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Information, Please

Information Please

Information Please was an American radio quiz show, created by Dan Golenpaul, which aired on NBC from May 17, 1938 to June 25, 1948. The title phrase was contemporarily used to request information such as directory assistance and time of day from telephone operators.

The series was moderated by Clifton Fadiman (1904–1999). A panel of experts would attempt to answer questions submitted by listeners. If the panelists were stumped, the questioner earned five dollars and a complete edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. As the years went by, the prize money increased accordingly.

Panel regulars included writer-actor-pianist Oscar Levant (1906–1972) and newspaper columnists and renowned wits and intellectuals Franklin P. Adams (1881–1960) and John Kieran (1892–1981). All the panelists were well-versed in a wide range of topics, though each had a specialty. Music questions were often addressed to Levant. Adams was well known for his mastery of poetry and Shakespeare. Kieran was an expert in languages and botany. A typical question would have three or four parts and would require the panelists to get a majority of the questions right, lest they lose the prize money.

The show would always have a fourth guest panelist, usually either a celebrity, a politician or writer. Guest panelists included Fred Allen, Boris Karloff, Clare Boothe Luce, Dorothy Parker, S. J. Perelman, Sigmund Spaeth, Rex Stout, Jan Struther, Deems Taylor, Alexander Woollcott, Ruth Gordon, and Orson Welles.

The show was as much a comedy as a quiz show. The panelists displayed a quick wit in answering the questions, reveling in puns and malapropisms. Due to the spontanteous nature of the program, it became the first show for which NBC allowed a prerecorded repeat for the West Coast.

During World War II, the show frequently went on tours from its New York City base to promote the buying of war bonds. Instead of the usual cash prize, a question writer would win a bond. The show received several awards as an outstanding radio quiz show. In 1947, Golenpaul edited the Information Please Almanac, a reference book which continued through the years in different formats (including the website Infoplease).

Television

Information Please went to television in 1952. For 13 weeks, from June 29 to September 21, it was telecast by CBS on Sunday nights at 9:30pm as a summer replacement for the musical variety series The Fred Waring Show. Fadiman, Adams and Kieran were back in their usual seats, along with two guest celebrities, but that turned out to be the venerable program's last moment of glory as after the August 17 show Fadiman was replaced by John McCaffery for the rest of the show's run.

The popularity of the series also led to film shorts (1940-1943) and two card games. The show was satirized by the zany panel of radio's It Pays to Be Ignorant.

A variation of Information Please, this time a program devoted exclusively to music with the same four-member panel format, became popular when it was televised in Los Angeles in 1953. After two years of local success, Musical Chairs became a summer replacement series on NBC. The Bill Leyden-hosted game show lasted eleven weeks on the national airwaves.

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