What do the following have in common: John Daly, Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, Dorothy Kilgallen, Fred Allen, Steve Allen?
The answer, of course, is that they all contributed substantially to the longest-running quiz show in television history, the 17-1/2 year run of What’s My Line? At a time when FCC Pooh-Bah Newton Minnow was telling television executives that their medium was a vast wasteland, What’s My Line? was quietly demonstrating East Coast charm, manners, and formal dress to late night Sunday audiences.
The premise was simple: Guess a guest’s occupation through a series of yes/no questions. The execution of the premise was genius: Tuxedoes, “Mr. …” and “Miss …”, proper grammar, elocution, droll humor, deference … all of these made the program unique, even in an era of unique programs.
One key to the success of the program was its unflappable, always well-mannered, cultured, and eloquent moderator, John Daly. In more than 17 years of broadcasts, many of them done live from New York, you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of broadcasts Daly missed. Those occasions were usually instances where he was required to wear another of his hats, that of rival ABC network news journalist.
Each of the regular panelists brought his or her unique flavor to the show. Cerf’s puns are legendary, and his hardnosed gamesmanship always played for keeps. Dorothy could giggle almost uncontrollably if the conversation turned even the lightest shade of blue, and Arlene was consistently affable, warm, and spontaneous.
A wonderful series of other guests filled the fourth panel chair over the year. Thanks, GSN for maintaining this classic in your overnight schedule, as of this writing, August 2005. May you continue to do so!