Sunday, August 17, 2008

Viva Variety

I'm not normally a slave to the boob tube, but when it comes to the Olympics, it's on nearly 24-7 in my house.

Last night, after Michael Phelps's big win, I decided to go to bed. But then there were the post-race interviews, so I stayed up to watch those. And then there was the local news, followed by more post-race interviews. Finally, around 1:30, I headed up to my bedroom.

Then beach volleyball came on. Quarterfinal match between May-Walsh and the Brazilians.

Sooo...can you guess what I did till 2:30 this morning?

After the Games are over, I'm going to go through withdrawl. Yes, the shows are returning, but they're nothing I would care to watch. All of the sitcoms today are formulaic, with very tired jokes. And I find reality TV to be just plain mean-spirited. I am appalled at just how low people will sink to win money.

There's one genre of television, however, that I really, really enjoy, and it's considered to be dead, although there have been a few people over the last few years who have tried to revive it.


I remember watching a special about Ed Sullivan when I was a kid, and being fascinated by the plate spinners. I couldn't believe that people actually watched this sort of thing, in droves, but I still loved it. Broadway performers raved about Ed because his program provided a showcase for all of their musicals and plays. And, of course, without Ed Sullivan, the Beatles may not have been quite as big in America.

Ed Sullivan was just the tip of the iceberg. As you all are aware, I am a huge Carol Burnett fan, and grew up with her sketches. I didn't learn until 1993, when her 25th anniversary special aired, that she also had musical guests and Broadway-style finales on her show every week. The reunion special contained various clips of these musical numbers, and they were amazing. I started to wonder why these elements of her program were left out of syndication--then, as I got older, I learned about rights, royalties, and unions, and how performers are supposed to get money each time their clip is viewed on TV.

A few years pass, and I learn that The Carol Burnett Show was available on Columbia House via subscription. At the time, I was a poor graduate student and didn't have the funds to secure such an item. However, I worked with someone who was as much of a fan of Carol as I was, and she loaned me two of the tapes, one of which I reviewed not long ago.

I was hooked. My mom saw me watch the tapes and she sat with me and shared some of her memories of watching the original runs.

Fast-forward to the present day. I got out of grad school, got a job, moved out, and got so occupied with my life and career that I nearly forgot about Carol. However, whenever I found out she would be on TV, you can bet I wrote myself notes to remind me that she was going to be on the air. I watched the reruns on TV Land and E! whenever I could.

Earlier this year, when Horton Hears a Who came out, I was reminded of my affection for Carol. I found out she was going to be on Oprah with Jim Carrey and Steve Carell and rushed home to watch the show. (I don't have TiVo, and my VCR was on the fritz at the time, so I couldn't record the program. More in the future about these frustrations of mine). Harvey Korman's death reminded me some more of my affection for her, and I did a YouTube search and found dozens of clips. These clips were not just of the old sketches from the syndicated version of the show, Carol Burnett and Friends, no! These were clips that contained the musical numbers, guest stars, and much more! I was overjoyed!

Through YouTube, I was able to discover other variety stars of days gone by--Garry Moore, Dinah Shore, and many more. I found these clips to be much more entertaining than what is currently on TV, and wished that I had DVDs of all of this material.

I really think I was born in the wrong decade. I should not have been born in the 70s, but the 40s, because then I would have been able to live through the Golden Age of Variety Television.

But by the same token, they didn't have any of the recording or preservation technologies that we have today, so I couldn't see them on reruns.

So now, I am a happy subscriber to the Guthy-Renker Carol Burnett Show program, and look forward to more volumes of the show. In the meantime, I would like to entertain you all with some clips of days gone by. Each week, I will post a "Viva Variety Clip of the Week," so you can see what great television once was, and what could be. I still have hope for the future.

If Fox can have an all-reality channel, we need an all-variety channel--and soon!

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