To the television networks of America: I have a suggestion to make.
You probably get suggestions all the time, but since mine is based on one of the top-rated shows, Dancing with the Stars, perhaps you’ll pay it some attention.
I think I know why Dancing with the Stars is such a hit, see. It’s not just that it’s a cool dancing show, and it’s not just that the dancers aren’t prima ballerinas or mavens of the ballroom, professionally. It’s that this show brings to mind, for those of us old enough to remember, the Golden Age of Television Variety Shows.
I was born in 1961, and I grew up with them. One of my earliest memories was the theme song of the Andy Williams Show – “Moon River.” I can recall variety shows with Liberace, Red Skelton, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, Lawrence Welk, The Hollywood Palace, Sing Along with Mitch, Carol Burnett, Tom Jones and Ed Sullivan – to name just a few that come to mind immediately when the subject comes up! Lawrence Welk was all singing and dancing. Jackie Gleason’s show had Honeymooners segments and the June Taylor Dancers. Even Sing Along with Mitch had dancers. My cousin was on that show and she was one of them!
Saturday night was the best night of the week when I was but a wee bairn because Jackie Gleason, Lawrence Welk and the Hollywood Palace all came on, I think on different channels, but one after the other. Sunday nights, of course, belonged to Ed Sullivan. I’m pretty sure that Red Skelton was on Tuesdays. There was Tom Jones on Fridays, coming on some time after The Partridge Family, and around the same time, in the 1971’s, along came The Julie Andrews Hour, Sonny & Cher, and more. In the mid-seventies, who could forget Donny & Marie?
People loved these shows, and for good reason: they were uplifting song and dance hours and they were FUN! Remember fun, television executives? Remember watching programs because they made your heart sing, not to mention you, too?
It seems to me that a lot of the appeal of Dancing with the Stars is that it brings to mind the age of shows that were all about singing and dancing. I like the dance numbers on that show. I must confess, however, that I’m not too crazy about seeing the “filler” segments of the stars rehearsing their routines – who cares? – or watching the judges tear the contestants to shreds, if they don’t like their performances. They take away from the joy of the whole. It’s like the show does its best to remind us of the good old days, but then, just when we’re enjoying a dance number, some judge has to morph into a curmudgeon over it. Get to the good part, I always think, as I watch. Show us another dance, and judges, shut up!
I have a feeling that I’m not the only audience member who would love to see a traditional-format variety show come back to the airwaves. May I nominate the idea of shows starring Bette Midler, Nathan Lane, Audra McDonald, Harvey Fierstein, and the Rockettes? Red Skelton, Carol Burnett, Jackie Gleason et al. may have left enormous shoes to fill, but those performers would be more than equal to the task. Curtain up and light the lights!