Early review: Punch Line in summer trial run on FOX late-night stations

FOX has used recent summers to test out shows for potential syndication in both daytime and late-night, with The Wendy Williams Show and Page Six TV being the most notable success stories so far. In between, Real Housewives of New York‘s Bethenny Frankel also earned a talk show this way, only to have it cancelled two years later.

Now comes Punchline, which just started a four-week trial run in late-night on Monday.

It’s a game show format, hosted by Mark Istook and created by the makers of Chopped.

In Punchline, a team of three stand-up comedian “challengers” faces off against a team of three comedian “headliners.”

The first week headliners: Ryan Stout, Tony Baker, Kira Soltanovich, Erica Rhodes.

First week challengers? Daphnique Springs, Becky Robinson, Mitch Burrow, Nick Guerra, Ricarlo Flanagan, Trey Elliot, Jenny Zigrino, Michael Malone and Brian Monarch.

Some New York City based comedians will get in the action for the second week, including Chrissie Mayr, Luke Thayer, KC Arora and Charles McBee.

Istook sets up photos on the screen with a newsy set up, then poses a question for the comedians to buzz in with a series of answers. The studio audience votes immediately using their phones on which team provided the funnier responses. Teams earn 50 points per victory in the first round, 100 in the second, 150 in the third, and then a variety of points in the final “Photo Finish” in which the audience scores each individual joke on a scale of 1-100.

Set-ups for punchlines in the debut episode included:

  • What exercises would one have to do to get Vladimir Putin’s body?
  • What should The Rock’s campaign slogan be for 2020?
  • What would Cleveland have to give you to stay in Cleveland?

So far, the show feels rushed, more like an actual game show than the not-so secretly prepared wittiness of @midnight on Comedy Central, with which it directly competes against in New York City, at least. That’s not a good look. Punchline may have twice as many comedians on screen, but so far, they only score half as many laughs as @midnight.

Plenty of jokes offered up from the challengers actually haven’t received any audible response from the studio audience, so I’ll spare their names for now. Because it’s a test show, still, some bugs and kinks need to get worked out. For instance, the “photo finish” segment took way too long to register scores for each joke in a so-called sprint round only lasting 90 seconds. That got much smoother by Wednesday’s show. And the whole operation got a bit better by Friday.

Tuesday’s show got pre-empted in many markets, too, since the MLB All-Star Game went into extra innings on FOX. Here’s episode two in case you missed it, or want to get a feel for it yourself.

Punchline tapes weeknights Monday-Friday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Pacific — which means they’re as close to live as possible in many markets, and seemingly live in at least a couple of them. Which caught the comedians off guard on Tuesday when Istook invited viewers at home in Minneapolis and Atlanta to cast votes online, too.

Let’s see if the game show gets more fun and funnier over the course of their trial run!

WHERE TO WATCH (all times local)
New York: FOX 5 / Fox5NY.com at 11:30 p.m.
LA: Fox 11 Los Angeles at midnight
Chicago: Fox 32 Chicago at 11 p.m.
Philadelphia: FOX 29 at 12:30 p.m.
San Francisco: FOX2 at 12:30 a.m.
Phoenix: FOX 10 Phoenix at 11:30 p.m.
Minneapolis: My 29 – WFTC at 10:00 p.m. (LIVE!!)
Atlanta: TheATL at 11 p.m. (LIVE!!)
Denver: KTVD at 10 p.m.

On Camera Audiences has free tickets available for Punchline tapings, but only a limited amount because the studio itself can only fit about 25 spectators. With a view of Argyle Avenue between Hollywood and Sunset boulevards.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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