Classic 1970s Weekly TV Variety Series
A Fun Look Back at the Television Variety Series of the 70s
The 70s had a plentiful amount of variety series. Some were weekly ventures, which is what we will be looking at here. Others were merely specials that aired once, maybe twice if they were popular enough in the ratings.
Some weekly variety shows were hosted by popular music stars of the decade; folks like The Captain and Tennille, Donny and Marie, and Glen Campbell. Others were hosted by actors and actresses known mostly for their work in film and television. These stars included Don Knotts, Tim Conway, Julie Andrews, and Dick Van Dyke.
This article does not list every show from the decade, and I am sure you will think of more. If so, please feel free to leave a comment and share your memories.
The Julie Andrews Show
- It ran on ABC from September 13, 1972 to April 28, 1973.
- ABC was looking for a hit variety show and they figured that Julie Andrews was a big enough name to draw in the ratings. Her movie career had somewhat declined as it seemed that the age of the big screen musical was on its way out. As a result, she was willing to give a series of her own a try.
- Rich Little and Alice Ghostly were series regulars. The show brought in low ratings and was up against the popular Cannon. Another strike against the show was its 10:00 P.M. time slot. Most variety shows were considered family viewing material, and many kids were in bed before the show aired. The network did attempt to find a better time slot, but it was finally cancelled in April of 1973. 24 episodes were filmed.
- The show would be nominated for eight Emmy Awards (winning seven of them) and Julie was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in the category of Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy. She lost to Jean Stapleton for her role in All in the Family.
- Julie did do five more specials for ABC that were produced in England between the years 1973 and 1975.
- Notable guest stars for this series included Cass Elliott, Dan Dailey, Don Rickles, Ken Berry, Diahann Carroll, and Robert Goulet.
Ken Berry Wow Show
- Ken Berry showcased his talent as an old-fashioned song and dance man in this short-lived (6 week) summer replacement series (it replaced the Gary Collins series The Sixth Sense) that ran on Saturday nights in 1972. It actually started out as as special that garnered enough ratings to encourage ABC to turn it into a summer replacement series.
- The show lampooned other variety show formats. It did send-ups of the silent movies of the 20s, vaudeville of the 30s, rock groups of the 50s, and television movies.
- The show was filled with comedy, songs, and dancing. It also had an ensemble cast that featured Teri Garr, Steve Martin, Cheryl Ladd (then billed as Cheryl Stopplemoor), and The New Seekers
- While doing the series, Berry was getting ready to sign a contract with Disney to make films. The first one on the schedule was the classic comedy Herbie Rides Again.
- Notable guests for this series included Patty Duke and her husband, John Astin, Don Knotts, Monte Hall, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Cass Elliot, Andy Griffith, Carol Burnett, and Peter Law Ford.
The Brady Bunch Hour
- This was an attempt to bring the Brady Bunch back on TV. Nearly all members of the original show reprised their old roles. The exception was Eve Plumb, who was replaced by actress Geri Reischl. The show aired between November 28, 1976 and May 25, 1977.
- The setting was now different. The Bradys now lived in a nice beach house. Mike Brady had given up his job as an architect and the family was now starring in a variety show. So, I guess it was a variety series about starring in a variety series?
- This wasn't meant to be a weekly venture. Instead, it would appear every fifth week in the time slot held by The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. Eventually, it was decided that they would get the time slot once held by The Captain and Tennille.
- Notable guest stars included Lee Majors, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, Vincent Price, The Hudson Brothers, Tina Turner, Lynn Anderson, Donny and Marie, and more.
- When Robert Reed was asked why he agreed to star in this venture, he said it was a chance for him to do something totally different. He wanted to try some singing and dancing.
- The official story as to why Eve did not join the cast was that her father wanted her to have only limited involvement. I am not sure what that really means, but the producers decided to cast another actress in her role.
- TV Guide Magazine voted The Brady Bunch Variety Hour as number four on their list of 50 of the Worst TV Series Ever.
The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour
- It aired on CBS from January 20, 1968 to June 13, 1972.
- The show had a mix of content with Glen being able to perform country songs for the country music fans and pop songs for the city folks.
- The series lasted for four seasons but as the 70s got under way, it was obvious that the variety show genre was fading away.
- Over the course of its run, it had a nice line up of guest stars like Paul Lynde, Waylon Jennings, Cher, Dottie West, Jerry Reed, Bobbie Gentry, The Smothers Brothers, and more.
