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.