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‘You in?’ – The return of ‘Cash Cab’ with Ben Bailey

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Discovery Channel's Emmy-Award winning "Cash Cab" is back with a few updates after a five-year hiatus. Host Ben Bailey drives unsuspecting passengers to their destination while they answer increasingly difficult trivia questions for cash. New episodes air Sundays at 10 pm on Discovery. Discovery Channel's Emmy-Award winning "Cash Cab" is back with a few updates after a five-year hiatus. Host Ben Bailey drives unsuspecting passengers to their destination while they answer increasingly difficult trivia questions for cash. New episodes air Sundays at 10 pm on Discovery. (photo courtesy of Discovery Channel)

An unsuspecting person, hand raised, stands curbside somewhere in New York City. A clean taxi approaches and the passenger takes a seat in the back while stating their destination. The driver, with head bowed, mumbles in a strange voice as the passenger looks on with concern.

Suddenly a fanfare blast of music jolts the passenger upright as the inner ceiling of the taxi begins flashing a bank of multi-colored lights. The driver turns toward his passenger and says “You’re in the ‘Cash Cab!’ It’s a TV game show that takes place right here in my taxi. What do you say, want to play?” 

“Cash Cab” - the unique mobile game show which aired on Discovery Channel from 2005 to 2012, is back with Emmy Award-winning host Ben Bailey. The rebooted version of the show premiered in early December, and can be seen each Sunday at 10 pm.

New episodes of “Cash Cab” feature a few updates to the game but the basic premise remains the same.

Bailey, a licensed New York City taxi driver (though with a busy stand-up comedy career, he only operates the “Cash Cab”) asks his passengers general knowledge trivia questions in several progressive levels of difficulty, each worth more money, all the way to their destination.

As long as they answer the questions correctly, contestants may continue to rack up cash and remain in the “Cash Cab” until their destination is reached. They are allowed only two incorrect answers without losing any money. If they answer incorrectly three times, Bailey pulls over and kicks the contestant to the curb with no winnings.

In actuality, Bailey is as congenial as a cab driver can be when he ejects losing contestants from the “Cash Cab.” All contestants are informed upfront that being booted mid-ride is a potential hazard of the game.

If the “Cash Cab” stops at a red light during a game, the contestant is issued a “Red Light Challenge” where Bailey presents a question with multiple correct answers (usually 4 to 7). The contestant has 30 seconds to come up with the minimum number of correct answers in order to win a cash bonus. There is no penalty for incorrect answers in the Red Light Challenge.

During the regular Q&A portion of the game, if a contestant has difficulty coming up with the correct answer on their own, they are allowed two shout-outs. The first is a street shout-out, whereby Bailey pulls up to the sidewalk while the passenger selects a random pedestrian to assist them with the correct answer.

The other shout-out is an update of the “mobile shout-out” from the previous version of the game, when passengers used a cell phone to call a friend or family member for assistance.

The new version of “Cash Cab” offers a social media shout-out, where Bailey and his passengers go live on social media to ask for assistance. As Ben Bailey states in our interview, this is an element of the new show that he was unsure about that has turned out to be one of his favorite aspects of the game.

Adding to the fun and unpredictability of the new version of “Cash Cab” is the celebrity element. Each episode has featured a different celebrity who opens the door of the “Cash Cab” only after the unaware passengers inside have agreed to the rules of the game.

As the contestant tries to process the fact that they are sharing a cab with Brooke Shields, Matthew Perry or one of the cast of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the celebrity rides along, offering assistance if they know the answer, or comedy and commentary if they don’t.

When a contestant finally arrives at their destination, they are given the option of taking the money or risking it all on a double-or-nothing video bonus question. If they accept, Bailey rolls a brief clip in the “Cash Cab” and asks one question related to the video. If they answer correctly, the contestant exits the “Cash Cab” with twice the money. An incorrect answer means they walk with nothing but a free cab ride.

