In the mid-20th century, many of the earliest TV shows got their start in radio. I Love Lucy, The Jack Benny Program and Gunsmoke were all heard before they were seen. So there is precedent for BBC America to team with National Public Radio to bring the latter's charming and quirky Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! to television.
Launched in 1998 by NPR and Chicago Public Radio, Wait Wait is a weekly hourlong radio quiz show featuring a panel of celebrities who answer fairly obvious questions and then riff about politics, the state of the world and other knee-slapper topics. Friday's BBC America TV broadcast of a year-end edition of the show isn't the first time fans will get to see and hear host Peter Sagal and announcer Carl Kasell. The show has toured live for several years, including a Dec. 8 stop at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts.
Panelists for the year-end special are American comics Paula Poundstone and Alonzo Bodden, and British comic and TV personality Nick Hancock. Most, but not all, of the questions focus on the United States, which might seem to put Hancock at a disadvantage, but the questions don't necessarily call for a master's degree in contemporary American life. The alleged object of the game is for panelists to score points, but it's really about the panelists scoring laughter from the studio audience, which they all do to varying levels of success.
Bodden is the funniest of the trio, with the quickness of his wit on display when a question is asked about how the lower U.S. credit rating might affect President Barack Obama's re-election bid: "Do you really think you can scare a black man by lowering his credit rating?" asks Bodden, who is black. Observing the proliferation of tents among the Occupy protesters around the country, Poundstone suggests that outdoor outfitter REI might be the real force behind the demonstrations. And Hancock has great fun asking the Yanks to explain the differences among the various Republican presidential candidates.
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Author Neil Gaiman (Coraline) also is on hand to answer questions supposedly outside his field of expertise. In this case, it's questions about the royal wedding, many of which have to do with Pippa Middleton.
All of this is perfectly fine, often amusing and occasionally very funny, but I wouldn't go so far as to call for renaming the show Wait Wait ... Don't Show Me, because putting it on TV doesn't really add much. You might not be able to enjoy it quite as much as you would if you were in the audience, but otherwise, it would be just as diverting if you were listening to it on the radio.