Improv show 'Whose Line is it Anyway?' returns to television, yet again

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Most TV shows have their time on the schedule, get cancelled and then the cast scatters in all directions, never to reunite again. Then there's "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

The improv comedy series began 25 years ago as a radio show in the U.K. A British TV series soon followed, and the format — with some of the same theatre sports players — migrated to America in 1998.

Inexpensive to produce, the American version, hosted by Drew Carey, ran on ABC until 2007. This summer — after sorting out some ownership issues between England and the United States — it returned in North America, with the nucleus of the ABC team — Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie and "Let's Make a Deal" host Wayne Brady — back before the cameras.

The show is a hit on the CW, and a second season has already been ordered.

Which is why Stiles, Mochrie, Brady and new host Aisha Tyler were all at the Television Critics Association press tour Tuesday night along with other stars from CBS, the CW and Showtime.

Mochrie and Stiles were tucked into their own Canadian corner of the party, sharing a couch with Megan Follows. Canada's sweetheart in the '80s as the young lead of "Anne of Green Gables," Follows stars in the CW's fall historical drama "Reign."

Mochrie was just back from Montreal, where he was performing at the Just for Laughs comedy festival. He and Stiles never really stopped doing "Whose Line" in stage versions across Canada and the U.S.

"Wherever we went," says Stiles, "everyone would ask when's 'Whose Line' coming back?"

Mochrie, born in Scotland but raised in Montreal and Vancouver, admits there was a little trepidation coming back to television. "Is it going to be embarrassing old guys doing their stuff?"

Stiles was less worried.

"It was just like we had taken a long lunch break," he says.

Stiles was born in Seattle to Canadian parents and grew up in Vancouver. He was a member of the Toronto Second City troupe in the '80s that included Mike Myers.

"Whose Line" gained a reputation as a comedy the entire family could watch, although Stiles says his two children, now ages 21 and 19, never did.

"It embarrassed them," he says.

Sometimes the show did get a little bawdy, especially the early British episodes.

"We never knew where the line was," says Mochrie, "because in Britain, there was no line — you could do anything."

Mochrie recalls that ABC censors once edited out a scene where he kissed frequent guest player Greg Proops.

"The scene before that, I killed three women and threw them out a window, so I can't kiss a man but I can kill people!"

One outrageous episode in the American version featured kinetic fitness guru Richard Simmons, who got down on all fours during one skit and pretended to be a human jet-ski. Mochrie wound up "riding" him, which sent Carey practically under his desk with laughter.

The new series is shot in the same Hollywood studio as the version that aired a decade ago on ABC, with many of the same crew members. The host is different, with Tyler giving as good as she gets. She told Mochrie she was going to award him a million points after one game. The points were, she said, "just like a Canadian Emmy — they don't mean anything."

Stiles, who also starred on "The Drew Carey Show," says he's always in touch with his former host and co-star.

"He's a class act," says Stiles of Carey, who sent flowers to Tyler before the show's debut earlier this summer.

Some critics questioned the CW president Mark Pedowitz as to how "Whose Line" fit on his younger-skewing schedule. Stiles and Mochrie, who date back to the British version, could be parents to most of the teen vampires and other CW stars.

"Funny is funny," says Pedowitz, who was at ABC back when the series ran on that network. "There was a whole audience that grew up with it, so its coming back now is actually appealing to them.

"That's why you see a very even demographic split."

While Mochrie says it feels like old times, he admits some skits suit him better now.

"Greatest Hits," where two members make up song titles others have to perform, is his favourite game, he says, "because we just get to sit."


Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.

Organizations: ABC, Television Critics Association, CBS Canadian Emmy

Geographic location: United States, BEVERLY HILLS, Canada Montreal England Vancouver North America Green Gables Scotland Seattle Toronto Second Britain Hollywood Brampton

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