Sunday, December 9, 2012

Discuss: Variety Shows


humanbelly said...

Carol Burnett's was the most consistently fantastic, I think. Although it was really more of a comedy show by far than a true variety show. I mean, Ed Sullivan was probably more what you'd call a legitimate "variety" show-- but he'd already faded by the time most of us started watching tv in earnest, I imagine.

Liked Flip Wilson's show a LOT-- can't remember why he left the air, as I believe his ratings were quite good.

Sonny & Cher was often good, but burdened by their own tabloid existence (and then they kept it going even after they got divorced! Yikes!).

A show that I think was under-rated? Tony Orlando & Dawn. For being thrown into that format w/out any television background at all, they created a delightful stable of characters, bits, and certainly had a nice rapport w/ their audience.

Dreadful? Ha! The Hudson Brothers Variety something-or-other.


Anonymous said...

I wasn't heavy into variety stuff when I was a kid...I preferred comedy or action.

I don't remember ever seeing Sonny & Cher, Flip Wilson, Tony Orlando, or even Carol Burnett; I DO remember Donny & Marie, but I always hated that show!

Mike W.

Edo Bosnar said...

You want dreadful, HB? I give you the last gasp of the big prime-time network variety shows that followed on the heels of that urban cowboy craze: Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell sisters, and that other neocountry themed show (I forgot what it was called). Since my dad was big into country he monopolized the TV on Saturday nights (same goes for Hee Haw). Even the saccharine Donnie & Marie had their moments (usually when Paul Lynde was the guest star), but that neocountry stuff was just atrocious.
Otherwise, it's amazing how popular the prime time variety shows were throughout the '70s, and how many there were - it seemed like every, even marginally popular, pop star or comedian, etc. had at least a half-season variety show: the Jacksons, the Carpenters, the Captain and Tennille, the Brady Bunch, Kelly Monteith...

William Preston said...

Even the Starland Vocal Band had a show! The same summer as Shields and Yarnell! The horror!

We often watched Carol Burnett, but the 15-minute-long riffs on old movies left me cold. (I was a kid and I didn't get what was being lampooned.) I watched that show primarily for Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, but would leave the room for the dull stuff.

I do still remember Flip Wilson (I loved Geraldine), Sonny & Cher, and the Smothers Brothers (radical!).

We watched Donny and Marie, um, religiously for several years, but then I aged out of it even as the show seemed to regress, with the overhead shot of the ice skaters and the addition of giant Krofft creations. That was the end.

We all thought Marie was pretty cute, right?

Edo Bosnar said...

William, you just reminded me of the existence of Shields and Yarnell - the horror indeed. Also, I did not know that the Starland Vocal Band (the very definition of a one-hit wonder) had a variety show, but it doesn't surprise me one bit.
As for Marie: hmm, yeah I guess she was cute, but back then, as a pre-teen, I was completely uninterested. Just sticking to the variety shows, I was much more captivated by Toni Tennille, Karen Carpenter and Dawn (both of them). Which reminds me, I don't know if anyone here ever watched Fridays (which I guess can also be considered a variety show), but there was this really funny one guest-hosted by Fr. Guido Sarducci - and Dawn. As I recall, he appeared in every sketch with Dawn.

Garett said...

Carol Burnett's show was the best. Here's a great skit with Conway, Korman and Burnett, No Frills Airline:

david_b said...

Nice flashbacks here.. AGAIN, we enter the 'that's all we had' file..:

Sonny & Cher (1st time out) ruled the airwaves and really paved a cool mix of smart AND cheesy self-deprecating humor and sex appeal (well, one more so than the other...).

Shields and Yarnell, yep remember that brief show, also Mr. T and Tina, Peaches and Cream had a summer show, like Edo mentioned, everyone had a try-out (even a Cher-less Sonny, which didn't last too long either). 5th Dimension did I recall as well, Mac Davis, etc, etc.

Starland Vocal Band..? Yep, even watched that; some of you might remember that a VERY GREEN David Letterman hosted that show, years before his NBC morning show. Seriously..

Luckily no one's mentioned the Brady Bunch variety show. Whaaat depths network television scaled down to fill time slots, eh..?

Carol, Carol, Carol.. The best bits were when Harvey and Tim Conway would PURPOSELY get each other to break character and dissolve on stage laughing. THAT was the best stuff.

As for the Mandrells, yeah my parents watched that as well. Couldn't do much but hide im my room during that phase.

Inkstained Wretch said...

TV variety shows were a little before my time. The only one I remember well was Carol Burnett's ... and I think those were syndicated reruns. But, yeah, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman were a hilarious team.

I remember one skit were Conway was a Nazi (hang with me here) supposedly trying to torture a POW into spilling the secret plans. The joke was that he was supposed to smash a bottle against a desk and use the broken bottle neck to threaten the POW.

But no matter what he does, he cannot break the bottle. He then proceeds to smash the entire office with the seemingly indestructible bottle in attempt to break it while the POW just sits there... It was hilarious...

