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Tom Hanks Guest Hosts 'Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!' But How Did This Happen?!

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 13, 2017 7:21PM

Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! judge and scorekeeper Bill Kurtis and guest-host Tom Hanks at a live taping of the show on Thursday, January 12, 2017 at the Chase Auditorium in the Chase Tower in Chicago. Photo by Andrew Gill/NPR

Chicago's own Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me host Peter Sagal better watch his back. The long running NPR new quiz show has had a number of guest hosts over the years when Sagal takes a vacation, but Thursday night's taping was guest hosted by the heaviest of hitters, Tom Hanks.

Hanks was joined by scorekeeper and legendary anchor man Bill Kurtis, and regular panelists Paula Poundstone, Luke Burbank and Faith Salie. We've been to previous tapings of the show in the past, but this one was definitely in a league all of its own.

The usual show tends to run a little over an hour, but this week the program will have much to choose from when editing the final piece together; Hanks' taping ran for well over two hours. The first phone call alone lasted over 20 minutes, and at one point the panelists pointed out that it was pretty obvious the caller just wanted to stay on the line with Hanks as long as she possibly could.

Tom Hanks and Bill Kurtis on stage with panelists (left to right) Paula Poundstone, Luke Burbank and Faith Salie at a live taping of NPR’s “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” on Thursday, January 12, 2017 at the Chase Auditorium in the Chase Tower in Chicago. Photo by Andrew Gill/NPR

The evening's biggest question—and one that kept driving Poundstone to exclaim that she couldn't believe she was performing alongside Hanks—was what brought Hanks to appear on the show in the first place?

Wait Wait... executive producer Mike Danforth was kind enough to help clear a few things up for us.

CHICAGOIST: How exactly did you land Tom Hanks?

MIKE DANFORTH: We know he’s a fan of the show. I texted a friend who knows his daughter. My expectations were pretty low, but I got an email back a couple hours later from the man himself.

How involved was Tom Hanks in writing his own script? What kind of collaboration with the regular writers took place?

DANFORTH: He was in the office with us all week. Sat around the table with the staff; ate cheese curds—he’d never had them before. He collaborated on everything. Wrote stuff, punched up the stuff we wrote. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was super game.

What from this week’s show will probably stand out strongest in your memory?

DANFORTH: Probably the length. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and typically ends around 9:15. This week we didn’t get done until 10. I think Hanks was really relishing the chance to goof on stage with everyone.

C: In all the guest hosts Wait Wait… has had, where would Hanks land in the ranking?

DANFORTH: He’s the definitely the Tom Hanksiest of any host we’ve ever had.

We felt it would be rude to ask Danforth directly how much Hanks was paid to guest host the show. We would've guessed it was with a complimentary voicemail greeting recorded by scorekeeper emeritus Carl Kasell, but it appears that wasn't the case.

You can hear how Hanks did as a guest host on this week's episode when Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! airs on NPR stations all over the country this weekend.

And how does Hanks feel about the experience? He did have some parting words for Sagal as far as his own chances of taking back the reins of the show...