Saturday, December 08, 2007

Those Old Variety Shows Were The BEST TELEVISION EVER

Do you know what I miss, especially at this time of the year? Variety shows.

Those weekly shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Andy Williams, The Smothers Brothers, Sonny and Cher, Glen Campbell, Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, Perry Como, Flip Wilson. . . The Muppet Show. . . .

SNL is probably the closest thing we have to a variety show, now. But even SNL isn't as cool as it used to be. But those old variety shows. Sigh.

We could tune in weekly and count on seeing well-written sketches, all kinds of singing and dancing, and appearances by well-known and not-so-well-known celebrities and budding celebrities, singers and bands, comedians. . . you name it, it was on the variety shows.

I am not talking about talk shows, where somebody whose fifteen minutes is still running comes on and plugs his/her new movie/book/tv show, etc - those are a dime a dozen now, although it used to be different. I'm talking about variety shows: genuinely talented people from Broadway or movies that didn't include Carrot Top or anybody whose last name has become a blend of someone else's who they are currently having sex with, or tv shows that had lasted long enough to become properly popular. People who really had talent, not just a sweet/fast-talking agent. People who SANG their songs, not people who lip-synched them.

Lip-synchers. Bah.

Ed Sullivan took a chance every week with complete unknowns, some of whom remain unknown to this very day. He also introduced the Beatles to America; I remember that night very well. My parents scoffed at this new concept in entertainment, but even though I was just a little kid, I remember the distinct feeling that something inside of me had changed after watching the Beatles. When the camera turned on John Lennon, the words "Sorry, girls, he's married" flashed across the screen, and for the first time in my life I knew what "jealousy" really was.

Ultimately, though, it was George who was my favorite.

Dean Martin's show was ad-libbed almost all the way through. It was fantastic. Dean and his guests were show-biz-savvy, and they had TALENT. They didn't need writers to tell them what to say. They knew what to say because they were real troupers and could do it themselves.

Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, and Tim Conway laughed their way through some of the best-written sketches of all time. Sonny & Cher (who woulda thought it!) had a great show, too. I remember Elton John, back in his Mad Hatter period, wearing his trademark giant glasses and pounding the daylights out of the piano, on their show.

I also remember the Smothers Brothers' show, the night of the musician's strike. It was business as usual, and all the instrumental backgrounds were provided by their vocal chorus.

Back in the days of the variety shows, we could see all kinds of celebrities, not just Britney and Lindsey and Brennifer and Brangelina and some guy with a new fall tv show. Guests were required to perform, and PROVE their celebrity worth, not just giggle and smirk and hawk stuff.

Television seems to go in circles and trends: one season, it's doctor shows; another season, it's westerns; later, it's crime scene shows, etc.

I haven't watched tv since MASH went off the air, but if somebody ever has the balls to bring back the variety shows, REAL ones, with Broadway stars and comedians who know how to be genuinely funny without using four-letter words and assuming everybody approves of pre-marital sex for sophomores, and fully-clothed dancers who can really dance, not just strut their stuff, and bands who sing live, and scenes from New York plays, and dramatic recitations, and parodies. . . not just ONE THING, but many different examples of many different talents, lasting a full hour. . . I'd probably buy whatever their advertisers advertised.

Maybe the general population's tastes have changed to the point where such shows are no longer what they want, or maybe they just haven't ever SEEN them, real ones, since TV is so dominated by the same old thing season after season, stressing celebrity rather than talent, with only a few exceptions. Today's celebrities seem to be in the news more for their off-screen antics - usually nasty and disgusting - than for having any actual talent.

I'm no prude, not by a long shot, but it would be nice to have something - dare I mention the now-humorous word "wholesome. . . ."? - that I could watch that would make me say things like, "He's such a beautiful singer!" and "She's so funny; call Mom and tell her to turn on her tv." and "That's the funniest sketch I've ever seen!" and "We've got to get tickets to this Broadway show!" and never once hear an F or a Big D or a GD, watch some hormonal idiot reap the consequences of his/her own actions, or be expected to applaud when someone hires someone else to kill someone. I want to see awe-inspiring talent, not some dippy moron whose grammar makes me want to scream and yell and throw things.

I hear and see enough of those in my real life. When I watch something, be it tv or movie, I want to be entertained and thrilled and enchanted and blown away by the sheer brilliance of somebody's blazingly individual talent, being performed live, warts and all.

Remember when the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations were commercial-free? That's the era I want back. I would seriously patronize a company that sponsored a commercial-free program.

Man, I'm old. But some things really were better back in the day.

(Don't change Scrubs, though. Perry Cox is hot.) (I've never watched it on tv, though; I watch it on DVD so I can own him pause if I want to.)

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 7:03 PM | |


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