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 Hour
When ABC was looking for a new variety series they had great hopes that Julie Andrews would have enough star power to bring in the viewers. Andrews, whose career was in something of a slump, as the age of the big screen musical she was most noted for staring in was coming to close.
The one hour show airing from September 13, 1972 to April 28, 1973 featured songs, skits as well as Andrews recreating scenes from some of her biggest musical hits. It also featured Alice Ghostly and Rich Little, whose career received a huge boost from the exposure, as semi regulars.
Two issues from the start doomed this show, the first being that it was scheduled against the popular CBS detective drama Cannon. The second issue was that variety shows were considered family friendly viewing and with its late air time (10:00 p.m) most kids were in bed. The network did attempt to find a better time slot, but the show just never caught on with the viewers and was finally cancelled in April 1973 with a total of 24 episodes filmed.
Even though it wasn't a ratings winner, it was nominated for eight Emmy Awards (winning seven of them) and Andrews was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Actress-Television Series Musical or Comedy. (She lost to Jean Stapleton for her work in All in the Family).
Andrews would remain on good terms with ABC and go on to do five more specials for the network that were produced in England between 1973 and 1975.
The Ken Berry Wow Show
From July 15, 1972 to August 12, 1972, comedic actor Ken Berry showcased his talent as a song and dance man in this short lived summer replacement series (replaced Gary Collins series The Sixth Sense).
It actually stated out as a one time special but the ratings were good enough to prompt ABC to turn it into a series. The show lampooned other variety show formats and did send-ups of the silent movies of the 20's, vaudeville of the'30s, rock groups of the 50s and more.
It featured the usual comedy fare; comedy, songs, dancing and had an ensemble cast that included Terri Garr, Steve Martin,The New Seekers and Cheryl Stopplemoor who would go on to change her name to Cheryl Ladd and have great success in the series Charlie's Angels.
The Brady Bunch Hour
The Brady Bunch Hour aired on ABC from November 28, 1976 to May 25, 1977 and was an attempt to bring back to television the Brady Bunch. All of the cast members, with exception of Eve Plumb (who was replaced by Geri Reischl) took part in this reboot of sorts.
The plot of the show had the Brady's living in a nice beach house in California as dad, Mike had given up his job as an architect. The family was now staring in a variety show, so I guess it was a variety show about staring in a variety show.
This wasn't a weekly venture, instead it was to appear every fifth week, in the 7:00 P.M. time slot held by The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew Mysteries, but that didn't happen. It was eventually decided that the show would get the time slot once held by The Captain and Tennille who had given up their show to return to making records and touring, but in truth it appeared all over ABC's schedule which made it difficult for viewers to find, so it never got a chance to build an audience.
When Robert Reed was asked why he had chosen to take part he stated he want to try something different and the official explanation for Plumb's no show was that her father wanted her to have only "limited involvement", but I am not sure what that really means? Anyway, TV Guide voted this show as being one of the worst shows ever, making it to number four on their list of 50 shows.
If you missed it the first time around, and that wasn't difficult to do, it is available on DVD.
The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour
This hour long series began its life on CBS January 20, 1968 and finished on June 13, 1972.
Campbell's easy going, laid back personality made him a popular singer with both country and pop fans and he seemed to be a natural fit in the world of the variety series.
The show was compared in feel to that of Perry Como's with it's friendly, informal and relaxed atmosphere. It featured comedy skits, dancing, and of course great music performed not just by Campbell but a multitude of guests like Bobbie Gentry, Cher, Dottie West, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Reed, The Smothers Brothers and more.
As a bit of trivia, during the final season, Dom DeLuise was often seen on the show, but never credited.
Although the entire series had never made it to DVD release, there is an hour-long compilation DVD available that shows off some of the series best moments.
The Johnny Cash Show
The Johnny Cash Show began its run on ABC June 7, 1969 and lasted until May 5, 1971 with a total of 59 episodes filmed.
Cash had been searching for a way to get his music out to a wider audience and he hoped that this series would be just what he needed. But, before he took on the role, he had two demands with the first being that the show would be filmed entirely in Nashville and that he would be able to retain his down to earth common "man in black" persona which meant no fake, Hollywood glitz. The producers, at first, weren't happy with these demands, but did eventually agree.
The show had an amazing lineup of guests like Bob Dyland, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins, Doug Kershaw and it even featured his wife, June Carter as well as her moth, Maybelle, of the famous Carter Family. The show lasted only two seasons, but Cash did achieve his goal.
