Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!
Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! is an hour-long weekly news radio panel show produced by WBEZ and National Public Radio (NPR) in Chicago, Illinois. On the program, panelists and contestants are quizzed in humorous ways about that week's news. It is distributed by NPR in the United States, internationally on NPR Worldwide and on the Internet via podcast, and typically broadcast on weekends by member stations. The show averages about 6 million weekly listeners on air and via podcast.
|Running time||Approx. 50 min.|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Home station||WBEZ in Chicago, Illinois|
|Hosted by||Peter Sagal|
|Created by||Doug Berman|
|Executive producer(s)||Mike Danforth|
|Recording studio||Chicago, Illinois|
|Original release||January 3, 1998– present|
|Opening theme||B. J. Leiderman (composer)|
Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! is usually recorded in front of a live audience in Chicago at the Chase Auditorium beneath the Chase Tower on Thursday nights. Until May 2005, the show was recorded in one of Chicago Public Radio's studios, with no audience and often with one or more panelists calling in from other locations. The show also often travels to various cities in the United States and produces a road show in front of a live audience for promotional and station-related purposes. In situations where shows cannot be recorded in front of an audience, shows are recorded at the studios of WBEZ with panelists using videotelephony to appear, a situation which has occurred during the coronavirus pandemic. A show previous to the halting of traveling and Chase Auditorium shows at Atlanta's Fox Theatre was recorded with no audience due to public health concerns after all on-air and recording personnel had arrived.
The show is hosted by playwright and actor Peter Sagal. When the program had its debut in January 1998, Dan Coffey of Ask Dr. Science was the original host, but a revamping of the show led to his replacement in May of that year. The show has also been guest-hosted by Tom Bodett, Luke Burbank, Adam Felber, Peter Grosz, Tom Papa, Mike Pesca, Richard Sher, Bill Radke, Susan Stamberg, Robert Siegel, Brian Unger, Drew Carey, Tom Hanks, Helen Hong, Jessi Klein, and Faith Salie when Sagal was on vacation.
Carl Kasell, who also served as the newsreader on Morning Edition, was the show's official judge and scorekeeper until his retirement on May 17, 2014, after which the role was taken over permanently by journalist Bill Kurtis. In addition to Kurtis, Korva Coleman, Corey Flintoff, Jean Cochran and Chioke I'Anson among others, have also served this role in the past.
Wait Wait... listeners also participate by telephoning or sending emails to nominate themselves as contestants. The producers select several listeners for each show and call them to appear on the program, playing various games featuring questions based on the week's news. Prior to October 21, 2017, the usual prize for winning any game was to have Kasell (named "Scorekeeper Emeritus" following his retirement) record a greeting on the contestant's home answering machine or voice mail system. The current prize is to have any one show panelist or staff member of the contestant's choice record the greeting, including Sagal, Kurtis, or Kasell prior to his death in April 2018.
Several shows a year, usually coinciding with holidays or local National Public Radio (NPR) member station pledge drives, are compiled from segments from past episodes, or feature holiday-related theme programming (such as for the 4th of July, an entire program based on questions from American history adapted to fit the current events format), and are either recorded in front of an audience for later broadcast, or at WBEZ's studio facilities without an audience.
In addition to the regular panelists listed below, the show also occasionally features one-off guest panelists.
- Sue Ellicott (1998–2007)
- Aamer Haleem (2005–06)
- Margo Kaufman (1998–1999)
- Angela Nissel (2006–2007)
- Patt Morrison (2000–2001)
- Kyrie O'Connor (2004–2015)
- Charlie Pierce (1998–2015)
- Paul Provenza (2006–2010)
- Richard Roeper (2004–2006)
- Peter Sagal (1998)
- Alison Stewart (2008–2009)
- Julia Sweeney (2009–2010)
Though there are some deviations from time to time, episodes of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! feature the following format:
As with other NPR programs, Wait Wait offers a one-minute top-of-hour billboard teasing the program that will follow the network's hourly newscast (which traditionally starts at 1 minute past the hour). In this minute, the host offers a humorous comment on the week's news, mentions the identity of the week's interview guest, and sets up an out-of-context reading by Kurtis of a quote or game title from the episode.
