from Goodson-Todman airing on CBS
from 1950-67, in which a panel of four celebrities asked yes-or-no questions to determine the occupation of the contestant seated next to the host. Each "no" response gave the contestant $5, and ten "no" answers ended the game.
Once an episode, a special celebrity would appear as the "Mystery Guest". For this, the panel would be blindfolded and the guest would usually try to disguise his voice.
For most of the CBS era, the panel consisted of publisher Bennett Cerf, sometimes-controversial columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, actress Arlene Francis, and a guest panelist. Following Kilgallen's death in 1965, her chair became a second rotating position.What's My Line?
holds the record for the longest-running Game Show
in network primetime. After its CBS run, it went into daily syndication from 1968-75. Unlike its siblings, To Tell the Truth
and I've Got A Secret
, it hasn't returned to the airwaves within the last 35+ years despite numerous attempts.
A separate radio series ran from 1952-53, which John Daly would plug during his closing remarks.
In November 2004, Jim Newman and J. Keith van Straaten began producing a one-hour live stage show in Los Angeles called What's My Line? Live On Stage
. After moving to New York in 2008, the show became an authorized production by Fremantle Media
regularly aired repeats in its Late Night Black & White
block, but eventually dropped said block of programming due to low ratings, though they still air the program once a year around the Christmas holidays, apparently because they have to do this to keep the rights. A number of episodes have been released on low-budget DVD, but fans who want to see more would do well to Keep Circulating the Tapes
- Bonus Round: The Mystery Guest segment.
- During the syndicated era, "Who's Who" was occasionally played. Four members of the audience were invited onstage and (out of sight of the panel) told the producer their jobs. The panelists, one at a time, then had to match the career (written on a card) with the person. For each panelist that was incorrect, the four-member group won $20 (a maximum of $80 for a complete stumper).
- Home Game: Lowell made one in 1955, Whitman released one in 1969, and Endless Games came out with another in 2001.
- The Announcer: Johnny Olson from the tail end of the CBS run through the 1971-72 season.
- Game Show Host: John Daly hosted the original series. Wally Bruner hosted from 1968-72, followed by Larry Blyden for the rest of that run. J. Keith van Straaten helms Live On Stage.
- Studio Audience
This show provides examples of:
- Animated Adaptation: Kellogg's did an ad parodying the show, although despite being one of the show's longest-running sponsors it is unknown if it ever aired on the series itself.
- Animated Credits Opening: Three distinct animated openings were used through the run of the series. The first two featured the same man as he would go from one occupation to another, while the third split the screen into three sections as the heads, torsos, and feet of various characters were mixed and matched. The third open (which was produced in color during a period where the CBS broadcasts were experimenting with color broadcasting) was adapted for use in most of the syndicated run.
- Broadcast Live: Almost all of the CBS run was shown live. Some pre-taping was done towards the end of the series, including the last several episodes leading up to the finale.
- C-List Fodder and Who Is This Guy Again?: Executive producer Gil Fates recalled in his 1978 retrospective on the series that during the syndicated years (1968-1975), it was sometimes difficult to find good "mystery guests," largely because there were 195 shows now being taped during a television season (as opposed to just 35 or so during the CBS days); in fact, when the syndicated show was in development in early 1968, this potential issue was brought up. When most of the top-tier stars had their turn during a period of a couple of years, Fates had to scour the Broadway shows and cast lists of New York-based soap operas … and many of them were only known semi-locally and/or played less prominent roles and thus not as well known as the headlining or starring actors/actresses; hence, they weren't even B-List stars, but C-listers. This led to many viewers – and often the panelists as well – scratching their heads as the mystery guest's identity was revealed and (more than once) visibly saying, in essence, "Who is this?"note This was rarely invoked during the original CBS run, when many of the mystery guests were definite A- (or in the very least B-) listers.
- The show once had to stretch so far as to book series producer Gil Fates as a Mystery Guest during the week taped June 25, 1970. In his book What's My Line?, Fates described the resulting segment as "Very big Mystery, very little Guest."
- Catch Phrase: "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" (courtesy of one time regular panelist and long time guest panelist Steve Allen) and "Mystery Guest, will you enter and sign in, please."
- Roughly one-third into the CBS run, John seemed to become uncomfortable with his catchphrase. After trying to avoid this by saying things like "Mystery Guest please sign in after you enter", he eventually settled back into the tried-and-true.
- Cool Mask: As the show went on, the regular panelist's blindfolds (especially Dorothy's and Arlene's) would get more and more decorative. Some panelists who wore glasses, such as Steve Allen and Robert Q. Lewis, would get blindfolds with images of glasses printed on them. One Easter show found the panel wearing bunny masks. The later revivals have the panelists wear black blindfolds while the panelists with glasses wear either glasses with a blindfold on it or blackout glasses.
- Creator Cameo: Show producers Mark Goodson and Bill Todman both made appearances on the original series. Goodson appeared several times as both a Mystery Guest and a panelist, then appeared during the Grand Finale to receive congratulations. Todman appeared as a Mystery Guest and with Goodson on the finale, but was never a panelist.
