A type of TV show; descended from vaudeville (and, in later decades, from Vegas) much as most American TV content (sitcoms, soaps, sports, etc) was derived from its radio antecedents. One could see singers, dancers, jugglers, comedians, celebrity guests (whether performers or not), and animal acts. Now it's sort of a camp thing, celebrated in Comedy Central's Viva Variety.

More and more frequently, the various entertainers of the 1950s and 60s are leaving this world. Of course, a number of heavyweights of the period have been dead for years (Jackie Gleason, Bobby Darin, Ed Sullivan), but many of the accomplished performers of that era are just now entering their golden years, and it goes without saying that in general their well-to-do lifestyles have kept them alive and well into the 21st century. But time is creeping up on them all the time, and rarely does a week go by that one of them doesn't pop up in the local "Notable Obituaries" section.

What makes many of these announcements fascinating is the almost obligatory mention of that person's stint as the host of a variety show. To a younger person, the ubiquitous nature of variety entertainment is foreign to the point of absurdity. Even in the age of limitless content, we can't imagine the showstopping powers of one person captivating the audience for a full hour, every week, without fail. And yet the variety show was actually more of the garden variety during its heyday of the late 60s and early 70s. Borne out of the many variety radio shows that predated television, every star rising and falling was given an opportunity to wow the crowds, and it is this strange democracy that makes the variety show such a singularly nostalgic moment in our nation's television history.

Here now is a not complete but fairly thorough list of all of the entertainers who had a variety show (or, in some cases, merely a variety special) through out the years of American television (I'm confident my friends across the pond can reciprocate in kind.)

Variety show.

A stage entertainment of successive separate performances, usually songs, dances, acrobatic feats, dramatic sketches, exhibitions of trained animals, or any specialties. Often loosely called vaudeville show.


© Webster 1913

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