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One of the few American attempts at the quintessentially British Panel Game format. Based loosely on The BBC program The News Quiz (which also inspired Have I Got News for You), Wait, Wait is produced in Chicago, airs weekly on NPR, and featured NPR News's former anchor Carl Kasell as announcer/scorekeeper. Kasell retired in 2014 and was replaced by Bill Kurtis, a former CBS news anchor and an extremely prolific documentary narrator. The host is Peter Sagal. Rotating panelists include Tom Bodett, P.J. O'Rourke, Paula Poundstone, Paul Provenza (director of The Aristocrats), and Mo Rocca (formerly of The Daily Show, currently of CBS Sunday Morning). Call-in contestants compete for the prize of getting Carl Kasell to record an answering machinenote Even after Kasell's retirement (or cell phone voicemail) greeting; panelists are scored on their performances but don't get anything for winning.Segments include:
Who's Carl/Bill This Time?: Carl (later Bill) reads quotes from the news and the caller must identify who said them.
Bluff The Listener: The panelists each read an odd "news story". Only one panelist has a true story, and the listener guesses who.
Not My Job: At the midpoint of every episode, a celebrity call-in guest is brought in and quizzed about a topic far outside their expertise (except when they had John Hodgman on, of course; Ken Jennings also confounded them). Stephen King, for instance, got questions about Teletubbies and the like, while Lewis Black stumbled through three questions on Miss Manners. And, more recently, Leonard Nimoy had to answer questions about not being the other Spock (Dr. Benjamin, child care specialist) either.
Listener Limerick Challenge: Carl (Later Bill) reads most of a news-inspired limerick; the caller has to complete it.
Lightning Fill-In-The-Blank: The final "speed round" in which panelists quickly go through questions on the rest of the week's news.
After a caller displayed doubts in a "Bluff-the-Listener" story of a alcoholic recovery/shooting camp, panelist P.J. O'Rourke got angry, saying that, as a Republican, his party is largely made up of drunks with guns.
Panelist Paula Poundstone has two:
She often displays anger over the idea of swearing and humor being bad, including moments where she became very angry over a Curse Free Week in California, and when a school district banned "Three-Stooge-Like behavior."
Paula also has a marked tendency to question the various 'studies' that form the basis of the out-of-segment questions, often triggering a rant about people being paid to do these things. For example, a study from a British psychologist who somehow found that women were more attracted to men who danced like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. This study was done in 2008, by the way.
One of Paula's most famous moments on the show was her pretend berserk button response to host Peter Segal continuing to milk humor out of the Dick Cheney hunting accident.
Black Humor: A literal example of Dead Baby Comedy on the 5/30/14 episode with Alicia Silverstone who just wrote a book on Motherhood. Answering questions taken from hints on baby care in a 50's era guide, one answer concerned babies being rubbed with lard in the belief that the lard helps soften the skin. One of the female panelists piped up with "And it also makes the skin extra crispy when the baby is put on the spit.".
Cheap Heat: At the shows produced outside of Chicago, the guest is a local and he or she always plays for a local caller; the other call-in contestants are often from the area as well.
Clip Show: "Best Of" episodes aired during NPR pledge break weeks, as well as on holidays.
The show started in January 1998, but was relaunched in May of that year with several changes: Peter Sagal took over hosting from Dan Coffey, they introduced the "Not My Job!" segment with guests, and so forth. Some other differences from the early years:
For quite some time, scores in the Not My Job round were given nicknames after the first person to achieve that score. For instance, a Stamberg (named after the first guest), meant no points were scored.
The round was also much harder to play since the questions had no central context and were instead based on quotes made during the week (closer to the interstitial questions between rounds).
For the first few years, the guests were mainly NPR contributors since the show was done in-studio and those were the only people they could get. Their first major guest was John Mc Cain back in 2000... at least two years after the show started.
Carl's voice as a prize was more or less a placeholder since they really couldn't afford anything better. By the time they could, the message was such a beloved prize that they kept it that way (and it helped prevent any breaking of NPR's rules about contests.)
In the earliest shows, the final round was either an "essay" question had each contestant make up a funny story (scored by Carl out of 10 points), or Lightning True-False, before being replaced with the current Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank round.
After the FCC lifted the ban on "fleeting obscenities," Peter and Carl had this exchange:
Peter Sagal: Of course, this means we no longer need to have Carl on an 8 second delay. Carl Kasell: Damn straight, Peter!
