everybody who had basically anything to do with him out of the show. (laughing)



Jim Peck as Commentator on Battlestar Galactica 1978

Jim Peck as Commentator on Battlestar Galactica 1978



Do you have any information why he ended up leaving?

No, I don't. It was some personal thing. Difference in vision I think. He and the producer... I think it was the producer, it's going back a long time. They decided that they were just going to do it differently.

Okay.

So, my big scene ended up on the cutting room floor and nobody ever kept a copy of it. I don't expect, mind you, that it was very good but it was the only movie I ever did and I would love to have had a copy of that.

Let me ask you about the costume that you wore. Was that in the trailer? Did you not have a fitting for it beforehand?

No, I wasn't fitted before. They had several sizes, that I remember. As I recall it, it was kind of loose fitting kind of thing. It was typical for science fiction at that time. When you're moving ahead twelve centuries, you're suddenly start dressing like Romans. (laughing) Never quite understood why they did that. It was something like that. It was sort of one size fits all.

Did you get to keep anything from the series? Your page of dialogue.

I probably have the page of dialogue somewhere. I doubt I still have it. I wish I did, but it's probably one of those things that over the years ...probably somebody has it now.

Did you know anybody besides Richard Colla?

Nope. Well, yeah I met... Oh, forget his name. The guy who did the special effects and later did the special effects for Star Wars.

John Dykstra.

Yes. He worked on that show and I did meet him. I didn't get to know him, because my only involvement was going down that one evening, doing the scene. I took my son and we went down together.

Did you see Jane Seymour?

No, I wish I had!  I was in love with Jane Seymour and I never got to meet her. I know, had she met me, we would have been together. (both laughing) Oh, she was stunning.

You said that Richard Colla... You knew that he would take care of you...

Oh yeah. Well, he did. We still laugh about that one when we talk.

Do you still keep in touch with him?

Oh yeah.

What's he up to these days?

He's semi-retired. He did just a ton of directing. He did all the Judith Krantz's mini-series and shows. At one point he had done five pilots, all of which ended up as series. He directed Katharine Heburn in a movie. He directed [Paul] Newman in a movie. He has just done a whole bunch of things. He's still living in Los Angeles. Although him and his wife Denise have a ...that's Denise Alexander who was on Days Of Our Lives for many, many years. They kind of have a wildlife refuge out near Ojai California and he spends a lot of his time out there.

Have you ever seen the episode?

Yes, I did see it. I got invited to the screening. I was all set to sign autographs. (laughing) I think I even stuck the fake mustache in my pocket, so I could put it on and people would recognize me. Here I know what scene it is. I'm just waiting for this thing to happen and I saw directly what you saw and said: "Oh my Lord, there it is. Thank God I didn't invite twenty people!"

Do you remember where the screening was?

No, I don't. It was in Hollywood somewhere, but I don't remember where. It might have been the Director's Guild. I don't recall.



Jim Peck

Jim Peck



So what are you doing these days in your career?

Well, it's funny. I retired in '93. I'm from Wisconsin and I moved back here. I wanted something very different from the twenty years I've spent in Los Angeles. I rented a 600 acre farm out in the far western edge of Wisconsin and spent years, sort of reading, traveling and walking the hills, and at the end of it I thought: "I'm going to go crazy if I don't find something to do." I learned something very important: "Never situate yourself physically outside the area to which they deliver pizza." (both laughing) I just sort of overdid it, so I just started talking to friends for something to do and I graduated from Marquette University, a long time ago.

I was talking to some of the folks there and they're doing some really exciting things. I thought: "That would be fun. I'd enjoy that. Give me a chair for getting back to the University." So I wrote half a dozen letters to various people at Marquette and said this is what I've done for the past twenty five years, and can you find a place for me, and they did. So, now I'm with Marquette and help them with public relations, and alumni outreach, and those sorts of things. That brought me into Milwaukee in '94. After I got here, the folks of the local television station found out I was in town and they wanted to do a series, a history series on Milwaukee, called I Remember Milwaukee. They asked me if I was interested in doing it. It was a ten or twelve part series and I said: "Yeah, that sounds great." and I did.

