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Up close and personal: Sagal explores risqué behavior in The Book of Vice. “More than we want to admit, many of us might want to dabble in such experiences,” he says.
Peter Sagal is having a rock-star moment.
“Well, eat your heart out, Pitchfork Festival!” exclaims the host of Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! The gathering of approximately 10,000 people cheer and hoot for Sagal, who looks tiny standing under the Pritzker Pavilion’s massive gray steel curves and protruding blocks of orange wood. They have come to Millennium Park for a special taping of National Public Radio’s weekly news-based quiz show on a comfortably cool Thursday evening in mid-July, a few days after the popular alternative-rock festival catered to an entirely different kind of crowd.
“We know our demographic, and we appreciate you giving up your place in line for Harry Potter,” Sagal tells the throng filling the lawn.
The free event has drawn the largest audience ever to watch the show—it’s usually taped in front of just 500 fans in the basement auditorium of the Chase Tower—and Sagal’s guest tonight is U.S. district attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, whose office has just won a high-profile conviction in the trial of media baron Conrad Black.
Fitzgerald slouches, center stage, in a dark suit and tie, looking like a boy awaiting certain punishment. Sagal and Carl Kasell, the 28-year veteran announcer of NPR’s news program Morning Edition who moonlights as the scorekeeper on Wait Wait, stand at lecterns to Fitzgerald’s right. Along a table to his left sit the show’s trio of panelists, drawn from a rotating crew of a dozen regulars—this week it’s humorist Roy Blount Jr., Washington Post gossip columnist Roxanne Roberts, and novelist Adam Felber.
Fitzgerald routinely declines requests for interviews, so his appearance tonight is a coup for the show’s producers (turns out he’s a fan). His rare public appearance has drawn camera crews from the local news stations and CNN, and NPR’s longtime legal affairs reporter Nina Totenberg chides Fitzgerald in a prerecorded bit played for the audience. “I sat through the Scooter Libby trial,” she says to him, referring to Fitzgerald’s successful prosecution of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff. “Now you’re giving an interview to these jerks!” Big laughs.
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Photography: Andreas Larsson