The following is Thrilling Days of Yesteryear’s contribution to the Classic TV Variety Show Blogathon, which is being hosted from February 3-5 by the Classic TV Blog Association. For a full list of participants and the shows covered, click here.
an interview at the Archive of American Television, director-producer Bob Finkel takes credit for coming up with the idea that ultimately became the second primetime Jerry Lewis Show. Finkel’s account seems plausible—he mentions having worked with Martin & Lewis during their Colgate Comedy Hour days—but it starts to go off the rails with an anecdote in which he reveals that Jerry relinquished creative control of the show to him. (Another interview with costume designer Ret Turner disputes the “control,” saying Lewis was hands-on at all times and in every aspect of the show…which knowing what I know about the comedian is far more believable.) Regardless of whose story you swallow, The Jerry Lewis Show premiered on
September 12, 1967 in a Tuesday time slot at
Though the program had a tough row to hoe in that most of its audience
deserted it at the half-hour mark to watch the seventh-ranked show in the
Nielsens, CBS’ The Red Skelton Hour, NBC brought it back for a second season
the following year, moving it up a half-hour to . But Lewis’ show lost its I Dream of Jeannie
lead-in with that move, and found its butt kicked by the ABC series that put
ten pounds of hip in a five pound bag, The Mod Squad. Even plugs by Lewis’ old compadre Dean Martin
(whose own variety hour was snuggled in the Top Ten) couldn’t save it (though
in all fairness, Dino’s “Be sure to watch The Jerry Lewis Show this
week…’cause I know I will!” might not have been totally sincere), and The
Jerry Lewis Show vanished from the schedule.
December 5, 1967 telecast is available for viewing on YouTube, a show originally guest-starring Frank Gorshin and the McGuire Sisters. The McGuire stuff is fairly forgettable, but Gorshin does do some hilarious impressions of celebrities like Marlon Brando, Anthony Quinn, Burt Lancaster, etc. There’s also a comedy sketch in which Jerry—in his “Sidney Portnoy” persona, a character he played often on the show—arrives as a spooky old castle as a delivery boy for a fried chicken fast-food joint and runs into both a mad scientist (Gorshin doing Karloff) and a vampire (Gorshin doing Lugosi). It’s as lame as it sounds, but anytime you have Gorshin doing two of my favorite film personalities it can’t be all that bad.
Classic Television Showbiz has a second season show up here, February 5, 1969, that features John Byner and the Osmond Brothers as guests; Byner and Jerry do a funny "Governor of California" sketch and John does his Ed Sullivan impression)—and it’s apparent that the
release doesn’t really give you the full sense of the show. Much of your enjoyment of The
Jerry Lewis Show will depend on your personal opinion of Lewis himself;
it’s my personal belief that Lewis wasn’t quite the same after the breakup with
Dean Martin but I have had several people tell me I’m insane. The only real flaw in Lewis’ variety program
is that it was so very ordinary considering the person in charge—the best way
to describe it is it’s like watching one of the comedian’s MDA
telethons only it’s over and done with in fifty minutes. (Again…to many this will be a blessing and
not a curse.)