Ever since Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! started back in 1998, even when Peter Sagal was a panelist on the show and not the host, the panel consisted of three panelists. There would always be at minimum one female panelist on the panel, sometimes two. It wasn’t until the Wait Wait that aired in September 12, 2015 did the show have an all female panel consisting of Faith Salie, Roxanne Roberts and Paula Poundstone.
Roughly one year and nine months later, on the June 10, 2017 show, Wait Wait would have their second all female panel, featuring Paula Poundstone, Faith Salie and Tracy Clayton.
After the show aired and I finished collecting notes, I started to what the panel looked like in terms of how many male and female panelists were on each show’s panel. So, I started figuring out what database queries I would need to write, validate the results and collected the data onto a spreadsheet (to the TBTL listeners out there, the last “t” is silent).
The following table shows the panel gender mix for each year that the show has been on. The columns represent: shows with an all male panel (0 female, 3 male), shows with a panel with just one female panelist, shows with a panel with two female panelists, shows with an all female panel.
The data represented in the table includes show data up through the Wait Wait that aired on July 15, 2017. Any Best Of and/or Repeat shows are not included as they are compilation shows with multiple panels.
As you can see, the panel mix has been quite male heavy, with a total of 712 shows containing a two male, one female panel versus just 190 shows containing a two female, one male panel. That said, there has never been an all male panel on the show.
I took another look at the data to see how many unique (or distinct) panelists have been on the show over the years. The following table breaks that down:
For the most part, the show has had more unique male panelists appear on the show compared to unique female panelists. The only time where that wasn’t the case was back in 1999. Interestingly, the year that had the first all female panel, 2015, also had the heaviest set of unique male panelists, 18, compared to unique female panelists, 10.
I have zero authority to say why the panel mix has been so male dominated; but, my guesses on why that might be the case include, in no particular order:
- A male dominated pool of panelists that Wait Wait has to pull from
- Availability of the panelists for each show
- Panelist scheduling conflicts and/or last minute replacements
- Working rapport between panelists and between producers
- Audience appeal
The last item is very, very subjective and everybody has their most loved and least liked panelists over the years; and, that, can sometimes lead to some debates online. Those that know me should already know who my favorite panelists are, so I’m not going into that here.
Being an outsider looking in, I do not know how Wait Wait manages and maintains their pool of panelists that they pull from and I cannot speculate on why and when a panelist is selected to be on a given show. I only have the data that I have recorded through the history of the show, albeit with several panelist-related data and information to fill in.
That said, I was not totally shocked at the numbers that I saw when researching for this blog post; but, I am also a bit saddened by the rather male heavy mix of panels. Wait Wait has had and still has an incredible list of female panelists that help make the show stand out. I just would like to see Wait Wait look into ways to increasing the pool of female panelists available to be on the show; and, try to have more shows with a panel mix of 2 female panelists and 1 male panelist.