THE RETURN OF PRIMETIME VARIETY SHOWS
EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN.
On with the show
They say that variety is the spice of life.
Now, some networks are hoping that variety
can spice up an otherwise bland TV season.
By Eric Kohanik
There was once a time when the primetime variety show was a big mainstay in the TV world.
It was a holdover from the days of vaudeville houses and the early years of network radio.
Every TV network tended to have at least one primetime variety show to spice up its scheDule. There were classics like Your Show of Shows and The Milton Berle Show, better known as The Texaco Star Theater. And there was Toast of the Town, which was later much more widely known by its new title: The Ed Sullivan Show.
There were many others over the years: The Dean Martin Show, This Is Tom Jones, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Hollywood Palace…the list goes on and on.
The last of the big network variety shows? That was probably The Carol Burnett Show, which actually finished its run 30 years ago.
These days, TV variety shows tend to take the form of talent competitions – shows like Dancing With the Stars or America’s Got Talent. Or they are sketch-comedy shows that have found a niche during latenight hours – shows like Saturday Night Live.
But the bigtime network variety show may be in for a primetime comeback before long. In July, Fox announced plans to roll out a traditional TV variety show with a rather untraditional twist.
The network recruited Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne and two of their dizzy offspring, Jack and Kelly, for a new show tentatively titled The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous. Set to debut during the holiday season, it is supposed to mix music performances with comedy sketches and what Fox describes as “game-show competitions.”
Fox signed up for six episodes of the Osbourne project. Whether there will be more after that will depend on how audiences take to the first batch of shows.
Over at NBC, meanwhile, network executives announced a couple of weeks ago that they had signed Rosie O’Donnell to host Rosie’s Variety Special, a primetime effort that is scheduled to hit the air Nov. 26. The live, hourlong special is supposed to feature musical acts, comedy skits, celebrity guests and what NBC is billing as “a giant primetime give-away.” If the special proves to be popular, NBC plans to turn it into a regular weekly show in 2009.
Can O’Donnell and the Osbournes turn variety shows back into the TV mainstays they once were? Hey, you never know. After all, who’d have thought that quiz shows and amateur talent competitions – both powerhouse genres during TV’s early years, too – would make the big comebacks they have?
One thing is certain. Networks are always looking for new ideas that can become hits. And, in the TV world, you know that, at some point, everything old is new again.