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Eric: We should do a blogger's panel show. Wil Wheaton could host.

Weds and I chatted last night, and talked about our shared nostalgia for Canadian television and Canadian radio. (Or as she refers to it, "television and radio." I, being American, don't see it quite that way.) We're from opposite ends and sides of the St. John river, which means that the same way she got to see WAGM out of Presque Isle and WLBZ out of Bangor, I got to see CHSJ ("the New Brunswick Television system") growing up in Fort Kent, Maine. In any case, we both agreed that it was going to be a very CBC day here at Websnark.

I, naturally, can't speak to CBC Radio One at the moment. I'm not a daily listener like she is, and while I know from the National, it's been a while. And of course, Weds has much greater depth and knowledge of the subject, and can write about it better. However, the lockout has me feeling nostalgic, and so I'm going to throw in my own two cents about the CBC. For interesting and in depth analysis of the CBC, of the replacement managers, and of... well, stuff, go back and check Weds's stuff. Me? I'm going to talk about panel shows.

Oh, there's so much I could talk about, as a kid growing up and watching CHSJ as one of a very scant number of options in Northern Maine. I could talk about Casey, Finnegan and Mr. Dressup. I could talk about the Friendly Giant. Or the weird "Wizard of Oz" cartoons or the stop action puppet based "Adventures of Pinocchio." Or the sheer surreal pleasures of Barbapapa. But I'm not going to. There are better folks to talk about that. Weds is one of them.

But panel shows? I know from panel shows.

For those who don't know, a "panel show," on television and on the radio, is essentially a fake game show. I say 'fake,' because typically the people competing aren't actually getting any prizes -- they're the same celebrities or near-celebrities every week, perhaps with a 'guest star' or two. Oh, sometimes there's a person who's trying to trick them for some nominal prize, but it's hardly the same thing as a quiz show. In America, the seminal panel shows were To Tell The Truth, where the celebrity panel would try to figure out which of three people ("Number one -- what is your name please?" "My name is Rich Beetle." "Number two? What is your name please?" "My name is Rich Beetle...") is really the person described to them by the announcer, and What's my Line, where the panel asks questions to try and figure out what the guest's job is. There used to be a lot more of those panel shows on American television and radip -- I've Got A Secret, The Name's The Same, Information, Please, and many others -- but they all featured the same basic thing: an affable moderator and three or four affable and witty panel members, who brought wit and banter to somewhat banal problems.

To Tell The Truth and What's My Line clung to life the longest, but by the seventies and eighties, the panel show was more or less dead in America.

But not in Canada.

I remember a wonderful, cheesy as Hell panel show from my youth, over on CHSJ. It was called This Is The Law! It featured movie skit goofiness where a guy dressed up as some kind of policeman depending on where this skit took place watched a goofy actor pantomine something, generally innocently, and follow all of it up by walking up and putting a firm hand on the hapless crook's shoulder. To this day, I think of "putting a hand on a crook's shoulder" as the International Symbol for 'You're Booked, Punk.' Then, the panel would cheerfully debate what obscure Provincial law the hapless crook had broken. It was ridiculous and goofy and I loved it.

The seminal panel show on any television network -- even more than What's My Line or To Tell The Truth, was the very Canadian Front Page Challenge, of course. Pierre Berton, Gordon Sinclair and others served on a panel where they would question guests about what news story they were a part of. Once the news story was guessed, the panel (all journalists) would then interview the guest about the story and get in depth. It was the longest running panel show of all time -- and the longest running non-news CBC program -- going close to forty years in production. In fact, when SCTV did its absolutely brilliant satire of the CBC on one of its episodes (most notably by running the same Hinterland Who's Who segment seven times during the 90 minute episode), they threw in Front Page Challenge, including specific parodies of Berton, Sinclair, Betty Kennedy and others. It nailed it. Utterly nailed it.

Today, panel shows are mostly gone. You still hear them on the radio -- My Word was a British wordplay panel show until just recently, and it spawned the American public radio knockoff Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, but they're pretty well gone. The CBC doesn't even carry many any more, I'm led to understand. And that's sad to me, because in a way, it was a format uniquely suited to Canada, where a dry wit remains valuable and intelligence remains a popular hook for television.

That, by the way, might have been the panel show's undoing in America. Somewhere along the line, we stopped being entertained by funny smart people saying clever things. Somewhere else along the line, David Hasselhoff became a television icon. I'm not saying these things are related. I'm just saying.

Now, if you want me to compare brilliant Canadian shows with anemic American ones, liquor me up and get me comparing Saturday Night Live (of any era) and CODCO sometime. Now there was some hardcore funny.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 15, 2005 8:16 PM


Comment from: Wednesday posted at August 15, 2005 9:21 PM

Okay, I'm totally bringing a DVD or two of Have I Got News For You over on the next visit. Britain still has panel shows. (That's just the only one worth mentioning, mind.)

