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The Lawrence Welk Show is a televised American musical variety show hosted by big band leader Lawrence Welk The original episodes were aired in either a local, network, or syndicated capacity for more than 20 years; repeat episodes are still being broadcast in the United Statesmarker for the most part by PBS stations in the form of new programs each of which incorporate one of the original programs in its entirety less the original commercials. Recently made video comments, performances and conversations by persons who took part in the original shows have been added in place of the commercials.

Broadcast history

The Lawrence Welk Show started in 1951 as a local program on KTLAmarker-TV in Los Angeles, Californiamarker. The original show was broadcast from the since-demolished Aragon Ballroom at Venice Beachmarker. The show made its national TV debut on July 2, 1955, and was produced at the Hollywood Palladiummarker for 23 of its 27 years on the air. The only seasons not taped there were 1965-66, 1976-77 at the Hollywood Palacemarker and CBS Television Citymarker from 1977 to 1979.

The show aired on ABC until 1971. When the show was canceled by the head of programming there, Welk formed his own production company and continued airing the show, on independent stations and, often during non-prime time, also on some of the ABC affiliates on which he had previously appeared as well as some stations affiliated with other networks. The syndicated version of the program aired from 1971 to 1982.

When the show began, it was billed as the Dodge Dancing Party from 1955 to 1959. During 1956-59, Lawrence Welk was broadcast two nights per week. The second show's title was Lawrence Welk's Top Tunes and New Talent Show (1956-58) and then Lawrence Welk's Plymouth Show, after another Chrysler vehicle (1958-59). Starting with the 1959-60 season the two shows were merged into The Lawrence Welk Show.

The primary sponsors of The Lawrence Welk Show were Dodge automobiles, later to be followed by J. B. Williams products Geritol (a vitamin and mineral supplement), Sominex (sleeping pills), Aqua Velva (men's aftershave) and Serutan (a bulk-forming laxative). Universal Appliances, Polident, Ocean Spray and Sinclair Oil served as associate sponsors for a short time.

Format

The show would often open by showing bubbles floating around and was accompanied by a sound effect of a bottle of champagne opening. Each week, Welk would introduce the theme of the show, which usually inspired joyous singing and/or patriotic fervor. He was most known for delivering these monologues in a distinctive German accent, which was parodied in pop culture (even by Welk himself: the two books he authored, Wunnerful, Wunnerful! and Ah-One, Ah-Two! were so titled because they were his catch phrases). This was evident from his mispronunciations of script on cue cards. On one such story, of uncertain credibility, has him introducing a medley of World War I tunes as "songs from World War Eye." Also, from his autobiography Wunnerful, Wunnerful! he bemoans his accent, and in some of his pronunciations of "wonderful" in the show he can be heard forcing the D. Also, his trademark countdown of "A1ANA2" was actually his license plate.

If the number was more a dance tune, Welk would dance with ladies from the audience, which he became somewhat known for. For certain songs (mainly the instrumentals performed by the orchestra), the couples in attendance were also allowed to dance at the Ballroom.

Welk often demonstrated multiple times on-camera how the champagne bottle sound was created, by placing a finger in his mouth, releasing it to make the popping sound, and making a soft hissing sound to simulate the bubbles escaping the bottle. One such instance is part of the opening sequence of the public television reruns seen today.

Welk frequently had performers sing and play standards from the big band era and the first half of the 20th Century (Welk had a particular admiration for contemporaries Hoagy Carmichael, Henry Mancini, Johnny Mercer and similar composers), although the show's repertoire was in reality much broader and would often include pop songs from the 50's, 60's, and 70's as well as country music, patriotic music, and religious music, especially if it appealed to older listeners. In one of his most infamous incidents, he asked his musical family to perform Brewer & Shipley's hit song "One Toke Over the Line" (a mock gospel tune riddled with drug references) as a modern spiritual, apparently oblivious to the meaning of the word "toke." Brewer responded that although it was "absurd," the duo "got more publicity than we could pay for" from the out-of-place performance. Despite other stations having banned the original song from the broadcast airwaves, neither Welk nor anyone else received any sort of punishment from the FCC for playing the song.