The Captain and Tennille
The Captain and Tennille topped the pop charts in 1975 with their debut single Love Will Keep Us Together which held the top spot for nine weeks.
Other hit songs would follow and it seemed only natural that their popularity on the music charts would translate into big rating success on television. ABC offered the duo their own variety show with that hopes that they might become the next Sonny and Cher, at least variety show-wise.
Their series began airing on September 20, 1976 and lasted until March 14, 1977. The show, featuring comedy, dancing and of course, music was popular with audiences, but the duo asked to be let out of their contract so they could focus their attention on their music.
The show had a great list of guests such as the original Charlie's Angels trio (Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith), Bob Hope, John Travolta, Vincent Price, Don Knotts and more.
The series has was released on DVD until the title of The Captain and Tennille Ultimate Collection (a 3-disc set).
The Bobby Darin Show
This popular, but short-lived (only 13 episodes aired) series ran from January 19, 1973 to April 27, 1973 and at the time, no one knew this would be Darin's last performances of his career.
It featured Darin in comedy roles such as that of Groucho Marx, or Dusty John the hippie poet and the Godmother. The show, of course, featured musical numbers by Darin backed by a full orchestra and each week's episode offered up a salute to a different city.
This series is sometimes confused with a seven episode series called The Bobby Darin Amusement Company which was a summer replacement for Dean Matin's show while it was on hiatus. The Bobby Darin Show still had the Amusement Company Logo on the end credits.
Darin suffered from rheumatic fever as a child which left his with heart problems and the pressure of working on the series took its toll on Darin's health and he would die of complications from open heart surgery on December 20, 1973.
The Hudson Brothers Show
The Hudson Brothers Show, hosted by real life brothers, Bill, Brett and Mark Hudson was a short-lived five episode summer replacement series that aired from July 31, 1978 to August 28, 1974 on CBS.
The brothers, called a mixing of the Marx Brothers and the Beatles sang, danced, bantered back and forth and this so impressed the network that they were given a Saturday morning variety show too, called The Razzle Dazzle Show that lasted one season beginning on September 7, 1974 and ending on 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
This variety series aired on ABC from January 22, 1970 to September 9, 1970.
A TV special hosted by Humperdinck had aired in December 1969 and done well in the ratings so the network was confident that it would translate well into a weekly series. The show itself was based in London and ABC decided to schedule the series to follow The Johnny Cash Show, hoping that with Cash as a lead-in that Humperdinck would fair well, and possibly be an even bigger ratings success, but what they failed to take into account was that Cash and Humperdinck weren't exactly the same in terms of music and style and that many country fans found it difficult to relate to Humperdinck's glitzy, suave persona.
The ratings for his show were solid at first, but did begin to slip as the series was up against the very popular and well established Hawaii Five-O on CBS. The network decided to move the show to Saturday nights, but it didn't recover any of its audience and the network canceled it.
This 30 minute variety musical series aired on CBS from June 16, 1976 to July 1976 and then again from January 1977 to March 1977.
The first "season" of the show featured Jackie, Janet, La Toya, Marlon, Michael, Randy, Rebbie, and Tito, the Jackson family. (Jermaine was busy with his own solo career and did not participate.) along with Jim Samuels and Marty Cohen.
When the second phase of the series started in January of 1977, a new supporting cast made up of Emmett Ashford, Tom Biener, Johnny Dark and Biff Manard joined in on the fun.
Of note, while the series was being filmed, the Jackson family found themselves 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.
Notable guests included Muhammad Ali, Joey Bishop, Sony Bono, John Byner, Lynda Carter, Tim Conway, Dom DeLuise, Redd Foxx, MacKenzie Phillips, and Betty White.
The Don Knotts Show
The Don Knotts Show aired on NBC from September 15, 1970 to July 6, 1971. Along with Don were regulars Elaine Joyce, Frank Welker, Gary Burghoff, Eddie Carroll and Kenneth Mars.
There were two regular features each week with Don and his guest stars engaging in skits about the frustrations involved in doing a weekly series and the Front Porch which had Don and his guest star sitting on a front porch in rocking chairs exchanging ideas about life. If you remember, this is something that is reminiscent from The Andy Griffith Show which featured Barney (Knotts) as Deputy Fife and Andy (Griffith) sitting on the Taylor's front porch gossiping or singing folk or gospel songs.
Don's show was up against ABC's popular The Mod Squad as well as fading, but still popular The Beverly Hillbillies on CBS.
A few of the notable guest stars: The Carpenters, Mac Davis, Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, The Lennon Sisters, Tony Randall.
The Barbara McNair Show
Lovely songstress Barbara McNair made history when she became the first black female entertainer to host a variety series of her own.
