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A variety show or variety entertainment is an entertainment made up of a variety of acts, especially musical performances and comedy skits, and normally introduced by a compère or host. The variety format made its way from Victorian era stage to radio to television. Variety shows were a staple of anglophone television from its early days into the 1970s, and lasted into the 1980s, but are now reduced to the level of the occasional special. In several parts of the world, variety TV remains popular and widespread.


The format is basically that of music hall in the UKmarker or vaudeville in the U.S.marker Variety in the UK evolved in theatres and music halls, and later in Working Men's Clubs. Most of the early top performers on British television and radio did an apprenticeship either in stage variety, or during World War II in Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA). In the UK, the ultimate accolade for a variety artist for decades was to be asked to do the annual Royal Command Performance at the London Palladiummarker theatre, in front of the monarch.

In the U.S., former vaudeville performers such as the Marx Brothers, George Burns and Gracie Allen, W. C. Fields, and Jack Benny moved to sound movies, then radio, and then television, including variety shows. In the 1960s, even a popular rock band such as The Beatles undertook this ritual of appearing on variety shows on TV. In the US, shows featuring Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, Bob Hope, and Dean Martin also helped to make the Golden Age of Television successful.

From 1948 to 1971, The Ed Sullivan Show was one of CBS's most popular series. Using his no-nonsense approach, Ed Sullivan allowed many acts from several different mediums to get their "fifteen minutes of fame." Sullivan was also partially responsible for bringing Elvis Presley and The Beatles to U.S. prominence.

ABC-TV aired The Hollywood Palace, an hour-long show broadcast weekly (generally on Saturday night) from January 4, 1964 to February 7, 1970, where the Rolling Stones first appeared on American TV.

In the UK The Good Old Days, which ran from 1953 to 1983, featured modern artists performing dressed in late Victorian/Early Edwardian costume, either doing their own act or performing as a music hall artist of that period. The audience was also encouraged to dress in period costume in a similar fashion.

On television, variety reached its peak during the period of the 1960s and 1970s. With a turn of the television dial, viewers around the globe could variously have seen shows and occasional specials featuring Andy Williams, Julie Andrews, The Carpenters, Olivia Newton-John, Lynda Carter, Johnny Cash, Sonny and Cher, Bob Monkhouse, Carol Burnett, Rod Hull and Emu, Flip Wilson, Dinah Shore, Lawrence Welk, Glen Campbell, Donny & Marie, Barbara Mandrell, Judy Garland, The Captain & Tennille, The Jacksons, The Keane Brothers, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr., Mary Tyler Moore, Tony Orlando and Dawn, The Smothers Brothers, Danny Kaye, Buck and Roy, Roy Hudd, Billy Dainty Max Wall or The Muppet Show. Variety shows were once as common on television as Western, courtroom dramas, suspense thrillers, sitcoms, or (in more modern times) reality shows.

During the 1960s and 70s, there were also several one-time variety specials, featuring stars such as Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra, Diana Ross or Mitzi Gaynor, none of whom ever had a regular television series.

Contemporary U.S. variety shows

The last major network attempt at a traditional prime-time variety show was Dolly (starring Dolly Parton), which ran on ABC during the 1987-88 season, though CBS briefly revived The Carol Burnett Show for nine episodes in 1991 and ABC aired the first incarnation of The Wayne Brady Show in summer 2001. By that time, the format had fallen out of fashion (due largely to changing tastes and the advent of MTV). With the debut of NBC's The Jay Leno Show in September 2009, a contemporary spin on the format was introduced for the first time on a five-day-a-week schedule; the late night television genre, where Leno honed his skills as the host of The Tonight Show weekly from 1987 to 1992 and daily from 1992 to 2009, is very similar to the variety show (though it features more guest interviews and fewer sketches).

Another contemporary version of the variety show format, NBC's Saturday Night Live, which made its debut in 1975, is still airing today, with its combination of comedy sketches and musical performances, but Saturday Night Live places most of its emphasis on comedy (especially parody and satire), while earlier variety shows placed most of their emphasis on music.

In 2004, ABC's The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour attempted to revive the prime-time variety hour as a special for today's generation. The first show was a ratings success, and it was followed by Nick & Jessica's Family Christmas in early December of that year. NBC's Rosie Live did not fare so well: the series' pilot episode aired the day before Thanksgiving 2008 and, after being panned by critics, would not be picked up. In December 2009, singer Carrie Underwood will make her first attempt at a successful Christmas variety special on FOX which could well lead to a new series.

The Scouting Gang Show performed principally by young people 18 years of age and under in many locations around the world is an example of a variety show format that has endured for over seventy years.

Other countries

The prime time variety show format was popular in the early decades of Australian television, spawning such series as In Melbourne Tonight, The Graham Kennedy Show, The Don Lane Show, and Hey Hey It's Saturday, which ran for 27 years. Recent prime time variety shows include the short lived Micallef Tonight and The Sideshow.

Since 1962, the Spanish-language variety show known as Sábado Gigante has been hosted by Don Francisco. It is currently broadcast by Univision on Saturday evenings.

The first Chinesemarker variety show to become a major success was Hong Kongmarker's Enjoy Yourself Tonight, which first aired in 1967 and ran for 27 years.

Another of today's variety shows in Asia is Taiwanmarker's Variety Big Brother. Taiwanese variety shows are infamous for their constant use of artificial laugh tracks even though there is a studio audience. East Asian variety programs are known for its constant use of sound effects and on-screen text displays.

The most popular variety program in Taiwan would have to be the long-running "Super Sunday", known for its fast-paced style and catchphrases. The second half of the program is more emotional with guests finally or attempting to reunite with another (either a celebrity or a friend) by re-enacting the moment (in a satirical manner) and then let co-star and singer Ah-Liang search for the specific person through various locations. It was succeeded by "Happy Sunday", a similar program hosted by the co-stars.

In South Koreamarker the hugely popular Muhan Dojeon (Infinite Challenge), broadcast by MBC since 2005, is a new model of this. It combines comedy and variety scenes including unscripted stunts.

In the Philippinesmarker, the longest-running variety show Eat Bulaga still airs up to this day on GMA Network. The show was first broadcast in 1979, originally on RPN channel 9.

Many television specials continue to resemble the variety show format to this day.

See also

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