Monday, August 9, 2010

What's My (Melodic) Line?

Think of any game show currently on the air. Now picture the host and contestants for that show. Now picture the arrival of a prominent American composer -- say, John Adams -- onto the program. What do you think the reaction would be? Would the host even recognize Adams, much less have anything intelligent to say to him? What about the other contestants? How would they react?

It all sounds very surreal, doesn't it? But there was a time when this actually happened.

"What's My Line?" was a succesful, if somewhat sedate, game show that ran from 1950 to 1967. The show was basically a variant on 20 questions. A mystery guest would sign in, and a celebrity panel  would attempt to guess their occupation, or sometimes their identity. The panel consisted of some of the brightest and sophisticated wits of the New York scene, and it wasn't often they were stumped.

On September 30, 1962, composer William Schuman was the mystery guest -- a figure recognizable enough that the panel had to be blindfolded. Here's the clip from that show. What I find interesting is that it's clear the audience also knows who he is, and that the panel does, too. I wonder if John Adams would fair equally well on "Deal or No Deal."