I recall that Tim Conway got his own show after The Carol Burnett went off the air. It was basically The Carol Burnett Show without Carol Burnett. It didn't last a season. Funny as Conway was, he couldn't carry an entire show by himself.

The best variety show of all time though? The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Yeah, most people would call it late night TV instead, but it was in the vein of the old variety shows and carried the tradition forward into the 1990s.

Edo Bosnar said...

Actually, david_b, hate to burst your bubble, but look at the end of my first comment, between the names "Tennille" and "Kelly Monteith"; yes, unfortunately, someone else did mention it - and I vaguely recall watching probably one episode. I know one really weird thing about it (among many - including a fake Jan) was that instead of a troupe of dancers they had a bunch of women who jumped into this gigantic pool and did these elaborate synchronized swimming bits.

Graham said...

Flip Wilson was my favorite. He was hilarious whatever he did. I think he might have left in a salary dispute or something. That was about the time Redd Foxx was holding out for more money on NBC, too, so maybe they made a choice...dunno.

I would watch Carol Burnett whenever there was a skit with Tim Conway. He always cracked me up. Otherwise, I really wasn't interested.

Doug said...

You people are a wealth of Bronze Age knowledge! I had no recollection that the Starland Vocal Band had a show, and would never in a million years have come up with Shields and Yarnelle! Although I did see the latter. My wife and I were talking about this post, and we concluded that variety shows dominated 1970's tv the way reality programs dominate today's.

But I'll offer you this -- I would sit tied in a room with "I'm a little bit country, and I'm a little bit rock 'n' roll" playing incessantly and have more fun than if I was made to watch even 5 minutes of The Bachelor or some tripe like that. I'd heard of "Honey Boo Boo", and so while checking the channel guide last week I saw that it was on. So I stopped by for what I thought would be a minute. About 40 minutes later I realized that my mouth was hanging open, there was a trickle of drool at the corner of my mouth, and brain cells were fleeing as if on fire. It was like a train wreck from which I could not avert my eyes... And that must be how they suck in lesser minds.

I'm still recovering from it.


Tony said...

For me, the best show was the Carol Burnett show, hands down. But I also enjoyed the Sonny and Cher show, and Donny and Marie. Purple Socks!! We also watched the Tom Jones Show although that was mainly music. Also I remember watching Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell on their shows. I'm surprised no one mentioned Hee Haw. Talk about cornball humor. We watched that all the time.

david_b said...

No worries Edo, was reading the posts between briefs with my General (duty this weekend...).

Another mention on Sonny & Cher's show, I distinctly remember their return to TV after Gregg Allman, divorce, etc.. Definitely, the spark between them was gone. You'd think that as (by this time) television professionals, you'd think you wouldn't notice the natural charm missing between the two, but yep, you sure did. It just wasn't happenin'..

Inkstained, much agreed on Carol.. She was THE GLUE. Missed Lyle Waggoner, but they carried on well without him.

Lest we not underestimate or ignore the likes of those who took the variety format and pushed it with the network censors, like Laugh-In and Smothers Brothers, the latter especially having a liberal agenda.

Ed Sullivan, on the other hand, simply wanted to show acts. I know Howard Cosell tried that again in the late 70s, but by then the appeal had ended for a variety show without comedy skits.

Redartz said...

Tony - my folks usually watched Hee Haw as well ( it was broadcast locally right before my favorite show at the time, "Emergency"). They were also frequent viewers of Glen Campbell and Jim Nabors. They did get me watching Carol Burnett , and I'd catch "Laugh-in" when I could get away with it.

Those variety shows were sometimes a bit cheesy but often fun to watch. Certainly better than "reality" fare, as Doug stated. A couple of years ago Wayne Brady tried to do a new variety show; unfortunately it didn't last...

Humanbelly said...

That's right- Jim Nabors had a variety show for awhile! It actually wasn't bad either. It sort of followed the model of the old Jackie Gleason show, where half of it was devoted to variety show fare, and the other half was the live-audience sit-com. What was neat w/ Jim's show was that he brought in the actor who played Sgt Carter on "Gomer Pyle" as a similar hyper-tense time-bomb.

Ray Stevens had a summer-replacement show for a year or two. What was kind of strange is that for a guy with a ton of musical talent and a brilliant off-beat comic mind, he was almost devoid of on-camera charisma.

Oh! The Andy Williams Show! Wow, how could we miss him, bless his heart?

I also distinctly remember a completely inexplicable one-off try-out special that was co-hosted by Barbara Eden (several years post-Jeanne) and Telly Savalas (right after his Kojak heyday). It was exquisitely bad.

Dick van Dyke also had a pretty darned good one for a summer or two. I'm pretty sure they used the same male dancers from the Carol Burnett show for that one. (In fact, his show was where we first saw a very young Andy Kaufman breaking out onto a national audience-- doing a whole bizarre-but-hilarious bit where he simply lip-synchs along w/ a children's record).

HB-- who watched way, way, WAAAAY too much TV as a youngster!

Redartz said...

Ah yes, the Andy Williams Show. With the Cookie Bear!

david_b said...

Dean Martin's show and the Gold Diggers.

