Show Reviews (18)
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WML? was a true American TV show classic. Though often called a "game show," it was really considered more of a panel show. Contestants competed for up to fifty bucks, hoping to stump the panel on their line. Each ep also featured a famous mystery guest.
"What's My Line?" was a wildly successful panel show broadcast on CBS. The popular nighttime version lasted for seventeen years, and was followed up by a daytime version with different hosts and in full color. The series lives in nightly repeats on GSN.
I first discovered "What's My Line?" after I got satellite TV and gained access to GSN -- known at the time as Game Show Network. I didn't become a regular watcher of the show at first, but soon came to watch/tape it more and more. Then, I discovered the guide for the show at TV Tome, which became TV.com not long after I discovered the show.
"What's My Line?" featured a fairly simple format for its basic game, but it was one that kept it going for a really long time. Of course, while the game was solid, pretty much everyone agrees it was the excellent host and lively panel that kept the show alive for so long. What many don't know is that when the program first started out, it very nearly sunk. The first episode was very different to what the program later became. People regularly smoked on the show, there was a general feel of lack-of-polish, and the key panel-members were not yet in place.
Though "What's My Line?" was designed as entertainment program, viewers watching it today will learn a lot of interesting history. You'll learn what occupations were common at the time of the show, important news events from those days, key celebrities and figures of influence, as well as other interesting factoids and trivia.
Another fun reason to watch the show was the various rotating panel members and interesting mystery challengers. The program established for a while a regular panel of Arlene Francis, Steve Allen, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Bennett Cerf (father of Christopher Cerf -- co-creator of another of my favorite shows, "Between the Lions.") This was a great team, each with their own style. Kilgallen was great at playing the game and brought some interesting antics. Cerf was a master of bad puns, but also great at the game, and well-respected in his field of publishing. Allen was an excellent humorist and established the show's trademark "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" question. And Francis was a charming star, who always acted with class, and brought a lot of joy to the panel. Other regular panelists included Hal Block, and, after Kilgallen died -- Suzy Knickerbocker and Phyllis Newman. Mystery challengers on the program included everyone from Frank Sinatra to Joe Nuxhall.
If "What's My Line?" had one flaw, it was a tendency to get a bit too talky at times. I would watch full episodes while GSN was airing the program on a weekly basis, but now that they've returned it to daily airings, I've taking to fast-forwarding through some of the talkier portions of the show. It's the only way for me to stay sane. Still, all in all, this is an awesome show that will live forever in television history.moreless
A True Classic!
Although I was born in 1956, I have fond memories of "What's My Line?" In the 1960's my mother would wake me up at 10:00 on Sunday night to watch "Candid Camera" and "What's My Line?" As a child my favorite segments were the Mystery Guest spots. Watching all those big stars gurgle and goo and falsetto and basso profundo their voices to avoid being detected were so funny to me. As an adult, I appreciate even more the wild humor as the panel would ask questions that were either unintentionally suggestive or legitimate, but going down the wrong path, like Steve Allen asking a man who made feedbags for horses if "a new father would have difficulty putting it on." My lifelong love of puns began with Bennett Cerf, and thank you for that, sir. This was one of the true greats of the genre. I still miss it. I don't think you could replicate it today. There just aren't folks like John Daly, Bennett Cerf, Arlene Francis or Dorothy Kilgallen around today, people who could be witty and intelligent off the top of their heads. These days even the best of the lot are vacuous and fluffy-headed compared to these "Fab Four."moreless
Simply the best game show ever.
There’s no doubt about it; this long-running classic game show was the best ever. The game was deceptively simple; a guest came in and signed his or her name. The panel of four people then tried to ascertain the person’s job by asking yes or no questions. The panelist continued asking questions as long as the question receives a “yes” answer. If the job had not been guessed before the panel received 10 negative responses, the contestant won the grand prize of $50.
The show was greatly helped by being anchored for most of its run by the same moderator, newsman John Charles Daly, and three of the four panelist positions: publisher Bennett Cerf, actress Arlene Francis, and newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen. The fourth panelist chair was filled by several people over the first few years, including Steve Allen and Fred Allen, before settling into using revolving guest panelists. Because of their intelligence, experience, and obvious enjoyment of the game, the panel had amazing success with guessing a myriad variety of occupations.
One enjoyable aspect of the game was the mystery guest. Every week, for one of the games, the panel would put on blindfolds and try to guess the identity of a famous celebrity. The celebrities were usually in the entertainment field, but also included such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt, Bishop Sheen, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Watching the mystery guest is a great way to see the changes in popular culture 40-50 years ago, as TV western stars and rock and roll singers start appearing as mystery guests.
Naturally, with a show that started over 50 years ago, there are aspects that seem strange to our modern sensibilities. The moderator, Mr. Daly, invariably asked women guests if they were “Miss or Mrs.” The male panelists, especially Mr. Cerf, felt no reservations about remarking on a woman’s beauty or figure. The panel often had trouble guessing a woman’s occupation if it was not normally associated with “women’s work”. Black guests were rare, and most of them were the celebrity mystery guest. None of this seems to have been done with any malice though, and simply reflects the times.
The show is an artifact of another era. The men panelists and moderator wore formal wear, and the women wore evening gowns. The panelists were intelligent and witty, and were polite to each other and to the guests. The overall feel is closer to the Algonquin Round Table than Jerry Springer.