- It's a shame this series has yet to be released onto DVD. However, an hour long DVD was released that highlights some of the wonderful musical numbers from the show.
The Johnny Cash Show
- The Johnny Cash Show began its run on ABC in June 7, 1969. It lasted until May 5, 1971 with 58 episodes filmed. It peaked at #17 in the ratings during the 1970 season.
- Johnny had been hoping to find a way to get his music out to a wider audience. The answer to his problem came to him when ABC offered a chance to star in his own television variety series.
- Before signing on to star in the series, he made it known to the producers that he would only do the show if it was done in Nashville. He wanted nothing to do with the glitzy Hollywood studio scene as he and his music simply wouldn't fit in. The producers weren't all that happy with his demands but they eventually gave in.
- The show had some amazing guests such as Bob Dylan, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Doug Kershaw, Melanie, and Paul Simon. It even featured Cash's wife, June, as well as her mother, Maybelle. The show was cancelled after two seasons but Cash had achieved his goal of getting his name and music out to a broader audience.
The Captain and Tennille
- In 1975, The Captain and Tennille topped the pop charts with their debut single Love Will Keep Us Together, which held the top spot for nine weeks.
- Other hit songs followed and ABC thought that their popularity on the pop charts just might translate over into big ratings for the network. They were offered their own variety show beginning in September 1976 and lasting until March 1977.
- Their show did well in the ratings, but they asked to be released from their contract as they wanted to spend more time on their musical career.
- The show had guest stars such as the original Charlie's Angels (Farrah, Kate, and Jaclyn) Bob Hope, John Travolta, Vincent Price, Don Knotts, and so many more!
The Bobby Darin Show
- His show was popular and aired on NBC from July 27, 1972 to April 27, 1973. Only thirteen episodes aired.
- No one knew at the time that this would be one of the last performances of Bobby's career.
- As a child, Bobby suffered rheumatic fever and that left him with heart problems that would trouble him throughout his life. The pressures of putting on a weekly TV series took its toll on his health and he died from complications of open heart surgery on December 20, 1973.
- Prior to this show coming on the air, Bobby did a seven episode series called The Bobby Darin Amusement Company. It was a summer series that replaced Dean Martin's show while it was on hiatus. It had a successful run and his second series came as a result. The end credits still had the Amusement Company logo, which might be why folks confuse the two.
The Hudson Brothers Show
- Bill, Mark, and Brett Hudson are a trio of brothers from Portland, Oregon. They had some minor success on the record charts in the 70s and they got a CBS variety series that aired on Wednesday nights from July 31, 1974 to August 28, 1974.
- The network was so impressed with their witty banter and general silliness that they figured these guys would work well on Saturday mornings. The Razzle Dazzle Show was born. It lasted for one season and ran from September 7, 1974 to August 30, 1975. The show was basically their prime time show retooled for a younger audience.
- The trio also released a series of albums (before and after their ventures on television), but just couldn't seem to get their musical careers going. This was a shame as they did have a great sound. I suppose it is possible that most folks didn't take them seriously as they were seen as merely a novelty act.
The Engelbert Humperdinck Show
- The show aired on ABC from January 22, 1970 until September 9, 1970.
- It premiered on the same night as The Johnny Cash Show. It had the time slot immediately following that program.
- ABC was certain that between the two shows, this one would be the bigger hit as Engelbert was a suave and sexy singer and that his show would benefit from having Johnny's show as a lead in. Unfortunately, they seemed to forget or simply not notice that the audience for Cash and Humperdinck weren't exactly on the same page. Country fans found it hard to relate to Englebert's glitzy kind of persona.
- The show did start out very strongly, but as time passed the ratings began to slip as it was up against super popular Hawaii Five-0. The show then moved to Saturday nights but it simply didn't recover any of its audience and ABC cancelled it.
- This 30 minute variety musical series aired on CBS from June 16, 1976 to March 9, 1977.
- It starred Jackie, Janet, La Toya, Marlon, Michael, Randy, Rebbie, and Tito.
- Jermaine was busy with his own solo career and did not participate.
- Notable guests included Muhammad Ali, Joey Bishop, Sony Bono, John Byner, Lynda Carter, Tim Conway, Dom DeLuise, Redd Foxx, MacKenzie Phillips, and Betty White.
- 12 episodes were filmed.
- While the series was being filmed, the Jacksons were involved in a lawsuit against their former record label, Motown Records. They had recently moved to Epic Records, who had prematurely announced the group signing with them before their contract with Motown had ended. The rights to the name The Jackson 5 was being contested.
