Peter Sagal's "Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!" in Talks to Become TV Show

September 9th, 2008

'Wait' may soon get answer on TV vision
Phil Rosenthal

What popular radio quiz show has cut a deal to produce a television pilot that could lead to fame, fortune and quite possibly a regular makeup artist assigned to Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell?

Wait, wait . . . don't tell you?

No, “Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!”

Following the lead of Chicago Public Radio stablemate “This American Life,” “Wait, Wait” has moved a step closer to expansion into TV—or reduction, depending how big your screen is.
National Public Radio, which produces “Wait” with Chicago Public Radio, confirmed Monday it has an agreement with CBS Entertainment to produce a video sample to see how the wry decade-old quiz show with a weekly audience of nearly 2.7 million listeners on 450 stations might translate.

If the TV people footing the bill for the pilot are pleased, they'll pay NPR to help produce a series, although it's not yet known whether that would be for network television or syndication.

Right now, all CBS Entertainment and NPR have is an agreement and high hopes, along with host Sagal, judge/scorekeeper Kasell and creator/executive producer Doug Berman. Oh, and the title and irreverence too.

“We're excited,” Margaret Low Smith, NPR's vice president of programming, said by phone. “For a long time, we've known 'Wait, Wait' had very special potential.”

At one point, just to see what such a marriage of their radio show to something more visual might look like, the radio people taped it for themselves and quickly discovered they were very good—at producing radio.

“The radio show as just the radio show isn't a visual experience,” Smith said. “They really are distinct media.”

Turning radio shows into TV shows used to practically be the rule in U.S. television's early days.

It is hardly unprecedented in public radio, where Ira Glass' “This American Life,” which Chicago Public Radio produces for Public Radio International, has run on CBS-owned Showtime. And “Car Talk,” which also was created by “Wait, Wait's” Berman, this summer launched an animated PBS spinoff, “Click and Clack's As the Wrench Turns.”

“The difference is that wasn't really taking ['Car Talk'] and translating it,” Smith said. “It was using the guys and garage and transforming them to an animated fiction.”

Disney once experimented with Michael Feldman's quiz show, “Whad'ya Know?” and Smith even recalls a TV adaptation of NPR's signature “All Things Considered,” although details are sketchy, speaking to just how well it must have turned out.

But it's a tricky business knowing what parts of a radio show to include and what to drop for TV, making Glass' Peabody Award-winning Showtime triumph all the more remarkable, and raising the bar for NPR and CBS in preserving and enhancing what makes “Wait” worth the wait each week.

“At its core, the integrity and the smarts of the show are what has to, and will, sustain it,” Smith said, “on television and on radio.”