I don\'t know if such a show could survive today, much less thrive. But I certainly wish they would try.moreless
Bennett's Cinderella references
Bennett's mention of "glass slippers" and calling John "Prince Charming" during the introduction referred to the live airing, earlier that evening, of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella", an event that attracted 107 million viewers. Starring Julie Andrews and Edie Adams, the show wasn't seen again until PBS aired it in December 2004. Commissioned by CBS in response to NBC's production of "Peter Pan" starring Mary Martin, "Cinderella" was re-made in 1965 starring Lesley Ann Warren and Celeste Holm. Andrews, Adams and Holm all appeared on WML.
I attempted to add this to the "comments" section of the page but was stimied so have resorted to a review.moreless
it may be way before my time but it's a great great show.
the best game show there is and I love it, 4 people trying to guess someone's job which they don't know, which is always a crazy job, and they ask questions and if they get the anwser yes to there question they can ask another question but if the anwser no to there question then it moves on to the next judge until the amount of questions they ask is up or the get the persons job right, and if they guess the persons job right the jugdes win but if they run out of question before they guess his job right the person wins, and that to me is the best game show ever.moreless
It could\\\'t have been the last- I was on it in 1974!
It could\\\'t have been the last. I was on the show in 1974 , and I have the correspondance. taped Thursday JULY 18 1974. I was the person \\\"crystal ball cutter\\\" I believe the episode was #2474 Is there any way I can get a copy. .........Also ded To tell the truth #1972 the same year. Thank you.
In retrospect, this classic game show now opens a window into the everyday lives of Americans from post World War II through the turbulent 1960s...we learn bits of life in each episode as Americans break into outer space or simply invent the hulla hoop!
My first vague recollection of What's My Line? comes from my family's first black and white television during the 1950s. I was probably about six years old in the mid-1950s when I can actually remember the show. I recall not loving the show, but not hating it either. My parents were regular watchers, so if I was up at 10:30 PM usually on Sundays when we had no school the following day, I too tried to guess the occupations of the contestants.
Unfortunately for me, instant information from the Internet and our 24-hour cable news cycle came into being 20 years too late. I would have loved for an opportunity to see the WML? reruns daily on GSN as now showing and gather information on the panelists, guests and John Daly before most of them passed away. They lived rather unique and interesting lives...not to mention the glamorous lives the women led with their designer gowns and sometimes outrageous hair styles.
Looking back now over these weekly programs, it is fascinating to track the bits of information that seep out of each episode. Together they are a living history of how our society and world evolved after World War II. The IRS Director would spout out the number of taxpayer submissions they processed. The Postmaster General explained the upcoming new zip code concept and how many Christmas season cards and packages they handled. The inventor of the disposable diaper explained the concept behind his product.
Many of the guests were war heroes or current military servicemen and servicewomen who helped test jet planes by breaking speed records, launch our first satellites, operate the first nuclear submarines or develop intercontinental missiles.
Interesting people or new products in our society were introduced to a wide audience on the show through regular guests. Twelve-year-old Henry Makow offered advice in a syndicated newspaper column to parents throughout Canada and the United States. The Duncan yo-yo and hula hoop creators were among the guests whose line "needed to be spotted" as John Daly would say. The European inventor of Teflon introduced his pots and pans to the American public on the program. Col. Harlan Sanders (KFC founder) dressed in his trademarked white suit stumped the panel!
Political guests also frequently stumped the panel. For example, one episode featured an incumbent congresswoman and her newly elected son who were the first congressionally elected mother and son in U.S. history. When their states were included in the Union, the first governors of Alaska and Hawaii appeared on the show. The Air Force One pilot for President Eisenhower, the personal secretary for President Johnson, the head usher (domestic support staff) of the White House along with Sarge Shriver, the head of the newly formed Peace Corps and brother-in-law of President Kennedy, appeared.
The celebrity guests provided a treasure trove of backgrounds and achievements ranging from Joan Crawford to Betty Davis to John Wayne to Bob Hope with his daughter to Charles Laughton to Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to the entire Cincinnati Reds who featured a young Frank Robinson who is currently Washington Nationals Baseball Manager.
If everything we have today existed twenty years ago, I would be seeking to bump into a retired John Daly at the National Press Club to chat about his coverage of my father's W.W.II unit in Italy and to pick his brain about incidents on the show. However, today we can barely find the few who appeared on the black and white versions of WML? let alone use three degrees of separation to learn about the quirks of those broadcasts.
Almost everyone knows that Dorothy Kilgallen one week surprised viewers when she drastically changed her hair color to red. But one thing I observed is that Bennett Cerf colored his hair as well. During episodes in May of 1953 Cerf has nearly an entire head of white hair, but by September of 1955, in episode #168, Cerf's hair is almost entirely black.
In all, I am hooked on What's My Line? broadcasts, hoping to record every one of the 876 episodes. As I record nightly on GSN, my collection of DVDs spans 1954 through most of 1964, but the going has slowed since GSN is airing "theme" episodes...baseball celebrities are currently being shown. I don't think my interest is about returning to my childhood since the shows played mostly before my teenage years. My fascination stems from the recorded history of attitudes and products as our nation lived through more than a decade of growth, paranoia and, to an extent, the last vestiges of outward discrimination.
One of the more interesting game shows of the 1950s.
It\'s difficult to imagine today a game show with a host who is moonlighting from his regular job as one of the most respected television journalists in the country. It\'s difficult to imagine today a game show without either idiots, infantilists, or clueless drabs as a substantial part of the panel or guest roster. This show featured a homey intelligence and a respect for literacy and eloquence that is sorely missed in today\'s descendants of the genre. It\'s occasionally hokey, sometimes a bit too hoity-toity, but for the most part these people make one glad to have spent a half hour with them, and the game, despite its relative primitivism, is still quite fun.moreless