- Jermaine was married to Hazel Gordy, daughter of Motown Record executive Barry Gordy, Jr.
The Don Knotts Show
- This show aired on NBC from September 15, 1970 until July 6, 1971.
- After Don left his character of Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, he worked in a series of fairly successful feature films for Universal. However, movie tastes were changing in the late 60s, and the silly child-like characters that Don played weren't really in style anymore.
- The show featured regulars Elaine Joyce, Frank Welker, Gary Burghoff, Eddie Carroll, and Ken Mars. The Front Porch skit was featured each week and Don and his guest star would sit on the porch in rocking chairs and exchange philosophies. If you remember, this is something sort of reminiscent from The Andy Griffith Show; Barney (Don) and Andy would sometimes sit on the Taylor's front porch gossiping or or playing music as the two would sing folk songs and hymns.
- The format of the show was purposefully unpredictable as no clue would be given to the kind of show that Knott would pursue. Guest stars, who had not been introduced formally, would appear in sketches and musical numbers established at the beginning of the show.
- Don's series went up against The Mod Squad as well as the fading, but still popular The Beverly Hillbillies. He simply didn't have much of a chance in the ratings.
- Notable guest stars included Cass Elliott, Donald O'Connor, Chuck Connors, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Bobby Morse, Dyan Cannon, Sebastian Cabot, Gloria Loring, John Davidson, Charles Nelson Reilly, The Smothers Brothers, and Lulu.
The Barbara McNair Show
- Lovely songstress Barbara McNair made history when she became the first black female entertainer to host her own variety series.
- It was taped in Canada and shown in syndication. It lasted for three years (1969-71).
- It boasted a long list of popular guest stars such as Tony Bennett, Cher, The Cowsills, Bobby Darin, Bob Hope, Rich Little, Kenny Rogers, Charles Nelson, and many more.
- A DVD release of the best episodes was released in 2015. It had four discs with 18 episodes (mostly from season 1 and 2).
The Jim Nabors Hour
- The Jim Nabors Hour aired on CBS from September 1969 to May 1971.
- Jim was an audience favorite as many people had watched him on The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC. CBS wanted to keep him on their schedule and offered him a variety series that proved to be fairly popular. It often landed in the top 30. He had a nice singing voice and actually earned several gold records in the late 60s.
- Notable guest stars included Johnny Cash, The Jackson 5, Tim Conway, Andy Griffith, Glen Campbell, Minnie Pearl, Wayne Newton, Ken Berry, and so many more.
- When CBS decided to cancel all of their rural TV shows like Green Acres and Peticoat Junction, Jim's show went right with them.
- This show has yet to be released onto DVD and that is a shame. I bet there are some wonderful skits to be watched and songs to be heard from all of those wonderful guest stars.
The Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour
- With the success of Tony Orlando and Dawn songs like Tie a Yellow Ribbon and Knock Three Times, CBS knew they had potential and offered the group their own musical variety series in the summer of 1974.
- The show aired in the time slot that had originally been held by The Sonny and Cher Show, which was going off the air as Sonny and Cher were splitting up.
- The show, up against popular NBC hit Little House on the Prairie, held its own. It was consistently in the top 20 and even bested its rival a few times in the ratings. Things took a turn for the worse when CBS decided to move it from its popular Wednesday night slot to Tuesday night.
- The series ended its run on December 28, 1976.
The Starland Vocal Band Show
- The Starland Vocal Band was a one hit wonder group known for their popular hit Afternoon Delight.
- The band consisted of Bill and Taffy Danoff, Margot Chapman, and Jon Carroll.
- Based on the popularity of the song Afternoon Delight, the group was given their own variety series. It was a 30 minute show that was to last six weeks. It aired on CBS from July 31, 1977 to September 2, 1977. I admit I don't recall this series at all, do you?
- The show wasn't staged in a studio, but instead used a variety of settings like the streets of Georgetown in Washington, D.C. (where the band originated) to Pepperdine University in California.
- This series featured music, comedy skits, and boasted political satirist Mark Russell as a regular along with David Letterman, Jeff Altman, Phil Proctor, and Peter Bergman.
- Bill and Taffy Danoff co-wrote John Denver's big hit, Take Me Home, Country Roads.
Dick Van Dyke and Company
- Dick Van Dyke is a talented individual who can sing, dance, act, and do comedy as if it's second nature to him. He showed off his skills in his 1976 variety series Dick Van Dyke And Company, which aired on NBC.
