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Monday, April 6, 2009

BIG SHOW, THE (OTRR Certified)


The Big Show, an American radio variety program featuring 90 minutes of top-name comic, stage, screen and music talent, was aimed at keeping American radio in its classic era alive and well against the rapidly-growing television tide. For a good portion of its two-year run (1950-1951), the show's quality made its ambition not terribly far-fetched. Hosted by legendary stage actress and personality Tallulah Bankhead, The Big Show's November 5, 1950 premiere on NBC was a great success, and it stayed on Sunday nights from 6-7:30 Eastern standard time for the next two years. NBC went full-stop trying to keep radio from its now-predicted death, and The Big Show was thought to be a key to that effort. Newsweek called the show "The biggest bang to hit radio since TV started." As if to prove big bang and big bucks were mutual partners, as much as $100,000 was likely to be budgeted for a single installment. The show's success was credited to Bankhead's notorious wit and ad-libbing ability within the show's scripting. She had one of the funniest writers in the business on her staff: Goodman Ace, the mastermind of radio's legendary Easy Aces. She included renowned ad-libbers in the show---particularly Fred Allen (he and his longtime sidekick and wife, Portland Hoffa, appeared so often they could have been the show's regular co-hosts) and Groucho Marx, both of whom appeared on the first season's finale and appeared jointly on three other installments. As Bankhead recorded in her memoirs, she took the show because she needed the money but nearly changed her mind when she feared she'd be little more than a glorified mistress of ceremonies with nothing to do but introduce the feature performers. "Guess what happened?" she continued. "Your heroine emerged from the fracas as the Queen of the Kilocycles. Authorities cried out that Tallulah had redeemed radio. In shepherding my charges through The Big Show, said the critics, I had snatched radio out of the grave. The autopsy was delayed."


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