Golden Snitch: There are only seven to nine points available before the speed round; in Lightning Fill-in-the-Blank each panelist has eight questions worth two points each.
A Good Name for a Rock Band: After a story about a lack of good names for new rock bands, Peter Sagal suggests some names based on the week's news, including: The Joe Lieberman Experience, Bart Stupak Shakur, Mega-Death Panel, and Joe Biden and the Big Folk-ing Deals.
Gretzky Has the Ball: During the 2010 World Cup, panelist Tom Bodett admitted that he knows nothing about Soccer, which becomes a problem when his son asks him about the game.
Son: Why are they upset?
Tom: Uh, he was off-sides.note Which is not as bad as you might think; especially since soccer's offside rule can be incomprehensible to American viewers.
I Am One of Those Too: Hilariously, Kevin Smith had actually read the random book on which they based his Not My Job quiz. They even let him explain one of the ridiculous stories in it. (The book in question, incidentally, was a strange-science book called Elephants on Acid.)
Narrative Profanity Filter: A "Not My Job" segment asking skier Mikaela Shiffrin about the Gloucestershire cheese race mentioned how the local authorities once tried to stop the race by telling the 86-year-old woman who makes the cheese every year that she'd be liable for any injuries sustained.
Peter: Her answer cannot be repeated on public radio. (laughter) Although I'm sure it was said in a lovely Downton Abbey accent. (laughter)
Paula Poundstone's ire at "studies" and the ridiculous results they produce.
The increasingly lame intros to the Limericks round.
Starting in 2013, "twerking" has become a popular answer to questions in the lightning round when they don't know the answer (partly because of Miley Cyrus' undeserving dominance of the news cycle and partly because it's an Inherently Funny Word).
Scotireland: During a show around St. Patrick's Day, Peter notes (being radio, we can't see) that Carl is wearing a kilt, noting that it's traditionally worn by the Scottish.
"Visit our blog which has been called 'sophomoric', 'a threat to NPR's integrity', and 'reason to review our intern hiring process.'"
When teenage fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson played Not My Job she was asked questions about "stuff old people like". One of them was about NPR.
The pun with which Peter introduces the Listener Limerick Challenge (e.g. "In just a minute, Carl tells us about his favorite Transformer, Optimus Rhyme.") seems to get lamer every week, causing Peter to at one time crack, "Look, if you got better ones, send 'em in, OK?"
Variations of the intro to "Not My Job" along the lines of "Now our game in which Great People do Great Things and then wonder how the heck they ended up on this show...."
Shout-Out: One week after their somewhat unflattering portrayal of fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magicnote Fox News Channel's Red Eye segment the same week was actually less mean, if also pretty boring., they brought on a fan and former Wait, Wait intern for a brief interview, and used the show as the basis for that week's "Not My Job" questions... for guest contestant Bill Clinton (who got them all right, but they weren't very hard either).
In a nod to the format's British origins, in December 2011 Wait Wait aired a version of the show on BBC America as a Christmas special, with one British panelist (presenter and comedian Nick Hancock) and a British Not My Job guest (Neil Gaiman). The format was altered to eliminate the audience call-in segments, since it was being taped in advance, so the panel got more questions and Carl's return-from-commercial intros for Peter were beefed up with jokes. A not-quite-identical audio version ran in the weekly slot on NPR.
The show will have a special episode beamed out to movie theaters in May 2013 in the same way as the Metropolian Opera's "cinecasts".
Soundtrack Dissonance: Conversed after that week's episode of The Good Wife had Peter Florrick going down on Alicia while All Things Considered played on a radio in the background. Peter Sagal noted that it was the first time anyone had used NPR as the soundtrack to a steamy love scene.
Stealth Pun: Henry Winkler (AKA Fonzie from Happy Days) came on to play Not My Job. For all three questions, the correct answer was "Aaaaaaaaaay!". Winkler figured it out on the third question, managing a two-out-of-three victory.
Stupid Statement Dance Mix: One recap episode featured Mo Rocca's various stutters and hesitations mixed together into a raging techno beat.
invokedTechnology Marches On: The voice on your answering machine prize has become voice on your computer devices.
Chicago is the home base of the show, though they do a few road episodes a year too.
The guests usually call in, but when the show is on the road, they always have a local celebrity come in to be the show live (such as ZZ Top while they were in Houston). The person they're playing for is also from the city.
Wrong Genre Savvy: If Peter Sagal urges you to change your answer, your answer is wrong. Celebrity guests playing "Not My Job" frequently haven't listened to the show and think it's a trap.