The TV Variety Show And The Golden Era of Television


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View attachment 3146 Long ago at the dawn of TV, one of the most popular formats for TV shows was the Variety Show. Vaudeville acts transitioned from the stage to radio and finally television, providing some of the greatest moments in TV entertainment.

The TV variety show consisted of a variety of acts, but mostly centered on sketch comedy and musical performances. The show was held together by a host or MC (Master of Ceremonies). The host was usually a famous comedian or musician, but sometimes a show would have different or rotating hosts, as did the Colgate Comedy Hour. In this full episode from 1951, Abbot and Costello hosted.


Generally acknowledged as the first TV variety show was Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows (1950–54, on NBC) followed by Caesar's Hour (1954–57). The undisputed king of variety shows, however, and one of the longest lived, was The Ed Sullivan Show (6/20/48 - 6/6/71, on CBS). Anybody who was anybody, or anybody that wanted to be somebody, had to make an obligatory appearance on the show. Originally entitled "The Toast of the Town", the show's host was a former entertainment columnist who set a standard for all variety shows that followed. Sullivan's guests included such diverse talents as Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, composers Rogers and Hammerstein, and helped launch the careers of The Beatles, The Doors, and the Rolling Stones.

Variety shows marked an era before the invention of the remote control and before the advent of multi-television households led to shorter attention spans and fragmented audiences. In those days, the entire family sat down together to watch their favorite performers on their favorite shows. Some of the performers who had their own variety shows over the years include such great - and not so great - names like Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Julie Andrews, The Carpenters, Olivia Newton-John, John Denver, John Davidson, Mac Davis, Bobby Goldsboro, Lynda Carter, Johnny Cash, Sonny and Cher, Bob Monkhouse, Carol Burnett, Rod Hull and Emu, Flip Wilson, Lawrence Welk, Glen Campbell, Donny & Marie Osmond, Barbara Mandrell, Judy Garland, The Captain & Tennille, The Jacksons, The Keane Brothers, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Mary Tyler Moore, Dean Martin, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Smothers Brothers, Danny Kaye, Des O'Connor, Buck and Roy, Roy Hudd, Billy Dainty, Max Wall and The Muppets. ( Variety show - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia )

Throughout the 70's and into the 80's, the number of variety shows slowly declined due to increasing pressure on cost cutting and the resulting deluge of mindless "reality" shows. Finally, in the early 90's, Hee Haw and the last of the last of the TV variety shows broadcast their final episodes. Some would argue, however, that NBC's Saturday Night Live is the last remaining TV variety show.

Unfortunately, many of the earliest TV Variety shows are lost to history. The earliest TV recordings, called "Kinescopes" (filmed recordings of the image on a TV screen) were often discarded, lost or deteriorated due to poor storage. Videotape was not put into use until the late 1950's. Many shows were performed live and not recorded at all, and many more videotaped shows were taped over due to the high cost of videotape at the time.

Some links to information about variety shows and footage from variety shows:

TV Variety Shows On Amazon

Classic TV / TVparty!
PBS' Pioneers of Television series
Search YouTube for Classic Variety shows
Such a loss to cultural history that most of these shows are gone from the archives. Mel Brooks said that he told Sid Caesar this was the reason he should get out of TV and into movies. Apparently, Sid was days away from going to Hollywood and was made an offer he couldn't refuse by the network. Imagine how large Sid Caesar would loom in the cultural imagination if we still had access to all his work.

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