It was produced in Canada from 1969-1971 and shown in syndication only with a total of 52 episodes (some sources state 54 episodes) filmed. Like many variety shows it boasted a diverse variety of guests such as B.B. King, Johnny Mathis, the Righteous Brothers, Della Reese, Cher, Bobby Sherman, Leonard Nimoy and countless others.
While the complete series is not available on DVD there is a "best of" available with 12 hours of viewing pleasure.
The Jim Nabors Hour
The Jim Nabors Hour aired on CBS from September 25, 1969 to May 10, 1971 and featured, along with Nabors, Frank Sutton, Ronnie Schell, Karen Morrow, The Nabors Kids, The Tony Mordente Dancers and Paul Weston and His Orchestra.
Nabors is probably best remembered for his work as Gomer Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show and its spin-off series, Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C., proved to be not just a fine comedic actor but also a fine singer with a rich baritone voice that lead to a recording career that produced several best-selling albums.
After Gomer Pyle left the air, CBS offered Nabors his own variety series that featured the usual fare; dancing, singing, comedy and of course guest stars such as Rick Nelson, Carol Burnett, Barbara McNair, Andy Griffith, Tim Conway, and so many more.
When CBS decided to cancel all of its rural TV shows like Green Acres and Petticoat Junction, Nabor's show went right with them.
The show has yet to be released on DVD, which is a shame as I bet there are many wonderful skits to be watched and songs to be heard from all of those wonderful guest stars.
The Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour
This series, originally titled Tony Orlando and Dawn, aired on CBS from July 3, 1974 to December 28, 1976 and featured Tony Orlando, Telma Hopkins, Joyce Vincent Wilson, Alice Nunn, Lonnie Shorr, Adam Wade, George Carlin, Nancy Steen, Bob Holt, Susan Lanier, Jimmy Martinez, Edie McClurg, Jerry Jack Singers and the Bob Rozario Orchestra.
It aired Wednesday nights, in the time slot originally help by The Sonny and Cher show which was off the air because the stars were divorcing. The first season of the series did well in the ratings, consistently being in the Top 20, even though it was up against NBC's very popular Little House on the Prairie, and even managed to best its rival a few times in the ratings. The show consisted of music, comedy skits, music and even sarcastic banter between Tony and the Dawn (Telma and Joyce) much along the same lines of Sonny and Cher.
The show's fortune changed, though, when it was moved from its Wednesday night time slot to Tuesdays, and the name was changed to the Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour. The ratings declined and the show aired its last episode December 28, 1976.
The show boasted a wide variety of guests including: The Bay City Rollers, Don Knotts, Tammy Wynette, Jerry Lewis, Alice Cooper, Barbara Eden and more.
The Starland Vocal Band Show
The Starland Vocal Band is probably better remembered for their one pop hit, Afternoon Delight, than they are for their venture into the variety series arena. The series was a 30 minute venture that featured the band (Bill Danoff, Taffy Danoff, Margot Chapman and Jon Caroll) as well as regulars, Mark Russell, David Letterman, Jeff Altman, Phil Proctor, Peter Bergman and Milt Okun and His Orchestra.
The series ran on CBS from July 31, 1977 to September 2, 1977 and the show wasn't always staged in a studio like many variety series, instead you might find the group at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., or see the band having a picnic at Great Falls, Virginia. While the settings might not have been traditional variety series fare, the the show still managed to feature comedy skits, music and more.
I must admit that I don't recall this series at all, do you?
Van Dyke and Company
Van Dyke and Company aired on NBC from September 20, 1976 to December 30, 1976.
This short-lived series featured Van Dyke along with series regulars, Andy Kaufman, Marilyn Sokol, Pat Proft, Bob Einstein, Richard Kiel, Chuck McCann and the L.A. Mime Company. The show was inventive and not exactly like other variety series in that, Van Dyke performed mine as well as other non verbal roles.
Sadly, the show was scheduled against two well established shows, on ABC The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones on CBS.
The show would win an Emmy in 1977 (Outstanding Comedy Variety or Music Series) besting The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live.
The show was canceled after 11 episodes, but you can find it on DVD if you missed it the first time around or you simply want to walk down memory lane.
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 and it introduced viewers 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, of course, 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 and by the time the final season rolled around 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.
There were many variety series airing in the 1970s and there isn't room for each and every one to be included on this list. If you have a favorite that isn't listed, please feel free to tell us about it in the guest book below. Or, if you have a comment or question, feel free to express that as well.
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© 2014 Glory Miller