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Series / What's My Line?

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Game Show 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. The early stages of the show had different lineups. Poet Louis Untermeyer was a regular from the first program until he was removed due to his alleged links to Communists. By early 1951, the panel was Cerf, Kilgallen, Francis and comedian and writer Hal "Dimples" Block. Block was fired in 1953. His seat was then taken by Steve Allen for a year and then radio star Fred Allen. With Fred's death in 1956, the seat became rotating. Ernie Kovacs was considered a regular by some during 1957. Other than that, the 4th seat became a spot for guest panelists. Arlene's husband, actor Martin Gabel, appeared over 100 times, more than any other guest panelist. When Kilgallen died in 1965, her seat became a second rotating guest spot.

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 sister shows 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.

GSN 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. It currently airs weekday afternoons on the diginet Buzzr. Additionally, two "seasons" of episodes from 1955 have been released to watch for those subscribed to Amazon Prime, or its video service, courtesy of Buzzr. These episodes, unlike the broadcasts on GSN, include the full-length adverts seen on the program for Stopette and Remington Rand. More than 750 episodes have also been posted to the Youtube channel aptly named What's My Line?

Game Show Tropes in use:

  • 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.
  • Personnel:
    • 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. Harry Anderson hosted an unsold 2000 revival, and J. Keith van Straaten helms Live On Stage.
    • Studio Audience
  • Show the Folks at Home: ...the contestant's "line". The British version's host, Eamonn Andrews, advised those who wanted to play along to look away while the answer was shown. Once or twice on the U.S. version the contestant's line wasn't shown in order to try something different, but this didn't stick because it was generally agreed that it was a lot more entertaining for the audience to be "in the know" - i.e. it would be amusing if the panel asked "Could this be used by both men and women?" for a product that was intended for use by animals.

Will the next trope come in and sign in, please?

  • Always Identical Twins: In a 1960 episode, all the regular challengers were pairs of identical twins who shared a line of work. (They didn't manage to maintain the theme for the mystery guest, but kept in the family by bringing in the actors who played the Trapp siblings in a recently-opened musical called The Sound of Music.)
  • All Women Love Shoes: On the July 8, 1956 episode, Dorothy was so impressed with the first challenger's shoes that her first question was asking who designed them. When she later got confused over her own line of questioning, John Daly proceeded to tease her over thinking of the shoes.
  • 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 black & white first and then re-animated in color, during a period where the CBS broadcasts were transitioning into color broadcasting) was adapted for use in most of the syndicated run.
  • Aside Glance: Based on the big whooping ovation for Jack Lemmon, Arlene Francis assumes he must be a "curvaceous cutie"-type movie star. Jack does a perfect wry look to the camera.
  • Audio Adaptation: As mentioned above, the show ran concurrently on radio from 1952-53. Oddly enough, it was broadcast on rival NBC Radio at first before switching to CBS Radio.
  • Blatant Lies: A few Mystery Guests signed on with a name other than their own, albeit usually one with some sort of relation to them:
    • Bob Hope, on his December 12, 1954 appearance, signed in as Bing Crosby, his Road to ... co-star.
    • Groucho Marx never signed in with his real name. He signed in on October 13, 1963 as "Mr. + Mrs. John Smith" and on April 23, 1967 as "Take the Lead Out".
    • Jack Benny, on his June 21, 1959 appearance, signed in with the name of virtuoso violinist (and close friend) Jascha Heifetz.
  • Bookends: The contestants on the first episode of the original series were Pat Finch (Hat Check Girl, who also appeared on the 5th anniversary show in 1955 with the new occupation of a Chorus Girl), Arthur Feinberg (Diaper Service Executive), and Seymour Kolodny (Veterinarian). They all returned on the final episode, 17½-years later.
  • British Royal Guards: At least once one of these was a guest on the show. He appeared in the full get-up and the panel was blindfolded to prevent recognition. Despite this, Arlene Francis was forced to disqualify herself due to recognizing his name, though the rest of the panel was unable to figure out his occupation, so he won the full prize.
  • Broadcast Live: Most of the CBS run was done live. Starting in 1959, shows would occasionally be prerecorded on tape for later broadcast — often, there would be two shows done per day: a taped one, followed immediately by a live one. By 1961, the summer shows would be prerecorded to give the panelists a "summer break".
    • Two special episodes were shot in Chicago and Los Angeles. These respectively shot at 9:30 p.m. CST and 7:30 p.m. PST, when they aired live at 10:30 p.m. EST.
