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‘Cash Cab’ rolls into Chicago


5:30 to 6 weeknights on Discovery

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

When random passengers step into Beth Melewski’s unmarked cab, interior disco lights start flashing and Melewski explains that they’ve stumbled into a game show.

“You’d be surprised how few people go, ‘I’m going to be on TV!’” Melewski says. “The biggest reaction is usually, ‘Oooh, a woman cab driver!’”

The new “Cash Cab Chicago,” debuting Monday on Discovery, follows the New York installment weeknights, with the same concept: Contestants must answer trivia questions for cash as Melewski drives them to their destination. If they miss three questions, they’re ejected from the vehicle — no matter where they are.

“I think weather has been kind of a hilarious factor,” Melewski says. There are no consolation parting gifts of umbrellas or boots.

A typical $50 “easy” question: “Created in 1905, a hand-drawn rendering of Staten Island was the very first map produced by what famous car club?”

Did you come up with “AAA”? No? Then you might elect to call a friend to answer, or beg a stranger on the street to help (almost never a good idea).

If texting and driving is a bad idea, game-show hosting and driving is even more difficult. But Melewski is proud of her driving record. “I tapped a valet sign once,” she admits.

Before filming, she had to pass taxi certification tests. “It was really the hardest thing I’ve ever had to study for,” she says. “It’s a tough process. Be nice to your cab drivers because they went through hell. And tip well.”

It’s thoroughly entertaining to watch a group of hipsters en route to Schubas trying to come up with the names of seven founding fathers. But any humiliation is minimal.

“There’s nothing really negative about the show,” Melewski says. “You pick people up, and they can win money. It’s such a basic, amazing premise. People either haven’t heard of the show, or they absolutely love it. It’s all about feeling good and rewarding people for knowledge.”

Melewski left Second City’s e.t.c. stage for three months to tape 40 episodes. She couldn’t resist. “I got to stay in town and shoot a national television show,” she says. “That never happens. Put some more icing on that cake.”

Now that the show’s wrapped, though, she’ll be back at Second City to perform the show she co-wrote, “The Absolute Best Friggin’ Time of Your Life.”

“I’ll be there till the beginning of April,” Melewski says.

Despite rattling off question after question for months, Melewski says she retained “just nuggets” of information. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t learn anything.

“You never can tell when a person gets in the cab if they’re going to go all the way or jump out after the first three questions,” Melewski says. “Every time I try to make a judgment, I’m wrong. Profiling? It doesn’t work.”

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