Whose Line is it Anyway? started out as a radio show before it became a hit British television show in 1988. The premise is simple: four contestants make up scenes, songs, and skits on the spot based on various party-type games and suggestions from the studio audience. The show was originally hosted by Clive Anderson and the British version was very theater oriented with many games which involved musicals, famous authors, and opera.
Producer Dan Patterson had been trying to pitch the show to the American market and Ryan Stiles convinced Drew Carey to help bring it to the States. The first attempt at a U.S. version failed because the new production company wanted to change it too much.
The American version of Whose Line began with a summer pilot run beginning on August 5, 1998. It was shown on Wednesdays at 9:30 PM ET. Drew and Ryan are executive producers with Drew as the host, Ryan and Colin Mochrie as regulars, and other performers including Greg Proops, Wayne Brady, Brad Sherwood, and Denny Siegel along with cast members from The Drew Carey Show including Kathy Kinney and Ian Gomez. It took a lot of convincing to get Colin onto the show as they believed he wouldn’t appeal to the U.S. audience. It was the eleventh most watched show the week it premiered and had a considerable audience from The Drew Carey Show. A new show called The Secret Lives of Men took over the time slot in October but was soon cancelled and was replaced mid-season with more Whose Line episodes.
Near the end of the fourth season of Whose Line in 2001, with the threat of an actors’ and writers’ strike, ABC commissioned to have 66 new episodes taped for a fifth and possible sixth season. ABC considered Whose Line a great investment because it can be produced very cheaply. As a result of having so many unaired episodes laying around, ABC didn’t need to record any new episodes of Whose Line as of February 2003.
With low ratings, the fifth season of Whose Line has started with rumors about the future of the show. ABC moved the show, along with The Drew Carey Show, three times during the season, starting with a Monday night time slot before Monday Night Football on the east coast and after football on the west coast. It was then moved to Friday night at 9:30 PM ET in November and then to 9:00 PM ET on Fridays. The show faced frequent preemptions and seemed to mostly be used as filler.
Whose Line returned for a ten-episode sixth season during the summer of 2004. These would be the final original-run episodes to air on ABC. However, their sister network ABC Family had been showing repeats of the show most evenings.
ABC Family would air “never before seen” episodes from 2005 to 2007 by using unaired material from previous tapings. A total of 46 original airings appeared on ABC Family, comprising the seventh and eighth seasons.
In early 2013, it was announced that the should be revived by The CW, airing twelve episodes during the summer with new host Aisha Tyler. Series regulars Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, and Wayne Brady returned with a fourth rotating cast member, consisting of comedians never before seen on Whose Line including Gary Anthony Williams, Heather Anne Campbell, and Jonathan Mangum. Special guest stars also appeared and participated in games, starting with The Walking Dead‘s Lauren Cohan. The show was renewed for a 24-episode season airing in the summer of 2014. On July 18, 2014, Whose Line was renewed for a third season on the CW (eleven overall) which premiered April 17, 2015.