  • Clip Show: The CBS finale featured clips from the series premiere and from the first appearances of Arlene Francis, Steve Allen, Bennett Cerf and Martin Gabel (the panelists that night; though, mistakenly, the 3/2/50 episode was shown; Arlene first appeared on the 2/16/50 one). Those were shown on a monitor rolled onstage for the panelists' benefit.
    • The only other time clips were shown on the original version of the show, was on the 15th anniversary episode (2/14/65), in which an older-looking television set was shown. It featured a clip of Steve Allen on the panel, from 1/11/53.
  • C-List Fodder: 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 50 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."
  • Catchphrase: "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.
    • One episode found Mystery Guest Ed Sullivan wearing the same type of mask that was featured in a few episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
  • 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.
  • Crossover:
    • 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.
    • Several with sister show I've Got a Secret. The panel at the time (Bill Cullen, Faye Emerson, Jayne Meadows and Henry Morgan) appeared as Mystery Guests on April 1, 1956. Conversely, Arlene Francis made five appearances as a guest (October 19, 1960, May 21, 1962, October 5, 1964, June 21, 1965 and June 6, 1966) and John Daly made a couple of appearances (February 21, 1966 and February 6, 1967) where he had the panelists guess historical events from newspapers quotes and headlines.
    • The panelists of To Tell the Truth appeared as Mystery Guests on the December 11, 1966 show. Going the other way, Dorothy Kilgallen was on that show's panel on March 19, 1962.
    • The July 16, 1967 show featured as Mystery Guests the hosts of other Goodson-Todman shows: Bud Collyer (To Tell the Truth), Allen Ludden (Password), Ed McMahon (Snap Judgment) and Gene Rayburn (Match Game). For bonus points, Mark Goodson himself was one of the guest panelists.
    • Some of the cast of the 1950's British version appeared on the U.S. version and vice versa. Barbara Kelly appeared on the May 31 and June 7 1953 episodes (while Arlene was in London for an appearance on June 7), Ghislaine Alexander appeared on the U.S. Show on January 10, 1954, and Bennett Cerf appeared on the UK version twice in 1956 on June 4 and 11.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: In a 1956 episode, one of the challengers is a generously-proportioned woman who reveals under questioning that she is involved in the manufacture of a medicinal product, at which point guest panelist Jerry Lewis goes for a laugh by announcing that it's obvious the product in question is diet pills — which it is.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • Panelist Bennett Cerf filled in during one of Daly's very few absences. note  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.note  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.note  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 later 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.
    • Early in the CBS run, John Daly would always explain the rules of the game to the guest after they sat down. Eventually he would just ask them if they were familiar with the rules and only explain them if they said they were not.
    • 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.
  • Exact Words:
    • When Eamonn Andrews, host of the British version of What's My Line?, took over for an absent John Daly on 28 June 1959, Arlene Francis asked if they had established that one contestant worked for a profit-making organisation. Andrews said no, they had not established that... and promptly flipped a card over and passed questioning to Bennett Cerf, to the amused disbelief of the panel.note 
    • James Earl Jones appeared as a Mystery Guest during his run in The Great White Hope, which had then recently transferred to Broadway after a successful initial run in Washington, D.C. After it was established that the guest was appearing in a non-musical Broadway show, Arlene Francis, suspecting the truth, asked if the show in question had been first performed in another state before transferring to Broadway, and received a reply in the negative. When she challenged this after the reveal, Jones gleefully pointed out that the District of Columbia is not a state.
  • 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 why not copy themselves?
  • Five-Man Band: Surprisingly, the panel fit this schema quite well.
    • The Leader: The esteemed moderator, John Francis Daly, who marshaled his panel into completing the game.
    • The Lancer: Dorothy Kilgallen, who (by all accounts) took the game the most seriously of all the panelists and was the most competitive player - and had the most difficult relationship with the rest of the cast offscreen.
    • The Big Guy: The panel's comedian. Generally the goofiest, most boisterous panelist who asks the silliest questions. This was (most often) Soupy Sales during the syndicated years.
    • The Smart Guy: Bennett Cerf, the most well-read of the group (quite literally, being a publisher), and (excepting John, a veteran newsreader) the most erudite. Also responsible for the bulk of the put-downs - towards John, the other panelists, and even the contestants, betraying his snobbery.
    • The Heart: Arlene Francis, the least intellectual member of the panel, the only "entertainer" (apart from the comedian) in the group, the most gracious and refined questioner, and generally the one whose fashion and appearance was the most heavily emphasized (although Dorothy wasn't too far behind).
