In 1998, AOL Instant Messenger was the cutting edge of the Internet, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” was the No. 1 song and ABC greenlit a comedy series named “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” that was unlike anything else on network television. Featuring a group of comedians playing a series of improv games along with celebrity guests, it was a surprise hit that ran for eight seasons.
Tonight, a new version of “Whose Line” premieres on The CW, a network which did not even exist in 1998. However, almost everything else is the same. Most of the original cast, including Wayne Brady, Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie have returned. The set looks the same. [Musicians] Laura [Hall’s ] there. Linda [Taylor’s] there. It’s all the same,” said Stiles. The only major change is a new host, Aisha Tyler (“The Talk”).
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“Whose Line Is It Anyway” joins other revived series, including “Arrested Development” and “The Game,” whose resurrection was largely due to a passionate fanbase. “Since the first one ended, everyone [in the cast] has been touring. We just toured with different groups. I tour with Chip and Greg and Jeff, and Colin tours with Brad. But everywhere we go, people kept saying, ‘When are they bringing ‘Whose Line’ back?'”
A show featuring 50-something comedians seems like an odd fit for a network that targets millennials, but according to Stiles, the show appeals to the same viewers who watch “Arrow” and “The Vampire Diaries.” “When we go on tour, that’s our audience. I think [The CW] was a little nervous about it at first, until they realized. The first show we shot, the audience holds 350 [people]. We filled that. They turned a bunch of people away and then they opened another studio with [close circuit] TVs in it for people to watch.” Added Mochrie, “I think our audience is actually getting younger because they’re catching up with [the original series] on YouTube.”
Brady has a theory about the show’s enduring online appeal. “Funny’s funny and funny’s timeless, just like good music is timeless. I knew the show would last because… the reality stuff is cool and this great escape show where five people are stranded in a balloon, had three seconds to live and one of them has a secret… That’s great, but if at the end of the day, you see something that just makes you laugh, hands down, no bells no whistles, it’s funny, that lives on.”
This season’s celebrity guests include CW stars Candice Accola (Caroline, “The Vampire Diaries”), Maggie Q (“Nikita”) and Wilson Bethel (Wade, “Hart of Dixie”), as well as “Glee’s” Kevin McHale (Artie) and “The Walking Dead’s” Lauren Cohen (Maggie.)
The cast raved about their performances. “In terms of being an improviser, Wilson was great. Everything he was in he contributed to, and he was fearless,” said Brady. “I got my chest hit by the chick from ‘The Walking Dead,’ which was great.”
But Brady’s dream guest star is the man who was running the country back in 1998. “I’d love to invite President Bill Clinton because, like I said, I think smart wins the day and,say what you want to say about his presidency, I thought he was a great president. And I think he’s an incredible, erudite man and just fun. So he would be a fun person to bring on and for the musical improv, he can play his sax.”
The revival of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.