As the 1960s carried on, popularity in TV variety shows began to wane. The last of the very popular variety shows that began in the 1960s was The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78). Some don’t even count this program as a variety show since the format relied heavily on the resident comedy troupe of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner (replaced by Tim Conway when Waggoner left in ’75). Guest stars were included in the skits, but seemed secondary to the comedy.
Several of the immensely popular TV variety shows of the previous two decades ended their run as the 1960s became the ’70s. Among them, Hollywood Palace folded up the tent in 1970 and the king of the variety hill, The Ed Sullivan Show, ended in 1971. Nonetheless, there were a few practitioners attempting to keep the format alive. Among those that achieved some measure of success were:
The Flip Wilson Show (1970-74)
Though Nat King Cole had become the first African-American to host a TV variety show more than a decade earlier, comedian Flip Wilson, unlike Cole, was able to garner advertising sponsors. Was it because of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 or was the society actually changing? In any case, most people Mister Boomer knew watched because Wilson was funny. His recurring character, Geraldine Jones, was a hit in Mister B’s home, as well as boomer homes across the country.
The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1971-74, The Sonny & Cher Show ’76-77)
Husband and wife duo Sonny Bono and Cher opened each show, in its earliest incarnation, by singing their hit, The Beat Goes On, and ended each episode with I Got You Babe. In between, the mostly musical variety included guest stars and comedy skits.
Aside from the hit songs, the show was known for the Bob Mackie fashion gowns that Cher wore each week. The show was canceled when the couple announced their divorce in 1974, and their time slot was given to The Tony Orlando & Dawn Rainbow Hour. Cher was given her own show for a year (Cher, 1975-76). The couple reunited for The Sonny & Cher Show in the 1976-77 season.
Donny & Marie (1976-79)
Standouts from The Osmond Brothers and veterans of dozens of TV variety shows, singing siblings Donny and Marie were given a show of their own in 1976 when Fred Silverman, then president of ABC, saw them co-host on The Mike Douglas Show. They became, for the time, the youngest TV variety show hosts, at 18 and 16, respectively.
Another favorite of Mister Boomer’s mother, the show featured an ongoing musical skit of “I’m a little bit country; I’m a little bit rock ‘n roll,” where Marie would sing a country song, while Donny tried something in the pop-rock milieu.
Captain and Tennille Show (1976-77)
The Captain, Daryl Dragon, and his wife, Toni Tennille, spent years as backup singers for Elton John and Neil Sedaka. In the 1970s, they toured with the Beach Boys, where it is said Mike Love gave Dragon his nickname. This husband and wife duo had their first hit on their own in 1974 with Love will Keep Us Together. It was awarded a Grammy as Record of the Year in 1975. One year later, the couple was given a TV variety show. After the first season, they asked to be released from their contract in order to concentrate on their music and touring career.
As far as Mister Boomer is concerned, Captain and Tennille hold the record for one of the most insipid recordings ever made: Muskrat Love (1976), which they performed on the show. It was a cover first put out by America (1973), and one has to ask, why? Other than that, the show is remembered for its performance regulars, Shields and Yarnell, a husband and wife mime duo. Shields and Yarnell were spun off from the show and given their own short-lived variety program in 1977.
As the1970s progressed, TV audiences had grown tired of the variety show format. Even The Carol Burnett Show experienced a downward viewership. The heyday of TV variety shows had come to an end.
Did you have a favorite ’70s TV variety show, boomers?