THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR
The Colgate Comedy Hour was an American comedy-musical variety series that aired live on the NBC network from 1950 to 1955. The show starred many notable comedians and light entertainers of the era, including Eddie Cantor, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Fred Allen, Donald O'Connor, Abbott and Costello, Bob Hope, Jimmy Durante, Ray Bolger, Gordon MacRae, Robert Paige, and Spike Jones and His City Slickers.
The program evolved from NBC's first TV variety showcase, Four Star Review, sponsored by Motorola. The "running gag" sketches were dropped in favor of more performing acts. The weekly show was proposed to be hosted by four comedians in a four weekly rotation and to provide competition for Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town on CBS.
The new format was heavily backed by its sponsor, Colgate-Palmolive, to the tune of $3 million in the first year, and the 8:00 p.m. EST, Sunday evening format show was a spectacular success, particularly for Eddie Cantor and the Martin & Lewis and Abbott & Costello duos. In his autobiography, Jerry Lewis wrote that the show premiered Sunday, September 17, 1950 with Martin & Lewis, and was telecast from the Park Theatre off Columbus Circle in New York City. As theatres are known by different names over history, it is possible that this was the now-demolished International Theatre at 5 Columbus Circle, the broadcast location of another NBC show of the era, Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.
During the 1950-51 season, AT&T put into regular service a coast to coast coaxial/microwave interconnection service which allowed live telecasts from both coasts. Two production units were quickly set up, one out of New York City, the other out of Hollywood/Los Angeles. Martin & Lewis and Abbott & Costello anchored the West Coast, broadcasting from the El Capitan theater in Hollywood (now used by ABC-TV's Jimmy Kimmel Live), while Eddie Cantor anchored New York City. This gave NBC a substantial edge over Ed Sullivan, since top-grade talent from motion pictures could also do network TV on a West Coast Colgate Comedy Hour while Sullivan had to work with whoever happened to be in New York at the time that a particular episode aired.
During the 1952 season, Cantor suffered a heart attack after a Colgate Comedy Hour show in September, and was reluctant to move with the show. By the fourth season, the sponsor was providing $6 million, but the performers were finding difficulty in providing fresh material and ratings were starting to decline. Cantor had become too ill to continue in the hosting role and the travel was too stressful and painful for him.
During the 1954-55 season, the show changed its name to the Colgate Variety Hour to reflect a move away from pure comedy. A number of the earlier hosts left and the show shifted toward mini-musicals, starring hosts such as Ethel Merman and Frank Sinatra. The show was also performing on the road as well, unlike other seasons where the shows were transmitted from New York or Los Angeles at 8 p.m.
However, ratings continued to slide while The Ed Sullivan Show got stronger. The final show was aired as a Christmas special on 25 December 1955 with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians choral ensemble. The Colgate Comedy Hour was replaced the following season with the NBC Comedy Hour, hosted by Leo Durocher for the first three shows. After Durocher, the regular hosts changed, and after 18 broadcasts, the final show aired in June. Regular supporting casts always co-starred in each of the episodes. Jonathan Winters was featured on the show.
On 5 November 1967, NBC broadcast a special Colgate Comedy Hour revival with guests Nanette Fabray, Kaye Ballard, Edie Adams, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Phyllis Diller, Bob Newhart, Nipsey Russell, Dan Rowan, and Dick Martin. Oddly, none of the performers who had performed in the original 1950-1956 shows appeared.
The episode broadcast on 22 November 1953, hosted by Donald O'Connor, made history. The episode was the very first ever color television broadcast in the NTSC color system (still used in the U.S. as of 2007). There were few other color broadcasts in the 1953-1954 season.The series was also used earlier in the season to demonstrate the final form of RCA's "Compatiable" color system to members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Two sets were in the room: an experimental color model and a standard black-and-white unit. Eddie Cantor hosted the program with guests including Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, and Brian Donlevy.