Whose Line is it Anyway? Makes a Hilarious Return to TV [Kicking Back with Jersey Joe]
It’s the comedy game where the questions are made up and the points don’t matter. The hit TV series Whose Line is it Anyway? has returned to American network television after a six year absence with a new host. I checked out if this new version lives up to the old and track down the show’s very different start.
The concept of the show is simple. A panel of four comedians must create skits or songs on the spot using impro comedy. Some sketches may involve props or a band, but each is performed cold with the performers having no idea in advance of what the scene will be, often at the audience’s suggestion.
It’s the unrehearsed nature of the show that’s led to some of the biggest laughs!
It’s not television, but radio we have to thank for giving Whose Line? it’s start. And not American radio – but, British radio!
Whose Line? debuted on BBC Radio 4 in 1988. The series was created by British producers Dan Patterson and Mark Leveson. The original radio series lasted six episodes with Clive Anderson as host. After the successful run, the producers wanted to move the show to TV, but the BBC was hesitant, and the show was picked up by rival network Channel 4.
The show was a hit for Channel 4 lasting for 10 series and 136 episodes. Most episodes were taped in London, while some were taped in New York, and the entire last season was shot in Hollywood.
Reruns of the show were aired in the US on Comedy Central, although some were edited to remove or rearrange scenes that would be confusing or offensive to American audiences.
In the late 1990’s, comedian Drew Carey brought the show to the attention of the ABC television network. Carey’s hit show, The Drew Carey Show, gave him some pull at the network, and one of his show’s co-stars, Ryan Stiles had been a performer on the British version for years. Carey convinced ABC to air several test shows to see how it would perform. With the low-cost nature of the production, ABC gave the show a green light, and episodes began airing in the US on August 8, 1998.
Carey would take over as host for the American version and would participate with the performers in a final sketch on the show.
Ideas for the random skits the comedians would perform often came from the audience. Carey would reveal the name of the game and a brief description, then would ask the audience for topics or characters for the performers to play. Several games were played during each episode and more content was shot than could be aired in the 30 minute time limit. More risqué comments or scenes would be edited out or censored by the network.
Some of the regular games included:
• Song Styles – where Carey would take audience suggestions of musical themes the performers would have to sing such as doo-wop or rap, then would switch styles after a short period of time.
• Irish Drinking Song – an Irish pub style drinking song about random subjects
• Three Headed Broadway Star – where three performers would sing one word at a time to an audience member seated on stage in front of the performers
• If You Know What I Mean – the performers would act out a scene ending each line with “If you know what I mean…”
• Questions with Wigs – the characters would act out a scene wearing various wigs
• Quick Change – the performers would act out a scene, when another off-stage would yell “change” and the performer who spoke the last line, would have to come up with another.
• Props – the performers are forced to choose a random prop from a box and play in pairs of two
• Hats – the performers would act out a dating service video wearing different hats that they would change throughout the game
• Newsflash – a reporter (usually comedian Colin Mocharie) would stand in front of a green screen as the others acted out a newscast, forcing him to guess the crazy scene he is standing in front of
• Party Quirks – one performer would host a party where the others would randomly arrive at as different characters (often with problems)
• Infomercial – the performers would act out an infomercial selling an outrageous fake product
• Helping Hands – the performers worked in teams of two with one having his hands tied behind their back with the other stood hidden behind using their hands to interact with the props
• Dubbing – where a scene was acted with the performers only moving their mouths, while another off camera, overdubbed what they are saying
• Sound Effects – the performers must act out a scene while an audience member provides the sound effects
• Scenes from a Hat – the performers must act out a scene drawn randomly over and over from audience suggestions placed in a large hat
Carey would press a buzzer at his desk that would either end a game, or a quick buzz would be used to change topics, such as in Scenes from a Hat.
At the end of each show, the cast would read the end credits in one final random style that originated on the first BBC Radio show. The producers did this on radio, where the credits were usually read by a staff announcer. Their funny variation has lasted all the way to through the current TV series.
The show aired on ABC for six seasons until 2004. It mostly aired on Thursday nights against powerhouse shows on the other networks, but was never intended to be a blockbuster hit. The low cost keep it on the air as filler for years. After ABC canceled the series, it moved to their cable network ABC Family where some unaired episodes were broadcast and new episodes were edited together out of cut material from the original shows.
In addition to Carey and Stiles, the series also featured Colin Mocharie and Wayne Brady as regular performers. The fourth seat was often filled with a slew of rotating comedians or special guests.
After the series was canceled, the group would continue to produce and star in various ad-lib games for other networks including Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show that lasted one season on The WB and Drew Carey’s Improv-a-Ganza on The Game Show Network. The green screen show took the basic Whose Line ad-libs, but put them over a green screen. Improv-a-Ganza also plays several similar games shot in front of an audience at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
After airing in reruns for years, the show has returned to US prime time television on The CW.
Carey is committed to his new hosting duties on The Price is Right, so Aisha Tyler was selected as new host.
The new series is a continuation of the classic and again features the three regular performers Brady, Mocharie, and Stiles along with a fourth rotating guest.
This new version is a great continuation of the original. They have brought back the classic games and have introduced a few new ones that were created for the other aforementioned improv shows.
One of these newer games involves three performers lying down on a large red mat, while the outline of a bedroom is placed in back tape on the floor. A 3D door is placed vertically and the performers can use it as a prop in the scene. A camera is placed directly overhead and while the actors are rolling around on the floor mat to act out the scene, the audience sees the image rotated horizontally, as though they are walking through the scene.
Tyler is OK as host, but she can be a bit over the top at times. She often screams a little too much, but after a few episodes she will most likely settle into a groove of her own. She does not perform in any of the games as Carey would at least play in one.
As with all the prior versions, the points still don’t matter.
Name: Whose Line is it Anyway?
What: Impov game show
Length: 30 minutes
Currently airing: The CW, Tuesday nights 8 & 8:30pm EDT, encores are also airing on Friday nights
JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS:
They did a great job modernizing the set and music, without completely redoing the show. This almost feels like a continuation of the original series and is DEFINITELY worth your time to check out. Just do it quick – only 12 episodes for this season have been ordered and the CW is airing them two at a time, back to back, meaning this show should only be on the air for 6 weeks this summer.