The "Musical Family"

Welk employed many musicians and singers, which were known in the press as his Welk Family. These singers were bound by an unofficial set of morals (artistic and personal) dictated by Welk, and if he believed the audience did not find them wholesome enough, they would be fired. Former Champagne Lady Alice Lon was fired in 1959 for crossing her legs on a desk. Welk, on-air, told the audience that he did not tolerate such "cheesecake" on his show. After he fired Lon on-camera, thousands of letters filled the ABC mailroom, demanding an apology, and that she be rehired. Welk tried to get Lon back but she refused.

In later years however, it was revealed that along with the "cheesecake" incident, another one of the reasons for Lon's departure was money; she was supporting three young sons and wanted a raise. A further reason was a dispute over what kind of songs she would be singing, and since Welk insisted on playing what he felt his audiences wanted to hear, generally older "standards", she rebelled against such restrictions.

After two years and a string of short-lived vocalists, Norma Zimmer was hired, starting in 1960; she stayed with Welk for the rest of the show's run.

Another example of being bound by Welk's set of morals was famed clarinetist Pete Fountain, renowned for his New Orleans-style jazz, was a valued member of the Welk cast who was rumored to have quit when Welk refused to let him "jazz up" a Christmas Carol. In an interview Pete Fountain said he left Lawrence Welk because "Champagne and bourbon don't mix."

Welk relied on fan letters to tell him who was popular and who was not. Often, performers who received a positive reaction were prominently featured on future shows, while those who did not meet muster with the audience saw their solo opportunities diminish before they were let go.

Among the performers that were wildly popular with audiences during the years it was on ABC, were The Lennon Sisters, Jack Imel, Joe Feeney, Larry Hooper, Lynn Anderson (prior to her solo success as a country recording artist), and Jo Ann Castle just to name a few. At the height of the show's popularity, members of the Musical Family were featured in several celebrity tabloid magazines alongside other mainstream television and movie stars.

Tap dancer Arthur Duncan became the first African-American to appear regularly on a sponsored television variety program when he was hired as a permanent music maker by Welk in 1964.

Move to syndication and public television

While the show was highly-rated, ABC cancelled it in 1971 for two reasons. The first was that the network had to cut programming due to the institution of the Prime Time Access Rule in 1971; the other was the fact that Welk's viewership was mostly of people over forty-five, mostly because of the music he chose to play, but also because younger viewers, the core viewing target that networks coveted, were typically out during the Saturday night timeslot. The same year, in a similar bid to reach out to younger viewers, the rival CBS network fired Ed Sullivan, the host of a variety show that was popular in the 1950s and 1960s and that had been a launching pad for rising stars like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, in a demographic move known colloquially as the "rural purge." Welk graciously thanked ABC and the sponsors at the end of the last network show.

In response to ABC's move, Welk started his own production company and continued producing the show. Some independent stations put it in its old Saturday timeslot, and in many cases, it drew higher ratings than the network shows scheduled at that time. In many markets, the syndicated Lawrence Welk aired before the start of network prime-time on Saturday nights (7 PM Eastern Time); also in many areas, it competed against another show that was cancelled by CBS and resurrected in syndication, also in 1971 – Hee Haw. Welk's program was among a group of syndicated niche programs, others including Hee Haw and Soul Train, that flourished during this era.

Welk retired in 1982; however, classic shows — largely, from 1967-1982 — were repackaged with new footage (either Welk or the show's cast introducing segments) for syndication during the 1982-1983 season [as Memories with Lawrence Welk], after which they were withdrawn from distribution for a short time.

The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, Oklahoma's PBS member network, acquired the broadcast rights to the series in 1986. In order to introduce the show to a new generation, they produced a documentary film, Lawrence Welk: Television's Music Man, hosted by Kathy Lennon of The Lennon Sisters. The film was a retrospective on Welk's life and career, featuring interviews with surviving members of Welk's "musical family", and scenes from the show. After its airing, reformatted versions of the Welk show were released to public television stations. Welk continued to film new host segments until his passing, after which select members of the "musical family" took over as hosts. Reruns continue to air to this day (in many markets airing on Saturday nights at 7:00 p.m., the same time the show aired during its original run), with new and updated interviews with surviving cast members (Mary Lou Metzger currently hosts the wraparound segments). The shows are occasionally "recut" and interspersed with segments from other episodes for time and diversity purposes; for instance, a reairing of Gail Farrell's 1969 debut actually featured an added song by Anacani, who hadn't joined the show until 1973.

