A descendant of Vaudeville
: an anthology of unrelated performances (be they musical, comedic, dramatic, etc.) by different performers. The first breakout television hits were variety shows, most notably the Texaco Star Theatre
(hosted by Milton Berle) and The Ed Sullivan Show
; other important examples from the '50s
included The Red Skelton Show
, The Jackie Gleason Show
, The Carol Burnett Show,
and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
As you might notice, many such shows were named for the host(s)
This format fell out of favor in the early 1980s
. Cable (particularly MTV and HBO) provided alternate outlets for the music, stand-up comedy, and miscellaneous acts that were the bread-and-butter of these shows, and viewers no longer had to sit through three acts they weren't interested in for the sake of one that they wanted to see. Also, tastes were becoming more polarized; whereas formerly people could endure musical styles they didn't care for much, more and more people actually HATED styles they disfavored.
Moreover, fatigue with the genre had sprung up in the '70s
— Donny and Marie
and Sonny and Cher
were only the best-known examples in a decade that also brought us increasingly corny shows toplined by such acts as The Brady Bunch
and the Bay City Rollers. One-shot and annual specials such as Circus of the Stars
persisted into the early 1990s, but even those are now relatively rare.
Occasional attempts to revive the genre (on networks or cable) have been doomed to failure, though some might argue that Sketch Comedy
shows such as Saturday Night Live
, the late-night Talk Show
format, and reality competitions such as American Idol
and America's Got Talent
keep the form on life support. NBC is giving it one more shot for the 2015-16 season with Neil Patrick Harris
hosting Best Time Ever
Producers of the British Sitcom The Young Ones
booked a band for a guest appearance in every episode; musical performances qualified the series as a variety show, and it was therefore permitted a larger budget than usual for a BBC sitcom.
- Many an American Christmas Special is this, including the notorious The Star Wars Holiday Special.
- Adam Hills In Gordon Street Tonight
- The Brady Bunch Hour
- The Carol Burnett Show
- Donny and Marie
- The Ed Sullivan Show
- Hee Haw sort of counts as one, albeit with a distinct rural appeal.
- The Muppet Show — Somewhere between a straight example and a spoof of this genre.
- Pink Lady and Jeff — This 1980 NBC flop was the arguable Genre-Killer.
- The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
- The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour
- Solstrom — A 2003 Widget Series produced by Cirque du Soleil had whimsical fantasy storylines brought to life via a selection of circus/variety acts from both within and without Cirque's live shows.
- This Is Tom Jones
- The last legitimate attempt at a traditional Variety Show on American network television was 1987's Dolly, starring Dolly Parton — it lasted one season and was considered a huge gamble even then.
- A radio example would be A Prairie Home Companion.
- Technically, by having bands on The Young Ones was considered a variety show. (This was because variety got a higher budget than light entertainment at the BBC.)
- The Slammer — A variety show with a weird framing device.
- Viva Variety — Comedy Central's parody of these kinds of programs
- Not to mention its precursor, the more-or-less straight-up revival attempt Random Acts of Variety.
- The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is an unusual example of a filmed variety show. MGM, which was transitioning to talking films, simply put all of its stars into a variety show movie filled with unrelated sketches and songs.
- The Tonight Show
- In-universe in The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air), the eponymous radio show's format includes musical numbers by bizarre animals and inanimate objects, novelty acts, and prerecorded spoken "true story" segments as closing "feature presentations."