10 forgotten musical variety shows of the 1960s
Going to a go-go with the Shin-diggers and more.
Image: The Everett Collection
Dick Clarke created an empire out of his popular musical variety shows, starting in the 1950s. But between American Bandstand's roaring 1950s premiere and Soul Train's stirring 1971 debut, the 1960s introduced a slew of similar shows, designed to make the kids want to get up and dance.
These shows weren't just obsessed with pop songs, but also tapped into folk, country and rock. Some featured house bands that were home to giant talents, from Glen Campbell to Paul Revere and the Raiders. Others relied on the energy of their go-go dancers, like The Shin-Diggers seen in the photo above. Whatever the format, there was no lack of hit songs driving these shows to persuade teens to tune in week after week.
Below, we've danced back through music TV history to unearth 10 forgotten musical variety shows that convinced '60s viewers that tapping their toes was better than touching the dial, any day of the week.
Before Jack Linkletter went on to host parades and pageants like Miss America, he was the host of a 1963 folk-twinged variety show called Hootenanny. The idea of it was to travel the show from college campus to campus and show lots of shots of the kids clapping, singing and enjoying the show.
It became an instant hit, becoming the No. 2 most popular show in the nation, but the craze died down just as fast when the folk format, which saw legendary musical guests like Flatt & Scruggs, Judy Collins and The Carter Family appear on the show, fell out of favor with young audiences. They tried broadening the music, but they couldn't stop the ratings from slumping. So Hootenanny ran for two seasons before ABC cancelled it during the third season after the British Invasion shifted the culture significantly from folk to rock.
Once ABC decided Hootenanny was out, Shindig! was in. Disc jockey Jimmy O'Neill co-created and hosted ABC's groovy prime time dance jam. The Shin-Diggers, the requisite dance crew, were choreographed by David Winters — who also led the dancers for the rival Hullabaloo. Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and Billy Preston were formidable names cutting their teeth in the house band. Shindig! took outings to England, and was best remembered for its Beatles appearances.
NBC's entry into the musical variety show field came in 1965 and had a bigger budget, positioning the network to potentially rival ABC hits like Shindig! and American Bandstand. That meant nifty prop sets (like, say, The Mamas and the Papas singing amidst a bunch of bathtubs and pipes) and a rotation of celebrity guests to handling the hosting, acts like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Petula Clark.
The Hullabaloo Dancers even had a choreographer with Broadway clout. The party went down mostly inside 30 Rock's Studio 8H — the same room that would eventually house Saturday Night Live.
4. The Music Scene
Here's another flashback from ABC that did not get the runtime it deserved. The Music Scene only aired for half a season, despite combining hugely talented comedic hosts like David Steinberg and Lily Tomlin with major acts like James Brown, Janis Joplin and Stevie Wonder. No, the downfall of The Music Scene wasn't the substance of the show, but the commercial viability of its audience. It seems the show's audience was deemed too young to appeal to advertisers, so The Music Scene only lasted one fleeting fall in 1969.
5. The Roger Miller Show
The Roger Miller Show is another flash in the pan musical variety show that only survived one fall season in the 1960s. By 1966 when his show premiered, Roger Miller had significantly blown up through huge hits like "King of the Road" and "Do-Wacka-Do." He started his own show by performing his new hit "Husbands and Wives." With songs rooted in humor as much as country guitars and appearances on more popular variety shows that exhibited his onscreen charm, you'd expect that Miller would've been riveting with his own show, but the Nielsen ratings did not agree. It was cancelled after the final episode aired on December 26, 1966.
6. Five Star Jubilee
It's likely you remember Ozark Jubilee, also known as Jubilee USA, but far fewer will recall the country variety show's short-lived spin-off, Five Star Jubilee. That's because it was only around for one year in 1961. Following practically an identical format as Jubilee USA, the variety show notably featured country giants as hosts like Tex Ritter and "Mister Country" Carl Smith. It also featured the TV debut of country singer Barbara Mandrell, turning up as a pipsqueak with considerable pipes at only 12 years old.
7. Where the Action Is!
The American Bandstand spin-off Where the Action Is! ran on ABC from 1965 to 1967. Created by Dick Clarke, it initially featured Paul Revere and the Raiders as the house band and invited major pop stars to come onstage to lip-synch their hits in front of a dancing teenage studio audience. Some episodes focused on one big act (like James Brown, The Four Seasons or Herman's Hermits), but most episodes cycled between three different artists, resulting in a long list of pop stars and rockers to be discovered in the show's brief but comprehensive run.
8. Hollywood A Go Go
This syndicated series out of L.A. remains the most obscure, but it stands up next to its network competition. The Gazzarri Dancers, regulars at the Gazzarri's nightclub on the Sunset Strip, shook and twisted throughout the performances. Host Sam Riddle would go on to emcee The Groovy Show for the same network, KHJ-TV.
Originally called The Big 5 Show, Upbeat was a local Cleveland show that premiered in 1964, but grew to air nationally in syndication from 1966 to 1971. It always started out with one of the studio musicians from the house band, Dave C and the Sharptones, calling out, "Hey, let's go with the Upbeat show" before launching into the show's theme song.
Like most musical variety shows, they also had go-go dancers to rally up the audience for big acts that appeared like The Rolling Stones, The Monkees, Chubby Checker, Steve Wonder and The Who. Upbeat was especially great for piling on their lineups of amazing musicians for every single episode.
10. Kraft Summer Music Hall
Kraft Music Hall was a popular series of musical variety shows starting in the 1950s and lasting into the 1970s, stemming from a popular radio show that began airing in 1933. The legacy there is long, but the best years are most often ascribed to Perry Como's reign as host from 1959 to 1967. When they began, these special broadcasts would alternate on your TV schedule with Kraft Suspense Theater, which meant you'd get to hang out in Kraft Music Hall during that time about once a month. Eventually, Como's popularity allowed the show to go back to airing weekly.
That's likely why Kraft Summer Music Hall was slotted in to replace The Andy Williams Show during that show's summer hiatus in 1966. It wasn't Como hosting then, but if you tuned in weekly, you were greeted by singer/actor/game show host John Davidson. The summer version also regularly featured comedian George Carlin, who was at that point shifting from his clean-cut act to the darker humor he's now known for.