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language:
    • A number of the mystery guests gave their answers in languages other than English to help disguise their voices; French was the most popular (guests who answered in French included Henry Fonda and Vincent Price, the latter of whom sang his answers in French), and Russian also appeared at least once (used by Claudette Colbert). Some guests, such as Walt Disney, used different languages for different answers.
    • Occasionally, guests whose native languages used non-Roman alphabets would sign in using their native script. For example, Japanese actress Miyoshi Umeki (fresh from her Oscar-winning turn in Sayonara) signed her name in Japanese kana when she appeared as a mystery guest on the 11 May 1958 episode, while future Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Seiji Ozawa signed his name in kanji (which John Daly translated for the benefit of the panel and the audience) when he appeared as a contestant on the 7 July 1963 episode.
  • I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That: Spoken by Bennett Cerf when John Daly accidentally revealed Steve Allen's identity as the Mystery Guest. John responded that the phrase wasn't going to work and ended the game.
  • 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.
  • Last-Name Basis: Part of the show's overall emphasis on formality, decorum, and etiquette. Moderator John Daly would always address panelists by their title and surname when prompting them for a question, though he would usually switch to their first names if a discussion ensued. The panelists addressed each other (and usually John) by first name, though the contestant was always courteously addressed by title and surname by them as well. Note that, until the rise of second-wave feminism in The '60s, all women who went by their maiden name, regardless of martial status or age, were addressed as "Miss", and so Dorothy and Arlene were always "Miss Kilgallen" and "Miss Francis" and John Daly always made a point of asking female contestants "is it Miss or Mrs.?" when they signed in.
  • Let X Be the Unknown:
    • The standard way of introducing people whose names were well-known to the panel but whose faces were not necessarily familiar enough to require blindfolds 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". Guests who signed in this way included underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, golfer Arnold Palmer, TV ratings compiler Arthur C. Nielsen, Jr., Beatles manager Brian Epstein, and 1960s fashion moguls Mary Quant and Vidal Sassoon (in separate episodes).
    • Once in a while, contestants with familiar names but unfamiliar faces would sign in using false names; for example, Eddie Hurley, one of the umpires in the 1953 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed in as "John Doe" when he appeared in the 4 October 1953 episode. This was not enough to stop Dorothy Kilgallen from correctly guessing his line before questioning even began (the episode having been filmed when the panel were allowed a free guess at the beginning of a round).
  • Man in a Kilt:
    • A kilt maker from Scotland actually appeared on the show wearing one. The panel apparently thought this was too obvious as it took many questions before Dorothy decided to guess. Before the guest left, Bennett wanted to ask one more question only to get cut off by John since that questionnote  would get him in trouble.
    • During the syndicated run, the panelists were asked to blindfold themselves for a bagpipe player dressed in Scottish garb, including a kilt.
  • 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. And more than once, one of the more comedic-minded panelists would ask something like "Well, which is it?" when the contestant did answer in the correct manner.
  • Monochrome Casting: Completely averted. Despite being on the air during the 1950s and 1960s, the show had no problem including contestants of every race. Notably a number of Japanese contestants, not always known in America, appeared, and they were always treated with great respect.note  (Although the audience was invariably amused when they signed in using Japanese kana or kanji.) Oftentimes contestants of color would have "unexpected" (read: non-stereotypical) lines which, granted, helped to befuddle the panel. Celebrities of color included, among others, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Pearl Bailey, Harry Belafonte, the Harlem Globetrotters, Wilt Chamberlain, Muhammad Ali, and The Supremes.
  • "No" Means "Yes": Occasionally Played for Laughs; if a panelist asked if the contestant was not in a particular profession for instance, John Daly would reply with "Yes, (s)he is not (in that profession), no.".
  • Noodle Incident: The Sep 2, 1956 episode opens with Dorothy introducing Bennett as the man who rescued John Daly from a deep swimming pool at 2 am in the morning. While Bennett brings up rescuing John several times in the episode, other details of the incident are left unexplained.
  • 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. note 
    • 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. The question order among the panelists was also changed so that Soupy would go last, preventing Soupy from guessing the mystery guest before another panelist had a chance.
    • Almost invariably, one of the first questions that would be asked by one of the panelists would be whether the contestant dealt in a product or service, in order to narrow things down. Eventually, they decided to just start telling the panelists this right before starting the game. For the same reason, they also started telling them whether the contestant was salaried or self-employed.
  • 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 rigmarole 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."
