What happened to the Variety Shows of the 60's and 70's?

Culture | September 15, 2017

Back in the 60’s and 70’s almost every well-known celebrity had their own variety show. They were goofy, groovy and sometimes great! With comedy, music acts, acrobats and sometimes ventriloquism, viewers tuned in to watch their favorite variety shows. With legends like Ed Sullivan, Dean Martin, Lawrence Welk, Andy Williams, Sonny and Cher, The Carpenters and the list goes on! Popular TV families like The Brady Bunch, Donny and Marie, Barbara Mandrell and The Mandrell Sisters (in the 80’s) and The Hudson Brothers were mainstays for singing and dancing. The Carol Burnett Show kept viewers in stitches with the hilarious antics of Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence,Harvey Korman and Lyle Waggoner. Singer and actor, Glen Campbell had his Goodtime Hour, country music had Hee Haw, psychedelic fun with Laugh In, rock music had Midnight Special, bubblegum music had the Captain and Tennille along with comedy provided by Flip Wilson in his variety show. They had popular celebrity guests on every week, even The Muppets had their own variety show with star-studded guests!

Singers and bands like Mac Davis, John Denver, Sha Na Na, Tony Orlando and Dawn had popular variety shows in the 70’s. Do you remember the mime duo and comedy of Shields and Yarnell?

Sitcom queen, Mary Tyler Moore, had a short-lived variety show called, you guessed it, Mary! After only three episodes it was cancelled. Another clunker was Saturday Night Live With Howard Cosell. Monday Night Football was much better to him, after bad reviews and ratings his show was cancelled after 18 episodes. Sonny Bono tried his luck with his solo variety show, Sonny Comedy Revue. Unfortunately his ex-wife Cher had her own variety show around the same time, which was called, you guessed it, ’Cher’ and it fared much better than Sonny’s. His was cancelled after 13 episodes. Dolly Parton even tried her hand at hosting her own variety show called ‘Dolly’ in 1987-88 that lasted for 23 episodes. 

When the prime time variety shows fizzled, the late night talk shows came into the spotlight. Shining brightly were Johnny Carson, Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live. They were the big dogs of late night television, paving way for Conan O’Brien, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel. 

Will prime time variety shows ever make a comeback? In the afternoon, talk-variety show, ‘The Ellen Show’, is going strong with major celebrities visiting her five days a week. But will the prime time slot ever revive again? Perhaps a superstar like Carrie Underwood or Jennifer Lopez would fit the bill and bring back the glory days of song and dance with comedy and celebrities. The goofiness, grooviness and greatness known as the variety show!

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Cyn Felthousen-Post


Cyn loves history, music, Irish dancing, college football and nature. Social media is also her thing, keeping up with trends and celebrities with positive news. She can be found outside walking or hiking with her son when she's not working. Carpe diem is her fave quote, get out there and seize the day!