Wait. Wait Wait's in Sarasota?
It will be over by the time you read this. But when I spoke to host Peter Sagal about the arrival yesterday of National Public Radio's cheeky quiz show Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me in Sarasota, he told me of the one subject he could assure would come up during their hourlong riff on the day's news.
"Katherine Harris has done more for making the Tampa Bay area a funny place from the news perspective than any other single person," said Sagal, calling from his office in Chicago. "Basically, there's hasn't been a better clown in your area since Mr. Ringling himself -- what can we say?"
Even though Mr. Ringling wasn't exactly a clown, we applauded Peter for his knowledge of the area (extra points for a later reference to "the guy who shouts the menu at the Mucky Duck"). Turns out, the Wait Wait episode you will hear tomorrow -- taped last night in a sold-out performance at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall -- was meticulously scripted by Sagal and his staff, although you'd never know it from listening.
"We do a lot of preparation, so we can be as spontaneous as possible," he said, remembering that "the single funniest thing that may have ever happened on our show" was an unsceripted ad-lib during an appearance by Tom Hanks. "The theme of the question was how Errol Flynn met his second wife as she was working the concession stand at the courthouse during his trial for statutory rape. Tom Hanks was musing on this and he said 'Do courthouses even have snack bars?' There was a pause and Paula Poundstone says, 'Yes!'"
Poundstone, who has had her own court troubles, is Wait Wait's secret weapon; amazing at off the cuff jokes, but uninformed enough about the news that she doesn't come off too much like a know-it-all. Indeed, her first victory in the show's halfhearted competition among it's panelists brought a standing ovation from the audience.
Sagal and I traded emails more than a year ago, when I did a story about NPR's lack of diversity and used Wait, Wait as an example. A quiz show with three in-studio panelists who help riff on the news and answer questions, Wait, Wait rarely features any people of color in those slots, which I always thought was a missed opportunity.
"We had been trying to identify the people who could come onto the show and make it a little more colorful," Sagal said. "We can think of no reason not to do that....(because) we’re trying to create the platonic ideal of the water cooler conversation. We’ve had less success in identifying people who can do all of it who are willing and able to do our show. These people are in great demand..we’re not the only people who want them. To a certain extent, by the time somebody has already recommended them to us, it’s too late."
Established in 1998, Wait Wait is closing in on its tenth anniversary as a much different animal than when it started. The primary difference? How they use the show's other secret weapon, longtime NPR newsman and announcer Carl Castle.
Sagal notes: "When we started we used to give Carl all the funny lines. Which is bad. Because he’s the world’s best straight man. So you say, 'Carl, say this as seriously as you can.' And it’s a lyric form a Britney Spears song."
Worst celebrity guest is also easy -- Kiss bassist/leader Gene Simmons: "Gene Simmons was without question the biggest asshole I’ve ever met in my life. I didn’t understand why he would come on the show and be such an asshole – but that’s his gig. Some people’s job is to tell jokes – his job is to be as obnoxious as possible...I always talk to guests prior to them going on he air. I talked to him on the phone, and I went over something with him and he was perfectly pleasant. I’ll give you an example – I said 'Wow, I said I wish I had known you were Jewish; I could have used some cooler jewish role models. He said 'How about Jesus and Moses, those are cool role models.' The very next day, everything he’s saying is more sexist and mean and vile. And I remembered that conversation, and I said what I said. And he said 'Yes, I'm a kike.' He’s trying to be that obnoxious."
Tampa Bay Leads Nation in Election Commercials on Local TV
At least, according to a report from a subsidiary of Nielsen Media Research, which concluded a total 19,730 political spots ran on local Tv in the Tampa Bay market from Aug. 1 to Oct. 15 -- 2,000 spots more than the next-largest market, Los Angeles.
Why so many ads? Partially because of goober-natorial candidate Charlie Crist, who notched 21,214 ads statewide during the same period. Overall, there were 154,950 local TV spots, a 31 percent increase from comparable period in 2002's midterms.
We had a story today on the issue, noting that Crist and his challenger Jim Davis both have strong ties to this area, which is the state's largest media market and largest pool of undecided voters. Still, the survey is a frightening look at the future of campaigning; crappy, misleading ads aimed at the viewer in a barrage of propaganda.
Don't forget to vote -- for the guy who runs the least amount of commercials.
Is Dave Price Coming on Down?
Rumors have abounded that Early Show weatherguy Dave Price may succeed Bob Barker on the venerated Price is Right game show when Barker retires in June. Apparently, he tried out for the show in September and has a contact clause allowing entertainment work.
But when I spoke with CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler on Wednesday for a different story, she wasn't speculating on who might replace Barker -- who she says suprised the suits at CBS with his decision to step down.
"I hope (Barker) will help us find his successor....he’s a part of this network's history and he’s adored by everybody here," said Tassler, who called the show "a huge brand" for CBS that would likely continue on without its host of 35 years. "This is a very monumentous (yeah, she used that word) year for him. I think for a number of seasons now there has been some speculation (about when he might leave, but) it was...a surprise."
Expect lots of puns about Price being right for Price between now and June.