26 February 2008

Ah, 1970's TV. The Spice of Life.

Last night WILL, between money-begging jags, aired two episodes of a five-part documentary called, Pioneers of Television. The chapter I happened to watch was about variety shows.

I thought the program did a fairly good job of (very) briefly covering Ed Sullivan and Arthur Godfrey, Your Show of Shows, the Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett, Laugh-In (Nickelodeon aired reruns of Laugh-In in the late 80's on Nick at Nite. I remember being in college and just devouring this show. I loved it.) and others. Ed Sullivan could've had an hour devoted just to him alone.

What I liked about this show, aside from the nostalgia factor, were the interviews with Sid Caesar, Dick Van Dyke, Pat Harrington ("Schneider" from One Day At A Time, who worked on the Ed Sullivan show), Tim Conway, Johnathan Winters, Andy Williams, Carol Burnett and Phyllis Diller. As a viewer I got a sense of history and, for me, this episode about variety shows was way too short and could've used more video clips. I wanted more than the hour could give me.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the variety show. I am a child of the 1970's and spent my formative television viewing years watching Sesame Street, The New Zoo Review, Mr. Rogers, The Electric Company and variety shows. It seemed that every known celebrity had a show at one time or another. In the 90's everyone got a talk show. In the 70's everyone got a variety show. The format was basically the same: "a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down the pants" (musical numbers, dancing, and sketch comedy).

Variety shows I watched as a kid:

The Carol Burnett Show
Hee Haw (Which, surprisingly, was not mentioned at all in the documentary. It was a summer replacement for The Smothers Brothers Show and was meant to be a rural Laugh-In and aired for 4 years on CBS.)
Tony Orlando and Dawn
Sonny and Cher (glossed over completely)
The Jackson 5
Donny and Marie (I was a die-hard Donny and Marie fan. I had the dolls, the records, loved purple. The first concert I ever went to was to see the Osmond Family at the Illinois State Fair. The only thing I can remember of the concert was that a lady sitting a couple rows in front of us got a paper airplane stuck in her bouffant.)
Shields and Yarnell(Only in the 70's could mimes have had their own show.)
The Flip Wilson Show
Glenn Campbell
Tim Conway
Howard Cosell (Yep, the famous sports announcer had a short-lived show.)
Captain & Tennille
Barbara Mandrell & the Mandrell Sisters
The Muppet Show (Far and away the best, in my book. It still holds up after almost 30 years.)

A couple years ago Wayne Brady tried and failed to resuscitate the variety show format. Too bad, really. The world could use more song and dance numbers.

But maybe not so much Tony Orlando or mimes.

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