Show Type: Quiz / Panel
First Telecast: February 16, 1950
Last Telecast: September 3, 1967
Producers: Mark Goodson & Bill Todman
Dorothy Kilgallen (1950-1965)
Louis Untermeyer (1950-1951)
Hal Block (1950-1953)
Bennett Cerf (1951-1967)
Steve Allen (1953-1954)
Fred Allen (1954-1956)
What's My Line? was the longest running game show in prime-time network history. It ran for 18 seasons, on alternate weeks from February to September 1950, then every Sunday at 10:30pm for the next 17 years.
The format of What's My Line? was incredibly simple. Contestants were asked simple yes or no questions by the panel members, who tried to figure out what interesting or unusual profession the contestant had. Each time the contestant could answer no to a question, he got $5.00 and a total of 10 no's ended the game. The panel was forced to wear blindfolds for the "mystery guest", a celebrity who tried to disguise their voice to avoid being identified.
This simple little game, by itself anyway, hardly warranted an 18-year run especially when other shows of the early 50's came and went every month. But What's My Line? was something special, both for the witty and engaging panel, and for a certain enthusiasm which few other shows of this genre had ever captured. There were no flashy celebrities or empty-headed pretty faces on this panel - they were very intelligent people out to have some good clean fun with an amusing parlor game. Like John Daly with his bow tie and perfect manners, it reeked of politeness!
The panelists who created the special atmosphere on What's My Line? were an elite group. The panel on the initial telecast consisted of the following: Park Avenue psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Hoffman; Poet and critic, Louis Untermeyer; former New Jersey Governor, Harold Hoffman and columnist Dorothy Kilgallen. Arlene Francis joined the panel on the second telecast and Bennett Cerf in March 1951. The first contestant of What's My Line? was a blond hat-check girl from the Stork Club and Francis, Kilgallen & Cerf were continuing regulars for the next 15 years.
Of the early panelists, Untermeyer was the biggest loss to the series - forced off the show and off television by McCarthy Era political blacklisting. Gag writer Hal Block was a panelist for a short time, as were Fred Allen and funny man Steve Allen (who actually coined the phrase, "Is it bigger than a breadbox?" when trying to determine size as quickly as possible and stay within the show's yes or no format). After the death of Fred Allen in 1956, the fourth seat on the panel was left permanently open for a different guest panelist each week.
In 1965, Dorothy Kilgallen died suddenly of an overdose of medication (it was suspected to be a suicide but never proved), following her appearance on the November 7th program. A much-publicized talent search took place for a permanent replacement, but in the end, her chair was also left open, filled by another guest panelist each week.
Finally in 1967, What's My Line? left the network only to resurface less than a year later in a less sophisticated and more slapstick syndicated version. Arlene Francis was the only one to return and was joined by Soupy Sales as a regular panelist. Wally Bruner was the moderator but was replaced by Larry Blyden in 1972. The syndicated version lasted until 1975.
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