- Allan Blye and Bob Einstein (better known as Super Dave), who had worked on shows like The Smother’s Brothers and Sonny and Cher, were brought in to guide the show. Andy Kauffman would be a regular and it’s the general consensus of critics and fans alike that this was his big break in television.
- The show once did a fake news bulletin about the Los Angeles Rams sending six of their best backs to Notre Dame in exchange for hunchback Quasimodo. The phone calls came pouring into CBS from outraged sports fans, who either hadn't listened to the skit or simply had no clue who Quasimodo was.
- The show would win an Emmy (beating out other shows like The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live) in 1976, but that didn't help it in the ratings race. It was up against two very well established shows in The Streets of San Fransisco and Barnaby Jones.
- No matter how funny the show was, it just couldn't find its audience and it was cancelled after just 11 episodes. If you want to see it again, or if you missed it the first time around, it has been released onto DVD.
The Flip Wilson Show
- The Flip Wilson Show premiered on NBC on September 17, 1970. It lasted for four seasons, ending on June 27, 1974.
- It was the first successful television show, as well as a variety show, to star an African American. Flip introduced us to Geraldine Jones, a sassy modern woman who had a boyfriend named Killer, who when not in jail, could be found hanging out at the local pool hall. Geraldine was Flip dressed in women’s clothes and one of her most famous catch phrases was “the devil made me do it .“
- As the show went on, its ratings began to slip. In its final year, it had slipped out of the top 30. The show was cancelled by the network because of low ratings and also because of Flip’s demands for more money, causing the show to go over budget. It was just easier for the network to pull the plug on this classic series than try to fix it.
- Notable guests included Lola Falana, Bing Crosby, Tim Conway, Ruth Buzzi, Dom DeLuise, BB King, Ray Charles, Lily Tomlin, Roy Clark, Bobby Darin, Lena Horne, Richard Pryor, Lena Horn, Joe Namath, and more!
More 70s Television Variety Series
- The Gladys Knight & The Pips Show-This four week summer replacement series aired on NBC from July 10, 1975 to July 31, 1975. Each week they sang an assortment of their hit songs. They were joined by special guest stars who engaged in musical and comedy routines.
- This is Tom Jones-This series began on February 7, 1969 and lasted until January 15, 1971 with a total of 65 episodes. It was a British production that was picked up and aired here in the US on ABC. The first season did well in the ratings, even though it was up against the very popular CBS show Gomer Pyle. It would eventually be moved to Thursday nights where it went up against NBC's Ironside. It did manage to hold its own, but ABC once again decided to shift it back to its original Friday night schedule, which seemed to be its downfall. During its three year run, the show played host to numerous popular guests such as The Bee Gees, Sonny and Cher, Cass Elliott, Glen Campbell, The Hollies, Jerry Reed, and Raquel Welch to just name a few.
- Make Your Own Kind of Music-Karen and Richard Carpenter along with Al Hirt found themselves acting as co-hosts on NBC's summer variety series Make Your Own Kind of Music. Although it was successful in its initial run, the Carpenters decided not to come back to episodic TV as they were busy with their musical career and didn't want the additional stress of keeping a weekly show going.
- The Dean Martin Show-It began on September 16, 1965 and ran until May, 1974. Dean's easy going, down-to-earth demeanor made him the ideal host. Songs, comedy skits, and bloopers made this be one of the most memorable and popular shows on TV. During its nine year run, it had an impressive list of guests such as Nancy Sinatra, The Mills Brothers, Bobby Darin, Olivia Newton-John, Raquel Welch, Gene Kelly, Peter Sellers, and more! During the run of this show, there were a multitude of summer replacement series all using Martin's name. There was The Dean Martin Summer Show, The Dean Martin Comedy World, and Dean Martin Presents.
- The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour-In the summer of 1971, Sonny and Cher were given a summer replacement variety series that did well in the ratings. In December of 1971, they were given their own show on CBS. All was going well until the couple announced in the spring of 1974 that they were divorcing and the show was cancelled. Sonny tried a show on his own called The Sonny Comedy Revue on ABC, which ran from September 22, 1974 to December 29, 1974. Cher was given her own variety show which premiered on CBS. It ran from February 16, 1975 to January 4, 1976. It was obvious to many that these two worked better together than apart and they were given The Sonny and Cher Show. It ran for two seasons and was cancelled in 1977.
© 2014 Glory Miller