They may have blossomed on American television in the 1950s, but panel shows go back to the days of radio. According to Wikipedia (where I have gotten much of my information for this post), the first known panel show was called Information Please, on which a panel of celebrities would attempt to answer questions submitted by listeners. If the panel was stumped, the listener would win a cash prize.
Not having been alive in those days, from what I can gather that particular panel show was pretty straight forward. Maybe there would be a chuckle or two, but it wasn’t played for laughs. Then, in 1942, came It Pays To Be Ignorant.
It Pays To Be Ignorant may not have been the first panel show meant to be a comedy, but it certainly was early on and demonstrated that comedy panel shows could be very popular. The premise of the show was to have the group of regular panelists give nothing but wrong, and often funny, answers to obvious questions such as: What color is the red barn?
The show’s popularity helped move it to television for one season in 1949 and another season in 1951. The show was revived in 1973, but only lasted one year. It must have played better on radio.
In the 1950s, the panel show came into its own as American TV audiences tuned into such shows as To Tell The Truth, I’ve Got A Secret, and What’s Mine Line? (my favorite of these three). Again, I’m not so old that I got to watch What’s My Line? when it originally aired, but through the magic of oldies TV channels I’ve been able to watch it and I can see it’s appeal.
I especially like its host John Daly. He was quite the happy host. He cracked up throughout and genuinely appeared to enjoy hosting the show. The man could get absolutely giddy as the panelists attempted to determine the occupation or particular distinction of the guests. I think he was a great host.
The 1970s had popular panel shows that were intended to provide laughs. There was The Gong Show, Hollywood Squares, and Match Game. The Gong Show was more of a watching car accidents kind of show, while Hollywood Squares and Match Game were just as funny if less edgy entertainment. Those shows would be especially funny when the celebrity panelists would get more “lubricated” as the day of taping went on.
In America, the panel shows began to lose their appeal after the ’70s. There were a few that had success, the revival of Hollywood Squares comes to mind, but it seemed the day of the panel show was done.
The UK, however, beginning in the 1990s saw a great leap in the popularity of the comedy panel show. Again, according to Wikipedia, there had been panel shows on British TV for as long as there were on American TV, but in 1990 came the panel show Have I Got News For You. It was extremely successful in gathering an audience and is thought to have been the spark that set off an explosion of British comedy panel shows. Soon there were QI, Mock Of The Week, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Would I Lie To You?, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks.
I haven’t seen much of most of them, but I have watched a good deal of QI and Would I Lie To You? through YouTube. And they are hilarious. I love them! I wish America could produce such shows. Well, maybe it does and I just haven’t seen them.
QI stands for “quite interesting” and it is a show that explores little know facts of history, science, nature, literature, entertainment, and everyday life. The shows features four celebrities who attempt to answer questions put to them by the host. Right answers are good, but interesting answers are treasured. Points are awarded to the guests in some weird, mysterious, arbitrary fashion. But who cares about points? The show is very funny and totally fascinating.
It went on the air in 2003, with the great Stephen Fry as the schoolmaster-like host. He’s wonderful. I really like Fry. He has a level of intelligence, wit, and sophistication that is marvelous and, yet, he seems incredibly warm and welcoming. He strikes me as the kind of mentor everyone longs for. His interplay with the guests is terrifically entertaining and funny. Just watch this clip of the classic “They say of the Acropolis where the Parthenon is…” moment and you’ll see what I mean.
In 2016, Sandi Toksvig took over as the host of QI. She had been a regular guest for years and she has filled Fry’s vacated seat nicely. She brings her own acerbic and keen wit to the show. Her approach differs from Fry, but still feels right.
There used to be full episodes of QI on YouTube. It’s a shame that nearly all have been taken down now, but there are loads and loads of clips of the show posted on QI’s YouTube channel.
And then there’s Would I Lie To You? Oh, how I’ve been YouTube binging this show.
The premise of this panel show is to figure out whether or not someone is lying. Each week four celebrities guests are brought on the show, two of each join show regulars, David Mitchell and Lee Mack, to form two teams of three. Then the team members are to read out cards revealing something interesting about themselves. Some statements are lies, some are true. The tricky part for the person telling the story is that they don’t know what’s on the card until they read it. So, their improv skills had better be sharp if they need to tell a lie.
When the show first aired in 2007 it was hosted by Angus Deayton. He’s funny, but I prefer the current host Rob Brydon, who took over in 2009.
These are the two British shows of which I am familiar, but I will probably start binging the other ones soon.
I am aware there has been a revival of Match Game, which is hosted by Alec Baldwin, but I haven’t seen any of it. (Have you watched it? Is it any good?) It just seems the Brits currently have the edge on us Americans when it comes to the comedy panel show. So, if you’re looking for a funny panel show you can look to America’s classic TV show channels or you can look over there.
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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.