Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Crisis in comedy — 1957!

This Life article from April, 1957, describes a troubled period for television comedy. Mainstays of TV comedy/variety shows like Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason were having problems keeping viewers in the wake of musical shows like The Lawrence Welk Show or Perry Como’s Saturday night program.

The article doesn’t mention situation comedies like I Love Lucy, which had high ratings, and ended its run in its original format that year, still on top.

If there was a true crisis, it may have been because television was still young. It might not have been prepared for how fickle a TV audience could be. Networks also tied up a lot of money in talent. Both Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason were paid whether their shows were on the air or not, which cut into revenues for new shows.

The main focus of the article is on the innovative (and often odd) comedy of Ernie Kovacs, which I remember. Some of the special effects they mention in the article, especially the milk-pouring gag, I recall. The effects seem very primitive in our digital age, yet appeared advanced and different at the time. Kovacs believed that using television's technology was part of the comedy, and it got him noticed.

Kovacs died in a car wreck, January 13, 1962, just ten days short of his 43rd birthday.

Copyright © 1957, 2013 Time-Life

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