Who's Bill This Time?Edit
The contestant is asked to identify the speaker or explain the context of three quotations from that week's major news stories as read by Bill Kurtis. Each answer is followed by a humorous discussion of the story by the host and the panelists. Two correct answers constitute a win for the contestant. Prior to Kasell's retirement, the segment was known as "Who's Carl This Time?" and he read the quotations.
In two separate segments each week, the host asks the panelists questions regarding less serious stories in the week's news, awarding them one point for each correct answer. The questions are phrased similarly to those featured on The Match Game or Hollywood Squares to allow the panelists to offer a comedic answer in addition to their real guess as well as a hint from the host if needed. The answer is often followed by a discussion of the story.
Bluff the ListenerEdit
Each panelist reads an unusual story, all sharing a common theme. Only one of the three stories is genuine; the contestant wins the prize by choosing it. A sound bite from a person connected to the genuine story is played to reveal whether the contestant's guess is correct. Regardless of the outcome, the panelist whose story is chosen scores one point.
Not My JobEdit
|Jimmy Wales plays "Not my job", 10:19, NPR, November 4, 2006|
A celebrity guest calls in (or occasionally appears on stage) to be interviewed by the host and the panelists as well as take a three-question multiple-choice quiz. In Wait Wait's early years, "Not My Job" guests were mainly culled from NPR's roster of personalities and reporters; the pool of guests later expanded to include guests of greater celebrity. As the segment's title suggests, the guests are quizzed on topics that are not normally associated with their field of work. For example, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked questions on the history of Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine, while author Salman Rushdie was asked about the history of Pez candy. Often, the subject matter of the quizzes serve as an oblique yet comic juxtaposition to the guests' fields of work, such as when Mad Men creator/producer Matthew Weiner was quizzed on ways people try to cheer others up ("Glad Men") in a March 2015 appearance. Stacey Abrams, who revealed that she wrote romance novels, was quizzed on fictional and historical "bromances." Two correct answers from the guest constitute a win, with the prize going to a randomly selected listener who contacted the show but was not chosen as an on-air contestant.
Listener Limerick ChallengeEdit
Kurtis reads three limericks connected to unusual news stories, leaving out the last word of each. The contestant wins the prize by correctly completing any two of them. The limericks are written by Philipp Goedicke; after the contestant answers each one, Sagal provides a humorous summary of the relevant story.
In the final round, each panelist is given a series of eight fill-in-the-blank questions about news stories, both serious and frivolous, and must answer as many as he or she can in one minute (though given the show's loose format, the time limit is sometimes extended or ignored altogether), scoring two points for each correct answer. The questions often begin with "serious" news topics for the first few questions, but often degenerate into more and more unusual topics, with the eighth and final question often being particularly humorous. After the quiz, the panelist with the highest score is declared the week's champion (in the event of a tie for first place, the tying contestants are declared co-champions). Panelists do not receive prizes for winning.
Following the credits at the end of the show, the three panelists are asked to offer a comic "prediction" about an ongoing news story, often one discussed earlier in the program.
In 2008, National Public Radio reached an agreement with CBS Entertainment to create a television pilot of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! Peter Sagal and Carl Kasell would be in the pilot, and Doug Berman would be the executive producer. The pilot was not picked up for regular production.
On November 16, 2011, BBC America announced that the show would make its television debut with a "2011 Year in Review" special airing on December 23, to be retransmitted by NPR stations on the 24th and 25th. The taping included two American panelists—"Wait Wait" regulars Paula Poundstone and Alonzo Bodden—and British newcomer Nick Hancock. In December 2018, NBCUniversal announced it was developing a television version of Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me!
On May 2, 2013, an episode was performed at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City and was streamed live via satellite as a Fathom Events presentation to hundreds of cinema theaters throughout the United States and Canada. The show included host Peter Sagal, announcer Carl Kasell, and panelists Mo Rocca, Paula Poundstone, and Tom Bodett. Celebrity guest Steve Martin won in the Not My Job segment.
Al Franken's former talk radio show, The Al Franken Show, contained a segment called "Wait Wait... Don't Lie to Me!", where contestants had to determine if a soundbite played was truth, lie, or "weasel" (technically true, but designed to deceive).
The podcast Welcome to Night Vale's fictional community radio station alludes to a show following Cecil's news broadcast titled "Wait, Wait, Don't! No, Don't! Please, Don't!"
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