I was listening to NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" this weekend, and I came to a realization. It's been gnawing at me for some time, but I was just now able to put my finger on it.
I've decided I liked "Wait, Wait" much better before it went to a live-audience format. From the look of things, it's permanently ensconced at Chicago's Chase Auditorium, to the program's detriment.
I'm sure it's more fun for the panelists to be in the same space with one another, rather than sitting in little recording studio booths scattered between Chicago and Boston and DC, listening to one another on headphones. But that's offset by the fact that waiting for the audience reaction slows down the pace of the show pretty noticeably. And it also changes everyone's timing--the panelists are responding to the audience now more than to each other.
And at the end, when they go back and re-tape some answers to edit in later (usually to the surprise of the live audience, who imagined that the program emerges perfectly in one take) , you can usually hear the cut because the background audience noise abruptly changes.
I enjoyed seeing them live at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall when they came to Portland a few years ago (although they had Sue Ellicot with them instead of Roxanne Roberts--Ellicot's good, but Roberts is better). But I miss the old days before they went "live."