For this Maine Edge cover feature on “Cash Cab”, I interviewed show-host Ben Bailey in mid-December, shortly after the premiere of the new season. Before I share that interview with you, here are a few choice “Cash Cab” facts.

*“Cash Cab” was created by Adam Wood and originated in the U.K. in 2005 before its concept was licensed to other countries. John Moody hosted the U.K. version while the questions were asked in voice-overs by Anabelle Raftery.

*To date, there have been 56 global versions of the program, including “Gold Taxi” (Taiwan), “Claro Cash Cab” (Jamaica), “מונית הכסף” (Israel), “Nova Taxi” (Czech Rebublic), and “Quiz Taxi eXtreme” (Austria).

*Like the previous version of “Cash Cab,” Ben Bailey wears an ear-piece to receive the questions for the game, provided by a show employee riding behind in a support vehicle.

*40 episodes of “Cash Cab” were filmed in 2005. 40 more were shot in 2006. 80 episodes were created in 2007. 40 episodes were shot in 2008, followed by another 40 episodes taped for 2010 and 2011.

*When Bailey began hosting “Cash Cab” in 2005, he says it was difficult to find passengers who wanted to play the game. After the program had been on the air for a few months, it became easier to find willing contestants.

*Ben Bailey is driving a relatively new taxi in the rebooted version of “Cash Cab”. The original is sitting at home in his garage.

*The largest “Cash Cab” payout to date was $6,200, won in 2011 by a contestant named Sam, who doubled his winnings with a video bonus question about the Bonneville Salt Flats.

*Every ride in the “Cash Cab” is free, although Bailey must abide by NYC taxi commission rules by logging every trip. Keen viewers may see him hit the meter in the “Cash Cab” but contestants never pay a fare.

*One of the executive producers of the new version of “Cash Cab” is director and comedian David Steinberg (“Seinfeld,” “Friends,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), host of Showtime’s “Inside Comedy.”

*Ben Bailey maintains a busy stand-up comedy career and has filmed a number of specials, including “Road Rage and Accidental Ornithology” (available on Amazon Prime) and the new “Live and Uncensored,” available on iTunes and through his website,

*Ben Bailey has appeared on episodes of “30 Rock,” “Hope and Faith” and “MadTV.”

*As host of “Cash Cab”, Ben Bailey won the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Game Show Host” in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The show itself won Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Game Show” in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

*Ben Bailey hosts a storytelling podcast called “Tall But True” with comedian D.C. Benny and a different special guest in each episode.

A conversation with “Cash Cab” host Ben Bailey

TME: I am so happy that “Cash Cab” is back with new shows. Did you miss doing the show when production stopped in 2011?

Bailey: I stayed pretty busy once the show wrapped, but I honestly missed doing “Cash Cab” to some extent. At the time that we stopped, I think I was feeling a little burned out. We did so many shows in such a short period of time that I was like ‘All right. A little respite will be good.’ A year or two into that, it occurred to me that it would be fun to get out there and drive the “Cash Cab” around again and see all the people.

TME: How many episodes have you filmed as part of this new season of “Cash Cab”?

Bailey: As of right now, we’ve filmed a handful of episodes, and I think we’re going to see how those shows do before we actually commit to getting back out there for a long period of time. It’s the usual television game. You make some shows and you air them and then you wait to find out if you’re going to make anymore.

TME: It’s been fun to watch celebrities get in the “Cash Cab” to try to help the contestants win money. Gilbert Gottfried was hilarious even if he didn’t manage to come up with one correct answer.

Bailey: (laughs) He was great. It’s been really cool for me to meet these people. I knew some of them but I’m meeting others for the first time. In addition to Gilbert, we’ve got Jeff Garlin and Susie Essman of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Scott Bakula from “Quantum Leap,” Matthew Perry from “Friends,” Dave Foley and Brooke Shields. Am I forgetting anyone?

It’s just exciting for me to have these people get in the cab. I’m a fan of their work and it’s fun to be there as they try to help the contestants rack up some cash.

