From radio to television for NPR's "Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me"

December 21st, 2011

By David Weigand (San Francisco Chronicle)
Dec. 21, 2011

Back in the mid-20th century, many of the earliest TV shows got their start in radio. Such classics as “I Love Lucy,” ”The Jack Benny Program” and “Gunsmoke” were all heard before they were seen. So, in other words, there is precedent for BBC American to team up with National Public Radio to bring the latter’s charming and quirky “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me” to television.

Launched in 1998 by NPR and Chicago Public Radio, “Wait Wait” is a weekly hour-long radio quiz show featuring a panel of celebrities who answer fairly obvious questions and then riff about politics, the state of the world and other knee-slapper topics. BBC America TV broadcast of a year-end edition of the show, at 8 p.m. Friday, isn’t the first time fans will get to see as well as hear host Peter Sagal and announcer Carl Kasell – the show has toured live for several years now.

Panelists for the year-end special include American comics Paula Poundstone and Alonzo Bodden and British comic and TV personality Nick Hancock. Most, but not all, of the questions focus on the U.S., which may seem to put Hancock at a disadvantage, but the questions don’t necessarily call for a master’s degree in contemporary American life. The alleged object of the game is for panelists to score points, but, in fact, it’s really about the panelists scoring laughter from the studio audience, which they all do to varying levels of success.

Bodden is the funniest of the trio, with the quickness of his wit on display when a question is asked about how the lower U.S. credit rating might affect President Obama’s re-election bid: “Do you really think you can scare a black man by lowering his credit rating?” Bodden asks. Observing the proliferation of tents among the Occupy protesters around the country, Poundstone suggests REI might be the real force behind the demonstrations. And Hancock has great fun asking the Yanks to explain the differences between the various Republican presidential candidates.

Author Neil Gaiman (“Coraline”) is also on hand to answer questions supposedly outside his field of expertise. In this case, it’s questions about the royal wedding, many of which have to do with Pippa Middleton.

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