The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 13, 2010

MICHELE M. BENDER | Variety once was the spice of life


For some reason, The TV Guide Channel obsessively plays a show called “American Idol Rewind” while displaying its programming menu.

I didn’t watch “American Idol” the first time around. I hardly need a rewind.

As a kid, I watched “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour,” the “grandfather” of “American Idol” and others.

Jugglers, comics, tap dancers and magicians competed, in addition to singers, to earn the highest score on the “applause meter.”

I miss variety shows. Talk shows have pretty much replaced them, but that’s not the same.

Celebrities appear in mini-segments to promote their latest TV shows, movies or books. A comedian delivers five minutes of stand-up.

Singers perform hasty numbers. Over and out.

I miss diversity, different areas of ability. Don’t get me wrong; I could have easily done without the sock puppet (Senor Wences) and the mouse (Topo Gigio) on Ed Sullivan.

But enjoying an assortment of individuals’ performances is something I miss.

Today’s “celebrities” seem to be known better for their antics in private (or not so private) life than for their sheer talent. A fast-paced hour of wholesome family entertainment would be refreshing and welcome.

I remember programs mostly by the nights they aired. Saturdays featured rubber-faced Red Skelton, aka Freddie the Freeloader; Jackie Gleason, who gave us The Honeymooners; and Perry Como who sang Ave Maria like an angel every Christmas.

Steve Allen had an impressive run, but Ed Sullivan ultimately ruled Sundays. Who can forget the appearances there by Elvis, and later by the Beatles?

In subsequent years, the Smothers Brothers, Sonny and Cher and Glen Campbell left their marks on Sundays as well.

For me, the only memorable Monday program was “Laugh-In.”

Tuesdays belonged first to Uncle Miltie (Milton Berle), and later to Dinah Shore, but the queen of Tuesdays will always be Carol Burnett.

I’m drawing a blank on Wednesday and Fridays, but Thursdays were highlighted by Andy Williams, who introduced us to The Osmonds, and Dean Martin, who gave us The Golddiggers.

I know I’m forgetting others.

Two years ago, I wrote about my stint as a “Nielson Family” rating my favorite shows. I asked you readers about your likes and dislikes and, to my delight, you eagerly shared your opinions.

Let’s conduct our third annual “Michele’s Dead-of-Winter TV Survey.” Let’s select our favorite variety show ever.

Readers, please tell me what you recall, what you liked and why. I’ll report the results of our survey in a future column.

You may send me an E-mail at or write to me at The Tribune Democrat, 425 Locust St., Johnstown, Pa., 15901.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Coming next time: My choices for best variety show ever.