Comment from: SeanH posted at August 15, 2005 9:23 PM

Doesn't Mornington Crescent count? There's nothing like introducing an unsuspecting North American to that most excellent and subtle game of Mornington Crescent.

Comment from: Merus posted at August 15, 2005 9:31 PM

The only experience I have with panel shows, as you describe them, was Good News Week, which not surprisingly was based off a British show. They took the gameshow aspect a tad more seriously, and had rounds and things. When the Australian Science Festival was on, they'd do a live show and have a segment based around the Darwin Awards. Boy, now that was a hoot.

Actually, hang on, they're doing Spicks and Specks, which spawned the highly amusing round where people are given a book and have to sing a song, except using a passage of the book as lyrics. Try singing this post to the tune of "Under the Bridge", and then have people try to guess what song you're singing.

Good News Week was ruined when it was stolen by the commercial stations, expanded out to 90 minutes, then even longer, and had sketch comedy segments inserted to pad it out. While not bad sketch comedy, certainly better sketch comedy than usual, it's not exactly what we came for.

Traditionally in Australia, "panel shows" refer more to shows like, well, The Panel, where you sit comedians down at a table, give them a topic of conversation and a celebrity, and film. If they run out of jokes, they talk to the celebrity. (This format has varying success - The Panel's best bit is when they aren't given a celebrity, so by convention they summarise the week that was, including well-timed cuts to stock footage from the week on occasion. It does end up being very funny, but that only lasts to the first ad break.)

Comment from: Merus posted at August 15, 2005 9:32 PM

Have I Got News For You! That's what Good News Week was based off. Thanks, DotW.

Comment from: Ms Saint posted at August 15, 2005 9:36 PM

I would think Who's Line Is It Anyway? would surely count...

Comment from: SeanH posted at August 15, 2005 9:37 PM

There's always Shooting Stars, though that didn't so much have wit as silliness.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 15, 2005 9:40 PM

Who's Line counts, yes.

Comment from: Thomas Blight posted at August 15, 2005 9:42 PM

I, naturally, can't speak to CBC Radio One at the moment. I'm not a daily listener like she is, and while I know from the National, it's been a while. And of course, Weds has much greater depth and knowledge of the subject, and can write about it better.

Not to nitpick, but shouldn't that to be of? It doesn't make much sense to write here that you can't get in contact with CBC Radio One for the time being.

As for Canadian TV, for some reason modern Canadian TV shows are one or more of these three:

1. Extremely quirky

2. Poorly paced or uninteresting

3. For a niche audience

Actually, now that I think about it, those three could probably be shortened to just extremely quirky.

I have yet to suffer through an entire episode of Corner Gas or Queer As Folk. Then again, I have never been the type of person to watch dramas. I have trouble suffering through an entire episode of CSI despite my little fascination for forensics.

Oh, and you make me feel like a toddler. Oh well, I guess I am less than half your age.

Comment from: empyress posted at August 15, 2005 9:48 PM

Corner Gas (which I avoid like the plague) is not on CBC. CTV has it. At least where I am.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 15, 2005 10:03 PM

There is an idiomatic usage involved, Thomas. One can, idiomatically, "speak to" subjects, meaning speaking on those subjects. it's archaic and out of favor, but I kind of like it.

And you're not a toddler. I'm just old. ;)

Comment from: Thomas Blight posted at August 15, 2005 10:46 PM

Ah, yes, idiom. I should've known that it's not that easy to catch Eric using words wrong.

Empyress, it doesn't matter whether it is on the CBC or the CTV. The fact is Corner Gas is a Canadian show.

Back on topic a bit, does anyone remember Made In Canada? I liked it, although it suffered from awkward pacing at times and was quite quirky.

Comment from: John Bankert posted at August 15, 2005 10:48 PM

You're assertion regarding the panel show's demise here in the USA reminds me a conversation I had one night with an ex housemate about the state of American network television. I was grousing mightily about the demise of Twin Peaks and how disgusted I was that no one wanted to actually think about what they're watching. He countered that sometimes people didn't want to have to think, they just wanted to relax. I couldn't disagree, but my assertion that it had gone beyond relaxing into brain death was lost on him. Of course, he also watched Roseanne and it's ilk religiously. Might explain why he was a failure as an attourney.

Personally, I'm all for more television programs showing smart people being funny. Anyone know how to raise the dead? Paul Lynde in the center square please.

Comment from: John Bankert posted at August 15, 2005 10:49 PM

erg... Never mind my bad spelling. Your, not you're.

