Quick Thinking 

It's our turn to quiz "Wait Wait" host Peter Sagal.

Style: Did you aspire to be a quiz-show host, or did it just happen?

Sagal: Never in my wildest dreams — or for that matter, my most mundane dreams — did I ever imagine I'd be hosting a game show for a living. If anything, because of my strange, preternatural ability to remember trivia, it's possible I envisioned somehow making a living as a game show contestant. But that dream came to a crashing end when I flamed out on "Jeopardy" in 1988. I came in second and won an armchair, which I still have.

Who crafts the questions? Are you responsible, and are you a news junkie?

I serve as a kind of de facto head writer for a staff of six. … Our Chicago-based production staff [spends] all week researching the show … from a whole cornucopia of sources: newspapers, Weblogs, radio and TV. … Once we've decided on what we'll do, we all write the questions, then I edit and rewrite the questions written by the others. Some of the material I always write myself, such as the "Not My Job" game. Then we read through the script on Thursday with executive producer Doug Berman, who lets me know exactly to what extent, and in what detail, I've done it all wrong.

What's the key to the program's success?

Carl Kasell. No question. Without Carl, we'd just be a bunch of self-satisfied idiots nattering on about stupid things in the week's news. But with Carl, we're a bunch of self-satisfied idiots occasionally interrupted by an honest-to-God newsman with a deep baritone voice. It makes all the difference.

On the road, you have an audience, but in the studio you don't. Why is that, and what effect does an audience, or its absence, have on your show?

The show was intentionally designed as a studio show, versus a live show. … But then, when we did our first show in front of a live audience in 2000 in Salt Lake City, we made an amazing discovery. When people are amused, they sometimes make a pleasant, staccato vocalization, sort of as if they're barking. This sound, we discovered on further exploration, has two interesting effects. First, it makes other people hearing it more inclined to make that same happy barking themselves. Secondly, it makes the performers glow and grin, and even sometimes come up with more amusing things to say, which, in turn, creates more staccato barking vocalizations. … It's our hope to begin doing all, or most, of our shows in front of live audiences here in Chicago starting in April of 2005

Who picks your musical bumpers that air between segments? They're often the cleverest aspect of the program — like when you used "She's Not There" by the Zombies after a question about the Miss America pageant not being on ABC-TV anymore.

It's actually become a detail of the show we spend a lot of time on and one which discerning fans always notice. It's sort of our equivalent of the blackboard messages at the start of "The Simpsons."

Do you feel all of your hard work on the show is validated now that it's on the air in Richmond, Virginia?

We worked for years, literally, to get to the 100-station mark, then 200. Now we're at more than 300. But now that we're on WCVE 88.9-FM, we're going to rest on our laurels. Richmond, babe! Capital of the Confederacy! When you've made it there, you know you're rocking it, antebellum style. S


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