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Variety Show

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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 and '60s 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 America in the early 1980s (although in Australia, Hey Hey It's Saturday lasted until 1999). 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. If they didn't like what was on cable, people could go down to the local video rental stores that were popping up across the country to find something they wanted. 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. This, combined with the growing number of U.S. households with multiple TV sets, meant that viewers could watch what they wanted, making the format obsolete.


Moreover, fatigue with the genre had sprung up in The '70sDonny 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 gave it one more shot for the 2015-16 season with Neil Patrick Harris hosting Best Time Ever, but it only lasted 8 episodes before being canceled.


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.



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