Thursday, March 2, 2017

Classic TV: The Steve Allen Show (1956)

Today's generation might remember the late Steve Allen more for being a celebrity mouthpiece for the Parents Television Council at the end of his career, but the reality is a lot of present day comedians owe their careers to Allen.

Allen's 1st comedy-variety show aired on NBC in 1956, and lasted nearly 4 full years. Based in New York, Allen put together a legendary ensemble that included Louis Nye, Bill Dana, Tom Poston, Don Knotts, and announcer Gene Rayburn, better known, of course, as the original host of Match Game just a few years later. Allen was also the original host of The Tonight Show, and could've been coaxed back after Jack Paar, his successor, left, but we know how history wrote that story.

In 1987, Allen resurrected his most famous skit, the "Man on the Street" interviews, for Comic Relief, airing on HBO and elsewhere, and reuniting Knotts, Poston, and friends. Nye created the persona of Gordon Hathaway for these skits, while Knotts (ex-Search For Tomorrow), a few years before his Emmy winning run on The Andy Griffith Show, was a perpetually nervous Everyman.

Let's turn the clock back to the spring of 1959, and a guest list that includes comedy legends Lenny Bruce & the Three Stooges, who do a variation on the "Maharajah" sketch.

Allen would subsequently return periodically, even challenging Paar's successor, Johnny Carson, for ratings supremacy with a syndicated series distributed through Westinghouse (which also handled Mike Douglas and David Frost's shows), with Johnny Jacobs and future sitcom icon Bill Daily as announcers in place of Rayburn, who was busy with the original Match Game by this point. When that ended, Allen replaced Garry Moore as host of I've Got a Secret.

In the 70's, classic reruns were reissued in syndication under the title, Steve Allen's Laugh-Back, which lasted about a year or two, at least in New York.

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