What’s My Line 1950 – 1967
A few years ago my Tivo was tuned into the Game Show Network weeknights at 3:00 a.m., taping every episode of the greatest TV game show ever made, What’s My Line.
Let me state it was not just a great game show, but one of the best television shows ever.
Unfortunately the series is not being broadcast now, but many segments of the show are available on Youtube.
To describe the brilliance of the show better than I ever could, we will refer to The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows 1948 – Present by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh (Ballantine 1988), an indispensable television reference book.
What’s My Line was the longest-running game show in the history of prime-time network television. It ran for 18 seasons, on alternate weeks from February to September 1950, then every Sunday at 10:30 p.m. for the next 17 years. The format was exceedingly simple. Contestants were asked simple yes-or-no questions by the panel members, who tried to determine what interesting or unusual occupation the contestant had. Each time the contestant could answer no to a question, he got $5, and a total of 10 no’s ended the game. The panel was forced to don blindfolds for the “mystery guest,” a celebrity who tried to avoid identification by disguising his voice.
That little game, by itself, hardly warranted an 18-year run, when other panel shows of the early 1950’s came and went every month. But What’s My Line was something special, both for the witty and engaging panel, and for a certain élan which few other shows ever captured. There were no flashy celebrities-of-the-moment or empty-headed pretty faces on this panel; they were obviously very intelligent people all, out to have some genteel fun with an amusing parlor game. Like (moderator) John Daly with his bow tie and perfect manners, it reeked of urbanity [“that’s three down and seven to go, Mr. Cerf?”]
The panelists who created this special atmosphere were an elite group. Continue reading