Episode status

The surviving episodes from the first 10 seasons on ABC, which began in 1955, exist today as black and white kinescopes or videotape, as the show was broadcast live for the first 10 years, right up through the 1964-1965 season. A few of these have been broadcast on public television.

Beginning with the 1965-1966 season, the episodes were recorded in color. It is assumed the color episodes exist intact.

The Lawrence Welk Show in popular culture

Comic Stan Freberg created a parody of the show in a song called Wun'erful Wun'erful (Sides uh-one and uh-two), which became a Top 30 hit in 1957. Originally performed on Freberg's CBS Radio series, the single spoofed the mediocre musicianship among some of Welk's musicians (including Welk himself). The record was arranged by Billy May, who handled the music on Freberg sessions and was known to despise Welk's style of music. Working with May and Freberg, who portrayed Welk, were some of Hollywood's best studio musicians, some of them jazz veterans who also held Welk's music in contempt. Welk was not pleased by the record, built around satirical out-of-tune performances and an out-of-control "bubble machine" that sent the entire Aragon Ballroom out to sea.

A parody of The Lawrence Welk Show appeared on the Family Guy episode "Airport '07", with Peter Griffin playing the role of Welk. This scene is only available on the DVD version of this episode.

In the October 4th, 2008 NBC's Saturday Night Live parodied the Welk show with Fred Armisen taking on the role as the Maestro. It was then reprised on the May 16, 2009 34th season finale.

A common zinger on Mystery Science Theater 3000 involves scenes where a woman is dancing with an effeminate man. One of the cast will usually imitate Welk saying "Thank you, Cissy and Sissy," referencing his show's popular dance team of Bobby and Cissy.

The 1970s sitcom Welcome Back Kotter used the Welk show as a source of comedic material. One of them involved a scene when Arnold Horshack, upon noticing a kitchen sink overflowing with bubbles, yelled "HELP! WE'RE BEING INVADED BY LAWRENCE WELK!"

In a scene during the film American Beauty, the character of Lester Burnham is shown to have grown weary of his wife's choice of dinner-time music with a cry of "From now on we're going to alternate our dinner music. Because frankly, and I don't think I'm alone here, I'm really tired of this Lawrence Welk shit."

The song "Fire Water Burn" by The Bloodhound Gang names Lawrence Welk as one of the people with whom the song's lead character will spend eternity if he goes to Hell.

DVD status and Welk specials aired on public television

As of now, the OETA has no intentions of releasing the series on DVD. Welk Musical Family specials, however, are available on DVD, and can be obtained with a donation during reairs on local PBS stations.

  • 1991 – “A Champagne Toast to the Big Bands”
  • 1992 – “The Lennon Sisters: Easy to Remember”
  • 1993 – “From the Heart: A Tribute to Lawrence Welk and the American Dream”
  • 1994 – “The Lawrence Welk Holiday Special: Great Moments & Memories”
  • 1995 – “Lawrence Welk: Then & Now”
  • 1995 – “A Lawrence Welk Family Christmas”
  • 1997 – “From Lawrence Welk: To America With Love”
  • 1998 – “Lawrence Welk’s Favorite Holidays”
  • 1999 – “Lawrence Welk’s Songs of Faith”
  • 2000 – “Lawrence Welk Milestones & Memories”
  • 2003 – “Lawrence Welk: God Bless America”
  • 2005 – “Lawrence Welk Precious Memories”
  • 2007 - “Lawrence Welk's TV Treasures”


Singers and performers



The orchestra



Announcers



References

External links

  • Welk Musical Family.com
  • Official Welk Musical Family Blog
  • OETA's Lawrence Welk Show page List the release dates past and future through August 2009 (actual air dates on local pbs stations could be slightly later) with capsule description of the edited shows being broadcast on public television. Missing are references to the air dates of the original shows.
  • WelkNotes.com Includes complete synopsis and song lists for the edited shows from OETA with air dates of the original shows; complete information not available for new shows until after they are released.
  • PlanetWelk Includes an incomplete episode guide for the original shows; there are no listings for the shows before it was broadcast nationally.
  • Ladies of the Lawrence Welk Show
  • Yahoo Music Links to Lawrence Welk fan sites



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