  • Padding:
    • Bennett Cerf said this was regularly invoked during the Mystery Guest round. He, Arlene Francis, and Dorothy Kilgallen were all New York society regulars, so they knew which big stars were in town for a Broadway play or a film premiere, and would sometimes encounter a given week's Mystery Guest socially a few days before recording; they were also seldom fooled for long by the guests' disguised voices. However, the audience clearly enjoyed seeing the stars of the day playing What's My Line?, so the panel would generally ask more questions than they actually needed to identify the guest just to give them more game time.
    • During the syndicated era, the hosts (Wally Bruner and Larry Blyden) often would read fan mail and questions directed specifically to the panelists (often, Francis, Sales or (before his death) Cerf)). The Audience Participation game "Who's Who" also was used as an occasional fill-in. During the last year or so, Sales often would read or recite a funny rhyme as well during the final segment.
  • Parents Know Their Children: Averted with Arlene Francis. Her son, Peter Gabel, was a Mystery Guest twice on the original series (July 5, 1964 and March 12, 1967) and managed to stump her both times.
  • The Points Mean Nothing:
    • The points system consisted of 10 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.
    • According to Bennett Cerf, most of the regular members of the panel were more interested in getting laughs than correct answers (the main exception was Dorothy Kilgallen, who took the questions very seriously), so they were happy to let the guests have a few extra dollars if it meant entertaining the audience with bizarre questions.
  • 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. This was actually an inside joke: John Charles Daly's family traditionally named all their sons "John Daly", with the only difference being their middle names.
  • Rearrange the Song: The show began using Sascha Burland's "Sounds" as the theme song in 1957. It was rearranged in 1962, and again in 1965.
    • Likewise with the theme song to the 1968 Syndicated revival, which was rearranged in 1974, during the final season.
  • Red Scare: Why Louis Untermeyer was dropped as a panelist.
  • Reunion Show: What's My Line? At 25.
  • Revolving Door Casting: In contrast to the 15-plus-year tenures enjoyed by Kilgallen (1950-65), Francis (1950-67), and Cerf (1951-67), none of the other vacancies in the panel were ever filled for very long:
    • The first permanent panel, lasting for about a year from March 1950 to March 1951, consisted of Kilgallen, Francis, Hal Block, and Louis Untermeyer. Untermeyer was blacklisted for his alleged Communist links and booted from the show (although the producers held out against doing so for as long as they could).
    • Cerf replaced Untermeyer on March 18, 1951, and the panel remained unchanged until March 1, 1953. This was the longest-lasting four-panelist lineup, and it saw the show become a national sensation (it finished at #20 in the ratings for the 1952-53 season), which brought a harsh spotlight on Block's crude, lowbrow comedic style. When he ired the sponsor, his contract was not renewed.
    • Steve Allen, who had been a guest panelist on Block's last show (Cerf was away on assignment) replaced Block and took Cerf's old seat, moving Cerf to the end of the panel where he remained for the next 14 years. From March 8, 1953 to August 8, 1954, Steve Allen would be a regular panelist, before he left to create, produce, and star in The Tonight Show. However, he would return as a frequent guest panelist for the remainder of the show's run, including for the very last show in 1967. He is the only permanent panelist to leave the show and subsequently return for guest appearances, and (not coincidentally) the only one to leave on amicable terms.
    • Legendary radio star Fred Allen, of no relation (though the two sometimes jokingly pretended to be father and son given their age difference) replaced Steve as the panel comedian from August 15, 1954 until his death on March 17, 1956. Steve subbed for Fred on the following day's episode when Fred's widow insisted that the show go on as normal without him, but there would never again be a permanent fourth panelist. (Though Ernie Kovacs appeared semi-regularly in 1956-57 and Johnny Carson was also a frequent panelist in the late 1950s and early 1960s before he too left to host The Tonight Show.)
    • After Kilgallen also died suddenly in 1965, her chair was also freed up for rotating guest panelists, leaving Francis and Cerf as the only permanent panelists.
  • 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".
    • Similarly, while Fred Allen was a regular, there was a running gag of him replying with a completely unrelated question if he felt John had just given too convoluted an explanation, i.e. "John, let me ask you something... do you think that Cleveland has any chance of winning the championship this year?"
  • Silent Credits: On the November 14, 1965 episode, the first one following Dorothy Kilgallen's death, the usual credits roll was skipped in favor of just showing a title card in silence, followed by the network's "the preceding program was pre-recorded" disclaimer (the latter was for CBS affiliates that broadcast delayed the program).