- Cross Over: John Daly played himself, narrating the pilot of Green Acres. A few weeks later, Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor appeared together as the Mystery Guests (one of the few, if not only, non-related-in-real-life couples to appear as Mystery Guests), and publicly thanked Daly for helping them get the show off to a good start.
- A Day in the Limelight:
- Panelist Bennett Cerf filled-in during one of Daly's very few absences. The following week, he admitted to John that he was very glad to be back on the panel-side.
- Semi-regular panelist Steve Allen got a chance to appear as a regular guest, as the panel had to guess his new sideline — selling motorcycles.
- John Daly got the chance to be the Mystery Guest on the last CBS episode, hopping back and forth between the chairs during questioning. Afterward, he explained that they did that because thousands of viewers had written in suggesting that he be the Mystery Guest, not knowing that the producers kept that option as a backup to use in case a scheduled Mystery Guest had missed the live broadcast.
- Similarly, Wally Bruner was the Mystery Guest on a 1969 episode (the overlay showing his name looks different than the usual, suggesting that the "host as Mystery Guest" backup was retained for the syndicated run). Interestingly, Arlene Francis thought Daly had come back to visit; she was close.
- Deadpan Snarker: Steve Allen.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The earlier episodes featured a lot of rigamarole before the start of the actual questioning of the contestant by the panel, such as having them walk by the panel for a closer look, and the panel getting one free guess at their occupation. As the series continued, Daly increasingly would dispense with these when time was running short, eventually phasing them out entirely, likely because it was realized both that nobody was missing them when they were gone and that they weren't really adding much of anything to the game. But there was other evidence, from early episodes, that show a work in progress:
- A female model handing out blindfolds for the mystery guest segment (these were left with the panelists later on)
- Panelists that weren't necessarily from the entertainment field, who'd likely never be panelists today on any game show: a former governor, a psychiatrist, a poet and an entertainment columnist (although to be fair, the entertainment columnist stayed on until her death 15 years later). There was also the book publisher, who was named to the panel in 1950, but he lasted until his death 21 years later and found his way on shows like Password and the original Match Game (and – had he lived into the later 1970s – likely would have made at least a couple of appearances on the far-better known CBS Match Game).
- A short skit featuring one of the contestants in a given setting, and the announcer saying "Do you know what this person does for a living?" ... followed by a quick spiel of three or four possible occupations, followed.
- Additionally, the earliest syndicated episodes saw Wally Bruner explain in detail the concept of the series, but this was done away with before the end of the first year as it was assumed fans of the old CBS series who continued to follow it in syndication were already familiar with the rules.
- Every Episode Ending: On the original series, every episode ended with the panel saying good night to each other, and often, the goodbyes would end with Bennett Cerf making a pun in light of tonight's show.
- Expy: When I've Got A Secret creator Allan Sherman brought the idea to Goodson-Todman, they initially rejected it as being a copy of Line. Reportedly, Sherman replied that Line was so popular that somebody was going to copy it...so why not copy themselves?
- Fan Nickname: Some fans weren't too fond of the 1968-1975 Daily Syndicated era of the show, thinking it was too much like Goodson-Todman's I've Got a Secret. Hence, they have dubbed it as What's My Secret Line?.
- Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The German version, hosted by Robert Lembke, ran from 1955 to 1958. A second run was produced from 1961 to 1989, when Lembke unexpectedly died. A whopping 28 YEARS! Almost 4 times longer than the original American run! It ran once more from 1999 to 2005.
- In Name Only: In the early 1980s, in the wake of the success of NBC's Real People and ABC's That's Incredible!, CBS aired a short-lived series hosted by Bob Barker called That's My Line!, a Reality Show that presented films of people in odd professions.
- Kayfabe: Of the show business type, and suspended. In 1973, Big Bird was a mystery guest; after his identity was revealed, Larry Blyden announced that after the commercial break, Carroll Spinney (who portrayed Big Bird) would come out for an interview. One of the last episodes, aired in 1975, had Jim Henson as a contestant (although the panel was blindfolded), and he is clearly seen putting on his Kermit the Frog puppet after taking a seat. Kermit – who sang his signature "Bein' Green" during the segment – remained on Henson's hand as he greeted the panel prior to the commercial break, but is clearly inactive.
- At least a handful of professional wrestlers have been on the show as contestants through the years, including female wrestler Judy Grable. It's not known exactly how much of the sport's secrets they were asked about.
- Let X Be the Unknown: The standard way of introducing people whose names were well-known to the panel would be to have them sign in as Mr./Mrs. X, which once led Cerf to refer to Daly and the guest as "Ham and X".
- Mathematician's Answer: Since contestants were supposed to answer only "yes" or "no", the correct response to a question like "Are you involved in television or movies?" would be "yes". More than one contestant over the course of the run forgot this, and answered the question the usual way, to the panel's benefit.
