My first memory of watching a variety show is when the Jackson 5 appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time. I was 6 years old and didn’t really grasp what was going on other than my Dad excitedly yelling for my brother, sister and I to come downstairs and watch these young black kids. A few years later, we would spend Saturday nights together as a family watching “The Carol Burnett Show“. I didn’t always understand what was going on but I remember watching those 1970’s commercial parodies (Remember Ring around the Collar for Wisk detergent?) and laughing my face off at Harvey Korman whenever he played Big Mama in sketches. The Carol Burnett show was just the beginning. During the week, my sister and I would sit at the foot of our mother’s bed and watch “The Flip Wilson show”, “Sonny and Cher”, “Tony Orlando and Dawn” along with a host of variety specials from entertainers like Lola Falana, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr, John Denver and even The Harlem Globetrotters. You could see your favorite singer or group perform their latest hit song or catch your favorite TV stars goof around in silly sketches. As a child of the 70’s all we had was TV and Radio to entertain us and if any black performer was going to be a guest on a show it was appointment TV at our house.
These days, variety shows don’t exist. NBC gave Saturday Night Live vet Maya Rudolph a variety special last May that had high expectations but to me felt boring and fake. It’s not enough to be a great sketch performer. Variety show hosts need to have personality and a likeability that engages the audience. Carol Burnett and Flip Wilson would come out and talk to the audience before or after their show. That gave me a “wow they’re so cool” feeling. Even though anything is accessable and so manufactured in this YouTube world, broadcast TV is still relevant. At least for now.
Of today’s performers, who do you think would be a good variety show host? I’d nominate Taylor Swift because she has a likeability about her, she’s talented and media savvy too. Cedric the Entertainer had a great variety show on Fox about 10 years ago. It got good ratings before it was cancelled prematurely. With the right writers and supporting cast, he could be a force to be reckoned with. What do you think about pop singer Ciara as a host? She can sing, is an excellent dancer and from what I’ve seen on the nightly entertainment shows, she has a friendliness that with a little coaching, could translate well onto TV.
In September, Neil Patrick Harris will premiere his NBC Variety show “Best Time Ever” which will feature A-list stars, stunts, comedy skits, mini game shows, audience giveaways and hidden camera pranks. It’s a takeoff of a British show called “Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway,” and I can’t say I’m excited about it. But I’m open to being pleasantly surprised.