"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.