One thing about ol' Dean..: He never tried to be anything else than ol' Dean. Him sliding down his pole, and those countless glasses of apple juice that he made everyone think was liquor.

He exemplified coolness and class.

Graham said...

Forgot about the Cookie Bear. Man, you guys are amazing! :)

I always wanted to watch Dean Martin, but it came on after my bedtime. My parents would let me stay up long enough to watch him slide down the pole.

I do remember watching Glen Campbell the night the Beatles were on. They played "Hey Jude." What was really funny was that we had not even seen a picture of the Beatles for a couple of years, and I remember my folks being shocked at their long hair.

Rip Jagger said...

Loved the Dean Martin show! It was the apogeee of self-aware self-deprecating entertainment. Didn't know who "Lewis and Martin" were, but I did know Jerry Lewis had a comic book.

I'm indifferent to most variety shows, too dang bubbly and not really very entertaining filled with lame music and unfunny skits.

But Flip Wilson could be funny, Carol Burnett without question could be funny, but I hearken back to older shows like Red Skelton and those Bob Hope "specials" which were weirdly involving.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Geez, is my original comment invisible? Hee Haw's right in there! Actually, it's funny that several people brought up Hee Haw; that was a source of considerable childhood TV-related trauma for me. In fact, it came up in a post earlier this year, didn't it? I remember noting that at my home, since my dad was a little bit country, and my mom a little bit easy-listening, Saturday evenings were dedicated to Hee Haw (and any other country-western variety show that may have been on), while Sunday evenings were set aside for the Lawrence Welk Show. Ugh.
By the way, I absolutely agree with Doug about the choice between being forced to watch reruns of '70s variety shows and present-day so-called reality shows. Seriously, I think you came out of watching those demonstrably stupider than you were before...

david_b said...

I made mention of this before on a past blog, but I loathed my parents dedication to watching 'Hee Haw' in the 70s..

Then come the 80s where, out of bonding with my parents, I go to a few state fairs to see some country acts with them.

Then fast-forward to the 90s, when I first buy my house, get cable installed, then find myself discovering the TNN channel and wondering when I can catch any Hee Haw episodes rerunned. Oy.

Funny thing is, having a more pop/rock leaning in the 70s/80s, I saw the guys playing the dobro and slide guitar in the background backing Conway Twitty ~ Now I'M trying to be one of those guys. Not so much for that type of music, but with the meshing of music styles these days, playing dobro is pretty hot.

Karen said...

I've also shared my deep-seated disgust with Hee Haw before, but that show was head and shoulders above a lot of the reality tv crap that's on the air nowadays. People looking through storage units? Honey Boo Boo? My God, I hope the aliens are not watching us, and trying to decide whether to wipe the planet clean or not based on our tv shows. Seems like an easy decision.

dbutler16 said...

I have to echo Karen's disgust with reality TV. The garbage that passes for "entertainment" these days. The decline of Western Civilization, I say.

david_b said...

Actually, ACTUALLY....

What I find hilarious is 'Extreme Cougars' on TLC.

Walk with me here..:

A show showcasing 'Cougar Moms' consorting with much younger men, on 'The Learning Channel' of all places.

"Seriously.., this is on what's supposed to be an instructional cable channel..??"

Ah, ratings, ratings, ratings.

Doug said...

Edo --

I meant to reply to your mentioning of the Saturday Night Live knock-off Fridays...

Does anyone recall this show as the debut of Michael Richards, who of course went on to great fame as Kramer on Seinfeld? Richards played a recurring character named Dick in a series of sketches. Back in the late '70's he had already perfected the physical comedy he'd employ over a decade later as Kramer.

Here's a link to a bunch of the sketches:


Karen said...

I loved Fridays. It felt far weirder and more spontaneous than Saturday Night Live did at that point.

Edo Bosnar said...

I also recall Fridays as being pretty consistently funny. And Doug, about Michael Richards: I was so familiar with him on Fridays that when I first saw him on Seinfeld I thought, "Hey, that's that guy from Fridays!" Another guy who pretty much got his start on that show as a regular cast member was Larry David. Again, when I first saw an episode of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm,' I remember thinking, "there's something really familiar about that guy," so I googled him and found out why.
david_b, good point about the incongruous places these so-called reality shows appear. Take the History Channel, which not only shows that storage unit show Karen mentioned, but also shows about loggers, ice-road truckers and hillbillies living in the swamps of the Deep South among other things. WTF? And speaking of that storage unit show, while waiting for something else to start I recently watched about the last 10 minutes of an episode in which Stewart Copeland appeared. Yes, that Stewart Copeland. Apparently one of this show's regulars found a drum kit in a unit and wanted Copeland to appraise it. Something inside me cried a little, it was more depressing than seeing former Monty Python members, like John Cleese or Eric Idle, appearing in crappy American sit-coms...

Tony said...

My apologies Edo about Hee Haw. I didn't read too carefully.

Tony said...

BTW Edo, you mentioned about your parents that your dad was a "little bit country". Does that mean you are a "little bit rock'n'roll" Heh, heh.

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