Comment from: Daemonic posted at August 15, 2005 11:13 PM

Made In Canada was fairly good, and made better because of Rick Mercer. If the east knows anything in Canada, its good comedy. Consider the golden years of This Hour Has 20 Minutes. The best times were with nearly all eastern members.

I also enjoy Corner Gas, as do most people I know... It takes a certain sense of humour to truly enjoy it though. Second season DVD comes out on Sept. 27th. :)

Comment from: Phil Kahn posted at August 15, 2005 11:32 PM

So dude, are we talking shows like "Hollywood Squares" here? I have never seen any of the above mentioned shows.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 16, 2005 12:12 AM

Hollywood Squares and Match Game are a related species, but they're not the traditional panel game.

Comment from: larksilver posted at August 16, 2005 12:21 AM

Wait, Wait, don't tell me! I love that show. And I love it precisely because it's one of the few places where you can hear funny smart people saying funny smart things.

I recently read a study (several years old now) where they ran scans of the brain activity of people doing various activities. Of all of the activities, the only one using less activity than watching television was sleeping. Reading, on the other hand, was very nearly the top of the list. I gleefully use this information to further my cause to just turn that damn squawk box off once in a while.

On the subject of Whose Line, I must say that the original was far better. The newer version, although often funny, lacks some of the subtler humor, and leans very heavily into the near-slapstick brand of humor.

Maybe I really am an old woman trapped in a 34-year-old body, as my family always says. Ah, well, at least my body will catch up with me someday! hehe

Comment from: miyaa posted at August 16, 2005 12:33 AM

I used to hear My Word from a Kansas Public Radio station, and I wonder where did it go on the British side.

I thought Morning Crescent was some kind of MUD soap opera stemmed from the very weird children's show, Swan's Crossing.

And apparently, Canada can't win when it comes to Labour disputes. First hockey, then nearly parliament (okay, that one was a stretch), and now CBC has locked out their employees.

(Speaking of games, I was in Wal-Mart, and I saw The Bard's Tale 3. One of the cut-lines was this: "Your snarky or nice will affect the events that unfold and create a personalized experience for each player." I just found that oddly amusing.)

Thing about Match Game I did not know: Gene Rayburn is still alive and kicking. Which got me thinking: better game show host: Alex Trebek or Monte Hall?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 16, 2005 12:39 AM

Sadly, Gene Rayburn -- he of the unfeasibly long microphone -- passed away in 1999.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at August 16, 2005 12:45 AM

Huh. I just learned he actually died of Congestive Heart Failure.

Which interests me, because I am egocentric. See, I went into congestive heart failure in 1999 too. And came within a couple of weeks of... well, let's just say I almost got to meet Gene Rayburn.

So, any way you look at it, you should go see your doctor on a regular basis. Because drowning in bed is a silly way to die.

Comment from: Aerin posted at August 16, 2005 1:25 AM

You know, an iteration of "To Tell the Truth" still exists. It was syndicated daytime stuff that showed on one of the smaller local channels that I watched every day during the summer. It was hosted by John O'Hurley, and I remember the panel usually included Paula Poundstone and the black guy from Designing Women, though the panel wasn't always quite static.

Tangentially, I recently learned of a party game that is almost exactly like "To Tell the Truth". Everyone writes down a sentence that briefly describes an event in their life on a slip of paper with their name, and they're all put into a hat. One person then drew a slip of paper, read the sentence, and selected three people to relate the story, one of them the actual author of the note. Then they would tell their stories and answer questions, and the rest of the group would vote on who was telling the truth. Then the actual author of the story would choose the next story. It was pretty fun.

I'm a big fan of stuff like this. It's always tons of fun to watch.

Comment from: miyaa posted at August 16, 2005 3:04 AM

Wait he did? Then who was it I saw on one of those game show reunions things they did on NBC like two or three years ago? I think I'm confused enough that I'm going to get a scotch now to drown my confusion in.

At any rate, I like John O'Hurley. I'm not sure if I'm going to like him as much after he has his reality television show. (Whoever came up with this concept deserves to be drug out onto the streets and shot.)

And Eric, what's up with your body? Heart failure, stomach surgery that made you like a mouse: you can't drink anything carbonated. You're turning into that red-light operation dude.

Comment from: SeanH posted at August 16, 2005 4:50 AM

miyaa: I'd always assumed those stemmed from the same source.

Can you stem from a source? It's early.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 16, 2005 7:28 AM

We watched both Twin Peaks and Roseanne. Joss Whedon was one of the Roseanne writers you know.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at August 16, 2005 8:20 AM

Whedon only worked relatively briefly on Roseanne, and one gets the impression that much of his work was lost in the storm.

Comment from: jnspath posted at August 16, 2005 9:58 AM

I have never really heard the term "panel show" before but after reading Eric's description, I knew that I had seen a couple. And apparently I would have liked them.