TME: I love the fact that you’ve updated the game somewhat but the blueprint hasn’t changed. For me, “Cash Cab” might be the most perfectly designed game show ever.

Bailey: That’s high praise indeed. The celebrity element of the new “Cash Cab” really ratchets up the excitement level. The contestants are already blown away that they’re in the “Cash Cab”, and then Brooke Shields walks up and opens the door and it’s kind of mind-blowing. This woman goes ‘Oh my God, you look just like Brooke Shields!’ (laughs)



TME: You’ve said that when the show started in 2005, it was tricky to find passengers who wanted to play the game. When the news broke that the show was coming back, I started watching the series from the beginning with my fiancé.

(Note: All previous episodes are available on demand with the Discovery Go app. We watch them via Roku.)

It was during the second season when people started to recognize you because they had seen the show. That’s when you started altering your voice and looking away until you hit the music and lights.

Bailey: That’s right. I needed to try to keep it a secret for as long as I could so we could get their reaction on camera. If they see me from the street, and they know the show, we don’t get that reaction because they’ve already figured it out. That’s when I started to turn or hide my head and use a different voice or accent to try to catch them off guard a little. If I acted weird enough, I could distract them from what was really going on and then we could capture their reaction.

TME: Some really cool things have happened on “Cash Cab” that simply could not be scripted or planned in advance. Last night we watched an episode with two brothers who had apparently hated each other for their entire lives. For some reason, they had to share a cab and it turned out to be the “Cash Cab.” They put aside their differences and joined forces to win money. In the process, they became brothers again. They apologized to each other and hugged it out. It was a very cool moment and you could tell from the emotion, and from your reaction, that it was 100 percent genuine.

Bailey: First of all, I had completely forgotten about that until you just brought it back. Wow. That was totally real and pretty amazing. I forget the circumstances, but they had been estranged for years and refused to even speak to each other.

Now that I think of it, there are probably more instances where brothers started fighting in the “Cash Cab” (laughing) than there are brothers who stopped fighting.

On one of the new episodes, there are two brothers who spend most of their time in the “Cash Cab” beating the crap out of each other. They’re yelling and screaming through the whole game. When we were taping it I had no idea that they were being so violent back there.

TME: You shoot episodes in the daytime and at night. Which do you prefer and how do daytime and nighttime contestants differ?

Bailey: Shooting episodes at night is better for a whole slew of reasons - the number one reason being traffic. It’s just easier to get around the city at night. Number two, everything looks better at night, including the lights in the “Cash Cab”.

 The contestants at night are generally not in such a hurry as they are in the daytime, trying to get to work or to business things. At night they’re usually going to dinner or going to a show or a movie. They tend to be a little more laid back.

A lot of people who get into the “Cash Cab” during the daytime can’t play because they’re running late for work or something else. They just need to get to where they’re going. Playing at night alleviates that problem to some degree.

TME: How do you like the new ‘social media shout-out’ which replaced the ‘mobile shout-out’ of the previous show?

Bailey: I love that new feature of the show. Honestly, I was a little unsure about it when we decided we were going to do it but it’s been great so far. I think it’s my favorite part of the new show. When the contestants choose to use their social media ‘shout-out,’ we pull over and go live on social media from the “Cash Cab”. We get all kinds of crazy answers but the correct answer is usually in the mix. I was skeptical at first but it’s worked out so well. It’s a great feature of the new show. I should do it to promote my stand-up shows.

(Note: Bailey and his contestants have used Facebook Live 15 times to date for social media shout-outs on “Cash Cab.” Each of those clips, recorded last June, are archived on the “Cash Cab” Facebook page.)

TME: It’s been fun to see the reaction from contestants when they realize they’re in the “Cash Cab”. You can tell that a lot of them are fans of the show and they seem genuinely shocked that they’re in there with you. I’m guessing part of that is because they were unaware that the show is back in production.

Bailey: That’s right. Everyone kind of thought it was over - including me. In a way, I think that’s a good thing because we can hopefully surprise people a little more.

(“Cash Cab” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Discovery.)


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