Variety shows, more than any other medium, show us where our heads, and our hearts were at over the first two decades of TV. In the early 1950’s, many of the shows were largely extensions of Vaudeville or Burlesque, filled with acrobats, baggy pants comedians, and `specialty’ numbers.
The budgets were miniscule, the production values nil (unless you count the stage curtain), and the novelty of actually watching TV was so great, that it really didn’t matter what you were watching a lot of the time.
There were exceptions, of course.
Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, and Dumont’s Cavalcade of Stars, Your Show of Shows, The Colgate Comedy Hour, and others often put on extraordinary shows for the times.
By the mid 1950s, once Television had proved it could sell advertising and turn a profit, budgets increased and Variety Shows became big budget extravaganzas with lots of big name guest stars.
ABC Television was the 3rd network, lacking in affiliates, prestige, and ratings throughout much of the 1950s and 1960s. They viewed the powerhouse variety shows like CBS’s Ed Sullivan and Red Skelton shows, and NBC’s Bob Hope and Andy Williams shows with more than a little envy, and wanted a `big’ variety show of their own.
In January of 1964, after the Jerry Lewis Show failed to gel in the fall of 1963, they turned to Bing Crosby to produce an all star variety show for Saturday nights. While never the powerhouse that Ed Sullivan created for CBS, The Hollywood Palace proved to be durable enough to run for 7 years.
Having the highly rated Lawrence Welk Show as a lead-in, no doubt helped, but that also meant that The Hollywood Place played to an older audience than many other shows.
They routinely lost out in the ratings to shows like NBC’s Saturday Night At The Movies, Gunsmoke, and Mission Impossible. In 1967, the show was moved to Tuesday nights where they got beat by NBC’s Tuesday Night at The Movies.
In 1968, they returned to Saturday nights.
Unlike most variety shows, The Hollywood Palace used `guest’ hosts, although Bing Crosby hosted at total of 31 times (including all of the Christmas Specials). While never a ratings powerhouse (never in the top 20), the show was a solid if not spectacular variety show.
Today we’ve 5 shows from 1965. The video quality on these aren’t the best in the world, but the nostalgia factor and entertainment value remain superb.
These shows are on the Internet Archive, and are presumed to be public domain . . . but I’d get them while you can. Variety shows have a bad habit of being contested regarding their pubic domain status.
David Janssen as host (formerly Richard Diamond, and now Dr. Richard Kimble of The Fugitive) with --Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, Edie Adams singing "Love," "I'm Glad There Is You" and "The Man That Got Away", Tim Conway, Vic Damone singing "But Not for Me," "Fascinatin' Rhythm" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me", and the Harlem Globetrotters do basketball tricks. Add in a knife throwing act and a Trapeze act, and you have pretty full hour of entertainment.
Hosted by Tony Randall and featuring Diana Ross and the Supremes. --Allan Sherman sings "Crazy Downtown" (parody of Petula Clark's "Downtown") --Nelson Eddy and Gale Sherwood sing duets,--Vikki Carr sings "The Good Life," "So in Love" and "The Days of Wine and Roses" . Throw in Pat Morita, some acrobats, a high wire act, and a wrestling bear . . . and well, that’s variety for you!
Host Groucho Marx invites long time comedic foil Margaret Dumont (her last TV appearance)to reprise their classic "Captain Spaulding," number from "Animal Crackers." Groucho’s Daughter (who tried to have a pop singing career) --Melinda Marx sing a `girl group’ number then does a duet with Groucho. Gordon and Sheila MacRae sing and do impressions. Add to this Shecky Greene, Miriam Makeba, a flamenco dancer, a Scottish comedian, and trick unicyclists from Denmark.
Fall of 1965 brought COLOR to much of ABC’s lineup.
Host Fred Astaire sings and dances, musical guest We Five do "You Were on My Mind" – Jazz organist Jimmy Smith does "The Organ Grinder's Swing" --Astaire dances some more -- Jackie Mason does stand-up.--Rudolf Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn do a ballet pas de deux and Paul Lynde & Carmen Phillips appear in a comedy sketch.
Hosted by Judy Garland who sings "Once in a While," I Loved Him" and "We're a Couple of Swells" and a medley of other numbers. Then is joined by Vic Damone to sing a West Side Story Medley.Chita Rivera dances, the comedy of Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber, and throw in some acrobats and musical clowns for good measure.