"You don't mind if I change, right?" teacher-turned-TV-show-host Richard Curtis said to me backstage at Fox 29 on a recent Saturday. "We're two dudes."
We are and I don't, I told him, and he stripped off his button-down shirt. Toned and TV handsome, Curtis, 32, quickly selected a new wardrobe and penciled in his eyebrows before the start of the day's next shoot. Time was of the essence — Curtis had four more tapings to get through, and there were only a few minutes between each one.
Curtis is hosting The ClassH-Room, another change that now brings him to Fox 29's headquarters at Third and Market Streets in Old City every Saturday, when the show films in the station's nightly newscast studio. The day included taping six episodes of the show, which pits teachers and students from local schools against one another in a battle of knowledge about topics covering history, pop culture, trivia, and math. The prize: $500 to the school organization of the winning team's choice. The show started airing Oct. 1.
It's an unlikely gig, but Curtis fits. A technology education teacher at Souderton Area High School in Montgomery County for nearly a decade, he also has some TV experience thanks to South Jersey native Kelly Ripa. Curtis appeared as a guest cohost on Live with Kelly in 2016, when Ripa was between former cohost Michael Strahan and current cohost Ryan Seacrest. The daytime TV host held a contest to find a temporary sidekick, and Curtis came out on top. In fact, his appearance was so successful Ripa asked him to return for several more episodes.
It steamrollered from there, with Curtis landing a notable gig as a guest correspondent on Fox 29's Good Day Philadelphia. He later took nine weeks during the summer to appear on the show daily, popping up in segments alongside hosts Alex Holley and Mike Jerrick. After that run, Curtis received offers for various projects, but he couldn't settle on one until Fox 29 came along with The ClassH-Room.
"It was like, 'Oh, my god, I'm going to understand how to talk to kids.' I'll tell you right now, it's a skill," Curtis said. "I've had the on-the-job training for this show forever."
All those years of leading classrooms made Curtis comfortable dealing with an audience, which he said is "a part of the show, just like students are when they walk into my classroom." At the recent taping, Curtis worked both the 80-person crowd and the three-person teams of teachers and students to create a lively, personable atmosphere.
His students are also literally a part of The ClassH-Room. For a summer assignment, Curtis asked students to brainstorm ideas for the show. He hopes to get interest from other schools before featuring his own, so Souderton won't appear on the show until later in the run. So far, about 100 schools have signed up to participate.
The show's production schedule is intense, Curtis said, but is worth it. Airing weekdays at noon. The ClassH-Room is booked for 156 episodes for its first season, and is already being looked at as a franchise option for other Fox affiliates around the country.
For Curtis, the show represents an opportunity to get the education system some much-needed attention.
"I want this to succeed so badly," said Curtis, who lives in Doylestown. "Not even just for myself or Fox, but for teachers and students, because we don't get this kind of advertisement on a daily basis. You don't hear about the good things that are happening in classrooms enough, and this highlights the best of the best."
Working Monday through Friday leaves only Saturday for filming, but Curtis doesn't plan to walk away from education. If anything, he said, his entertainment work is more of a side hustle — a practice common to many teachers, except instead of bartending or driving for Uber, Curtis is hosting a television game show. Souderton, he said, has been supportive of his journey the whole way.
But being a TV presenter is still pretty new to him. It's a fast-paced environment where mistakes can be costly, and as a new host, Curtis is bound to make a few. One flubbed line at the taping last month, for example, turned into a serious worry for Curtis, who was concerned the error would have to remain in the show.
"Please tell me that can be edited out," he said to laughs from the audience. "No, seriously." To Curtis' relief, it could; he hugged the crew member who gave him the news.
Ultimately, his personable, approachable attitude seems to be the source of Curtis' TV success. He's a likable guy, for sure, and milquetoast in the same way as Ryan Seacrest, his permanent replacement on Live, or pre-Trump-tape Billy Bush, making him an ideal blank slate to lead a show with potential mass appeal.
That doesn't necessarily mean you'll see him host other, more localized versions of The ClassH-Room around the country. Though there is enthusiasm for the show at the network, Fox Television Stations executive vice president of programming and development Stephen Brown said the show would not be syndicated in a style similar to Fox 29's The Q, which briefly ran in seven cities last year. He said that, given the right ratings, the show could be a kind of franchise.
"Somebody in Dallas is not necessarily going to have an affinity for a local school in Philly, but they sure will root for local Dallas schools," Brown said. "They would do their own version of The ClassH-Room — they wouldn't take the Philadelphia version."
Because only a handful of episodes of The ClassH-Room have aired so far on Fox 29, Brown said, it is too early to make a determination about future versions. But he says the show feels like a good fit for Fox's dayside programming, which includes The Q, The Wendy Williams Show, and The Dr. Oz Show. Its fate will rest on whether it retains Fox 29's noon audience or adds new viewers, Brown said.
Curtis isn't too worried about the show, given that he still has an actual classroom with which to be concerned five days a week. Far from feeling overworked, he said his teaching work helps take some of the pressure off his TV gig.
"The TV thing is awesome, but it made me nervous," he said. "Doing both at the same time, while stressful, makes the doubt go away. If it takes off, awesome, but if it doesn't, that's OK as well. But, let's be honest, the show is going to be a hit."
Tapings leave little time to fret over plans for The ClassH-Room. On last month's shoot day, Curtis seemed concerned mostly with just getting through the day, like any other teacher.