Friday, February 22, 2008
A Class Act
For the past few months, GSN (the cable network formerly known as the Game Show Network) has been showing episodes of the classic and classy CBS panel show, What’s My Line every night as part of their After Midnight lineup. (Check your local listings. I’ve always wanted to say that.) This long-running show (it aired weekly on CBS Sunday nights [for most of its run] from February 2, 1950 to September 3, 1967) famously featured challengers with unusual occupations which the celebrity panel had to ascertain that by asking questions that could only be answered by yes or no. What’s My Line was also famous for having a Mystery Challenger, often a big-time movie or television star. Mystery Guests recently featured include Judy Garland, Danny Kaye, Angela Lansbury (at the height of her Mame triumph on Broadway), Jane Fonda, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow (they were not on the same episode, but Mia’s then-husband Frank Sinatra was a guest panelist on that show) and Andy Griffith, who stumped the panel with a killer British accent. One interesting episode featured the panelists (Kitty Carlisle, Orson Bean, Peggy Cass, Tom Poston) from one of What’s My Line’s sister shows, To Tell the Truth, as a collective Mystery Guest. But much of the show’s success was due to the intelligence and wit of moderator John Daly and the regular panelists: publisher Bennett Cerf, newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, and actress Arlene Francis (pictured here on the cover of a fascinating history of the program, written by the show’s producer Gil Fates. Thanks to What’s My Line mega-fans Doug Prinzivalli and John Carrozza for loaning me this rare book.) Their charm and manners (the ladies are in gowns, the gentlemen wear tuxedoes, they often refer to each other as “Mister” or “Miss") seem like something from another planet compared to much of what’s on TV in 2008. An element of the show I particularly enjoy is the ritual of the panel’s introductions and good-byes. That’s right, the simple gesture of saying hello and good night in a polite, clever and civilized manner is a highlight, as well it should be. GSN is currently showing episodes from August 1967, meaning they should be going back to the beginning of the show’s run in just a few nights. That should give you a chance to see this vintage classic right from the beginning of its extraordinary run, as well as the opportunity to know there was a time when network TV could represent class, not crass.