- Milestone Celebration: For its 25th anniversary as a series, a special two-hour retrospective aired in May 1975 on ABC Late Night. It was interesting in a number of respects: 1. The show's presence on ABC, given that the network originally was CBS (a rival) and currently in syndication; 2. Virtually all of the footage (except for a clip introducing then-sitting President Gerald Ford) came from the original CBS run (and all in black-and-white kineoscope); 3. The special was hosted by original host John Daly (who was not present at all during the syndicated run), although Arlene Francis and co-creator Mark Goodson were there; and 4. The syndicated version, which had been airing since 1968, was about to wrap up its successful seven-year run. Additionally, everyone who appeared on the show — celebrities and regular contestants alike — had to sign a release giving Goodson-Todman permission to air clips featuring them (even Goodson and Bill Todman). Despite all these quirks, it was critically well received and seen as a very nice celebration of television's then-longest running game show.
- Obvious Rule Patch:
- Early episodes featured a "walk-by" that would allow the panel to closely examine the contestants and their clothing, way of walking, etc. They then were allowed one guess, which was usually in the form of a joke (Dorothy Kilgallen: "I think he raises goldfish."; Steve Allen: "I think he lowers goldfish."). Although the panel did end up giving a few correct answers through this routine, it was eventually dropped to save time.
- In the Mystery Guest segment, the panel was originally allowed to ask as many questions as they wanted until they got a "No". This was eventually changed to just one question apiece.
- According to Gil Fates' book, the producers were originally only going to let celebrities be the Mystery Guest once. However, a combination of supply-and-demand of available stars as well as a desire to see some make a repeat appearance (not to mention the fact that the show lasted much longer than anyone imagined it would back in 1950) quickly changed this.
- During the syndicated run, regular panelist Soupy Sales proved such an unexpected expert at identifying voices that a new rule (known as "Fates' Law" after producer Gil Fates) was installed in which, if someone made a guess and was wrong, they removed their blindfold and could not participate for the rest of that game.
- Once per Episode: A mystery guest with the panel blindfolded. But every so often, there were two mystery guests. This usually led to some grumbling from the panel, who weren't fond of the rigamarole of having to put on blindfolds.
- On the Next: Early episodes had Daly show a picture of someone and say "This (man/woman) will appear on next week's show. Can you guess (his/her) occupation? Tune in next Sunday and find out."
- The Points Mean Nothing: The points system consisted of ten cards at $5 each, and when the cards were all turned over, the panel had lost the game. However, the longer the series went on, the more likely it became for host John Daly to simply flip over all the cards if he thought the panel was taking too long, or to simply flip them all over anyway for the flimsiest of reasons, even if the panel did guess the occupation correctly. In the case of the Mystery Guest segment, the dollar amount on the cards meant nothing anyway, as mystery guests were paid an appearance fee of $500, though this was largely unknown to the general public.
- Product Placement: As was common practice of the day, most of the CBS run featured that week's sponsor's logo on the front of the panel's desk. The logo was also on top of the sign-in board (a unique camera shot would always first have the logo front and center, and then slowly pan down as the contestant signs in), and an icon representing the company would be featured on Daly's money flip cards (Kellogg's had a cereal bowl icon, Florida Citrus Growers an icon of the state of Florida, etc.).
- The syndicated era often had inventors come on and have the panel try to guess what the invention was. After the game, the contestant was given a chance to talk about the product, either demonstrate the product or show a film of it in action, and give an address where viewers could find out more about it.
- Pungeon Master: Bennett Cerf, regularly. He would often credit these puns to "our host John Daly", much to Daly's chagrin. He was also usually the one to introduce John, as he sat at the end of the panel, and he would often give John ridiculous middle names.
- Which was an inside joke: John Charles Daly's family traditionally named all their sons "John Daly", the only difference being their middle names.
- Red Scare: Why Louis Untermeyer was dropped as a panelist.
- Reunion Show: What's My Line? At 25.
- Running Gag: Bennett Cerf complaining about the convoluted explanations John Daly gave when a question couldn't rightly be answered with a straight "yes" or "no".
- Trans Atlantic Equivalent: As was the case with most Goodson-Todman shows, there was a UK version of Line. Its host, Eamonn Andrews, made frequent appearances as a panelist on the American Line and To Tell the Truth. (There was also a French-Canadian edition, Chacun son métier, whose host once appeared as a contestant on the American Line.)
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: The syndicated run presented inventions that were awe-inspiring then but commonplace now — automatic teller machines, portable (paperback-sized) calculators, and home video games.
- A lot of the guests with technical occupations from the CBS run count, too — in an episode with a maker of spacesuits, it's really interesting how exotic the words "spacesuit" and "astronaut" were to the panelists. Also, Kilgallen's remarks to test pilot Joseph Kittinger about jet airplanes being a "new" technology.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Given that they were both named Allen, they had roughly the same sense of off-beat humor, and the age was about right, a great deal of viewers incorrectly assumed that semi-regular panelist Fred Allen was semi-regular panelist Steve Allen's father. The two would often play along with this, and in somewhat of a continuation, a later episode had Steve saying how proud he was of the success of his son, Woody.