One year ago this week, in a piece about British television, I wrote about the ongoing popularity of panel shows there, and wondered why no US network has added them to primetime here. Popular in the fifties and sixties, panel shows like “What’s My Line?” and “I’ve Got A Secret” had a mix of regulars, guests, and a moderator who kept score even though the number didn’t matter because the whole idea was the banter between panelists. In other words, job number one was fun, not prizes.
At the time, I raved about “Would I Lie To You?” — a show that’s been on the air for more than a decade — in which panelists tell stories from their lives, and the other team has to question them to find out whether they’re telling the truth or a lie. After I posted that piece, a listener let me know that an American version was going into production for broadcast on The CW.
Well, it debuted Saturday night, with Aasif Mandvi as the host and Matt Walsh as one of the team captains. The only other person I recognized was Richard Kind, who sat in one of the guest panelist chairs that will be filled by different celebrities each week. I didn’t recognize anyone else, but that’s okay because the only member of the UK cast I was familiar with was host Rob Brydon.
So, how does the US version of “WILTY?” look? It’s about as good a copy as you’d want, although I couldn’t tell if there was really an audience in the studio or the producers used a laugh/applause machine. I have a feeling it’s the latter, because a couple of the panelists were doing far too much fake laughing, abetted by unearned applause. Also, each round of questioning is way too short (maybe 90 seconds each?), which means no one gets to stretch out and tell a really good tall tale or be put on the spot by the interrogators. That may be due to The CW’s commercial breaks, which don’t interrupt the proceedings on the English version because it airs on the non-commercial BBC.
It’s usually unfair to judge any show based on its first episode, even if it’s a spinoff of a successful one from elsewhere. All those involved, both on- and off-camera, have to get more comfortable with the format and each other, and producers will no doubt tweak things over the next few weeks to make the show flow more smoothly. On that last point, I suggest not having Mandvi announcing the scores multiple times in the half-hour, because “Would I Lie To You?” should in no way be hyped as a competition.
I plan to keep recording and watching “WILTY?” because I hope it will come to approximate the UK series from which it sprang. And that’s no lie.