  • Shout-Out: Bennett Cerf's introductions of John Daly would occasionally reference then-current events.
    • On the 3 March 1957 episode, recorded at the height of Charles Van Doren's marathon run on Twenty-One (the rigging of which was not then public knowledge), Cerf introduced Daly as "our answer to Charles Van Doren". Daly joked that he didn't want to be anyone's answer to Van Doren, lest he be put in an isolation booth next to him.
    • On the 20 September 1959 episode, recorded the day after a disappointed Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev had been told he could not visit Disneyland because his security while there could not be guaranteed, Cerf introduced Daly by saying, "And here is our very frustrated panel moderator, because he wants to go to Disneyland too!" Daly quipped that Cerf was correct in his claim, but he promised not to make as much of a fuss about not getting there.
    • The 9 February 1964 episode aired the same day (and on the same network) as The Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (which resulted in the What's My Line? panel having an especially difficult time getting to their recording on time). After Dorothy Kilgallen introduced Bennett Cerf as "What's My Line's answer to the Beatles", Cerf introduced the moderator as "John Ringo Daly".
  • Signing Off Catchphrase: "Thank you ladies and gentleman for being with us on What's My Line?"
  • Sleep Mask: The masks worn on the program for the mystery guest segment were actually these. In one installment of the 1955-1956 season, the final guest on one episode was the guy who manufactured the ones worn by the male panelists on the program.
  • Stuck on Band-Aid Brand: The Trope Namer was discussed on the August 20, 1968 episode when a Band-Aid salesman appeared as a contestant. Wally Bruner says the contestant sells "Band-Aid brand adhesive bandages" (he initially goofs up by calling them "Band-Aid brand Band-Aids") and asks him why Johnson & Johnson insists on them being called as such: he explains this is to avoid the company losing its trademark on "Band-Aid" as it becomes a generic term.
  • That Came Out Wrong: In the Nov. 5 1961 episode, when trying to guess the occupation of a dog beautician, Dorothy Kilgallen, having established he works with dogs, asked if he "cuts them into different shapes," to which John Daly replied in disbelief "Cuts the dog into different shapes!?" and guest-panelist Danny Kaye called out "Sausage manufacturer!"
    • This became hilariously lampshaded in the Jul. 6 1958 episode when, during the questioning of a female contestant whose line was being a judge at hog shows, Bennett Cerf seemed to have largely hit upon the answer and bluntly asked "are you a pig lady?". John Daly immediately responded by asking him about the intended punctuation of the question, causing everyone present to instantly dissolve into laughter while Cerf was left protesting that he meant it politely.
  • Theme Tune: The 1957-1967 theme, "Sounds", was written by Alexander "Sascha" Burland of The Nutty Squirrels and "No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach's In)" fame. Burland appeared as a contestant on the January 8, 1961 episode.
  • Title Drop: Many, as the announcer would say the name of the program at the start and host John Daly would welcome viewers to the program at the beginning, to give a couple examples. However, the most straight example is likely the intro segments used during the earliest episodes of the program. These typically followed a format which went along the lines of as follows...
    Announcer: Take a good look at this man. If you saw him at your corner newsstand, would you be able to tell what he does for a living? Is he a world-famous painter? A clerk in a supermarket? An undertaker? What would you say if he turned to you and asked...
    Man: (faces the camera) What's my line?
  • Transatlantic 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 (he holds the distinction of being the only person to be a panelist, a mystery guest, and a guest presenter on Line, and also appeared as a contestant on Truth before his appearances on the panel). The regular members of the panel also sometimes participated in "cultural exchanges"; for example, in 1953, UK Line regular Barbara Kelly appeared on two episodes of the American version, while Arlene Francis appeared on two episodes of the UK version.
    • There was also a French-Canadian edition, Chacun son métier. Radio actress Nicole Germain, a regular member of the Canadian panel, appeared as a contestant on the January 23, 1955 episode (and joined the panel for the following round, making it a rather unusual five-person panel), while moderator Louis Morisset appeared as a contestant on January 18, 1959.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future:
    • The syndicated run presented inventions that were awe-inspiring then but commonplace now automatic teller machines, portable (paperback-sized) calculators, home video recording 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.
  • Yodel Land: In the episode where underwater explorer Jacques Piccard was the mystery guest, all he told the panel was that he was from Switzerland. Cue Arlene and guest panelist Joey Bishop semi-seriously wasting several guesses asking if his occupation involves cheesemaking, skiing, watches, chocolate-making, or banking.