Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! is a weekly news-based radio panel show produced by WBEZ in Chicago and National Public Radio (NPR). On the program, panelists and contestants are quizzed in humorous ways about that week’s news.

The show is recorded in front of a live audience in Chicago at the Chase Auditorium beneath the Chase Tower on Thursday nights and typically airs weekend mornings.

Until 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.

The show is hosted by playwright and actor Peter Sagal. When the program had its debut in 1998, Dan Coffey of ‘Ask Dr. Science’ was the original host, but a revamping of the program led to his replacement that same year. When Sagal was on vacation, the show has been guest-hosted by radio hosts Tom Bodett, Luke Burbank, Adam Felber, Mike Pesca, Richard Sher, Bill Radke, Susan Stamberg, Robert Siegel, and Faith Salie. Actors Peter Grosz, Drew Carey, Tom Hanks, and Brian Unger, and comedians Helen Hong and Jessi Klein, have also filled in.

Carl Kasell, who also served as the newsreader on ‘Morning Edition,’ (NPR’s weekday morning news program) was the show’s official judge and scorekeeper until his retirement in 2014, after which the role was taken over permanently by journalist Bill Kurtis. In addition to Kurtis, Korva Coleman, Corey Flintoff, and Jean Cochran, 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 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 and Kurtis.

Several shows a year, usually coinciding with holidays or local 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.

Frequent panelists include Roxanne Roberts, style writer for ‘The Washington Post;’ syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson; and humorists Alonzo Bodden, Paula Poundstone, Mo Rocca, Roy Blount Jr., P.J. O’Rourke, Bobcat Goldthwait, Adam Burke, Brian Babylon, and Maz Jobrani.

Though there are some deviations from time to time, episodes of ‘Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!’ feature a common format. They start with an ‘opening tease’ 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 one 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.

The first segment is called ‘Who’s Bill This Time?’ 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.

‘Who’s Bill This Time?’ is followed by two separate segments of ‘panel questions,’ where 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.

The segment is called ‘Bluff the Listener;’ 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.

In the next segment, ‘Not My Job,’ 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’). 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.

The next segment is called the ‘Listener Limerick Challenge.’ 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, ‘Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank,’ 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, scoring two points for each correct answer. 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.


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