We are now winding down on our eleventh year of that show and it has been very successful. After seven years we changed the name to I Remember, so it's a hook for which I can interview anyone. For example recently I've interviewed Mickey Rooney, Astin Robertson, Paul Harding, Madeleine Albright...

Who stands out in your mind?

Well, certainly Madeleine Albright. We talked virtually no politics. We talked about her life and she's one of the brightest, most candid and delightful people I've ever met. Very, very smart, very articulate, but very forthcoming. You ask her a question and you'll get an answer. Not the old political dodge answer, but she just talks to you. She talked very forth rightfully about her own background. She never set out to be a Secretary of State. She was a wife and mother and married a terribly wealthy man. He basically came home one day and said: "You know, I'm out of here." She was on her own with her family and went back to school, managed to get her PhD, and invented herself as Madeleine Albright.

That's amazing. So, do you have any hobbies to keep you busy?

Well, I've got two grandchildren and the only negative in my life is that they live in Idaho. So, its tough for me to get out there, but I just love doing that. I'm a compulsive reader. I'll read match box covers if there's nothing else around. I love to hunt, fish, and spend time outside. In Wisconsin there's a wonderful place where you can do all of that. So I guess with all of those things... I'm certainly never bored, I can tell you that.

What if one of your grandchildren comes up to you and tells you that they want to be an actor?

I would say: "Good luck!" I think the best answer to that, that I ever heard was one given to Barbara Walters by Sir Laurence Olivier and she asked him that question. I think she said: "Would you encourage one of your children to become an actor?" and his face looked like he had just looked upon death itself. "Oh Lord no. I would tell them if there was anything, anything you can think of doing other than acting. Go do that. If there's nothing other you can think of than acting, then be an actor." I think that was the best answer I've ever heard. I certainly wouldn't prevent someone from doing it.

It's a wonderful field. Entertainment is a wonderful field to be in. It's like not having to grow up, but it's very tough, it's very competitive. Luck is a huge part in it. That you got to be at the right place at the right time, or they're going to hire somebody else. It happens so often. Like the Battlestar Galactica role. I didn't do anything. Actors, probably a list of fifty actors tried out for the role. They all tried out for parts in that and I got it because I knew somebody and thought nothing about it at the time. The only other thing I did in acting, the play that I mentioned, was the same way. A different friend was directing it and an actor dropped out. He called me and said: "Will you come in and do this?" and I did.

It was great fun and I loved it. Luck is so much a part of this business. No matter what anyone ever tells you: "Don't take rejection personally." Well, why not? (laughing) Who is being rejected I would like to know. They're rejecting you or me, because what we're doing is our performance and either they like it or they don't like it. You can say: "Well, I probably wasn't the right person for the role or the stars weren't in alignment, or whatever it might have been." Boy, you better have a thick skin if you're trying out in this business.

I talked to another actor, asked him the same question, and he said to be persistent, to keep going. He said the best actor that ever lived is probably working as a waiter somewhere, because he just gave up too early.

You know, that's so true and it's not just in acting. When I interviewed Mary Higgins Clark who sold so many books that her publisher sends her on a book tour in a private plane, and I've never heard of that. I've been interviewing writers for over thirty years. It took her six years to sell her first book and I asked her: "Did you ever think of giving up?" and she said: "It never occurred to me that that book wouldn't sell." (laughing) So sometimes being blind, stupid, and ignorant is a great help.

So, how can we catch your Milwaukee program?

Well, unless you're going to send in $25 to Channel Milwaukee, you're going to have to be here, because it's not in syndication. It really is a local program in that sense. I wish I could tell you to watch your listings, but most likely not.

Unless we live in the area. Well Jim, I would like to again thank you for taking the time to do this interview.

No, this was fun.

And I appreciate it so much.

You're a good interviewer and it brought back a lot of good memories, so I thank you.

Follow up:

Since we interviewed Jim Peck, he has added a radio program to his busy life. He is anchor of "Wisconsin's Weekend Morning News" on WTMJ - AM every Saturday morning from 6 to 11. He is heard throughout Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan. If you live outside the area, you can catch his show online at www.620wtmj.com.

His family now includes three grandchildren; Lauren, Liam, and Amelie.

 
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