Just a couple weeks ago my local NPR station started carrying Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, and I have to say that I look forward to it every weekend. Current events mixed with comedy. I'm there.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 16, 2005 10:17 AM

Whedon only worked relatively briefly on Roseanne, and one gets the impression that much of his work was lost in the storm.

Oh. He didn't say that on Biography. He didn't say that much about it really, but when he mentioned Roseanne I sure saw the similarity in theme and in style of dialog. I suppose you have to have thought Roseanne is funny to have watched Roseanne enough to know what I mean.

Comment from: Aerin posted at August 16, 2005 11:10 AM

If I'm not getting my bits of trivia messed up, Whedon also worked on The Simpsons, where his humor was likely much more appreciated.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at August 16, 2005 11:20 AM

Biography probably didn't care that much. I know what you're getting at, though (I've seen most of the series at some point or another, and will cop to having once owned a copy of My Lives). I think he covered this in the big long IGN interview several months back, at the same time he talked about his dad's work on The Golden Girls and how influential that show was on his comedic writing.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski posted at August 16, 2005 12:28 PM

Perhaps the testosterone rush I'm getting right now, in indignation at being shown up for a piker in trivia relating to someone whose background's never actually interested me enough to investigate before, is symptomatic of the jones for Serenity that's been stalking me ever since Sci-Fi started showing Firefly. Great stories. Great women too, I've been noticing this time, in a variety pack sure to have something for everyone. Speaking of testosterone.

Comment from: jpcardier posted at August 16, 2005 1:43 PM

Besides Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! there is also Says You! on NPR, which is also a panel show. It is also damnably impossible. I like them both.

As regards Whedon and Rosanne; unless Joss has spoken out about it, it's impossible to know how much he contributed to it. TV Writing is group based, and while someone may have credit, many other uncredited folks contributed a good deal to the final product.

Comment from: Cornan posted at August 16, 2005 1:49 PM

If there ever was a blogger's panel show and Wil Wheaton hosted I would be certain to tune in every day. That would be so absurdly awesome.

Comment from: quiller posted at August 16, 2005 2:18 PM

You have to say that any quiz show where the big prize is Carl Castle's voice on your answering machine is practically a panel show. I'm always amused at just how poor the prizes are on public radio quiz shows.

But yeah, my radio station used to play My Word and My Music from the BBC, and I would listen to them all the time. I can't see a panel show being a big hit on network television these days, but they seem to fit the public radio niche fairly well.

Comment from: miyaa posted at August 16, 2005 3:09 PM

Sean, I have no idea what my sources are except from what I watch from Television. According to imdb.org, there were two "Most Outrageous Game Show Moments" shows in 2002, which I thought I saw Gene Rayburn interview people at a mall as one of the non-way-back-machine clips. I must have mistaken Rayburn for Peter Marshall or something like that. Either way I need to get my sanity checked.

The only thing Wheaton is doing as of late is a monthly D&D column in Dungeon called, (wait for it...)Wil Save.

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at August 17, 2005 6:42 PM

O'Hurley's To Tell the Truth was from back in 2000-2001, actually. It's probably the most-revived game show ever. After a decade-plus original run, it came back in 1970-ish, 1980, 1990, and 2000. The first revival had a healthy life--the next three, not so much.

(I've Got a Secret is coming up on its third revival, too. Yes, game show nerd is me.)

Comment from: Robert Hutchinson posted at August 17, 2005 6:43 PM

Ah, well, I forgot that I was catching up on Websnark. Ignore the day-old-ness!

Comment from: vark posted at August 19, 2005 7:16 PM

The only thing Wheaton is doing as of late is a monthly D&D column in Dungeon called, (wait for it...)Wil Save.


Well, I'd like to take issue with that. or maybe you were assuming we already read his blog, and know about his sundry projects, like the weekly onion column, his rarely updated audioblog and photoblog, his improv troupe, his cameos and small parts on tv and in movies, voice work for cartoons and videogames, that he's writing his third book, this one about poker, that he's mostly a househusband for a couple teenagers, and some more of those sorts of thing. I'm a fan, can you tell?

A lot of the places i waste time at online, slashdot, boinboing, penny arcade, are places I heard about from wil. What used to be his forum, tehsoapbox.net, has by now spun off as its own thing, but remains one of the online communities I feel most connected to. It was wil's example that got me blogging, and it's the link in my blog to websnark that I click to keep coming back here...

mostly for the great writing, a little bit to get my feet wetter about these webcomix thingies.

Speaking of which.. maybe if you're bored someday, www.stripcreator.com would be snarkworthy. Not that they are "real" webcomics, but as a tool that lets anybody be up and comicing in less than an hour, I think it's a neat trick.

Cordially, an arbitrary aardvark.

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