Sixty years ago today Your Show of Shows debuted, creating a blueprint for American TV sketch comedy to come. The forerunner of such shows as The Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live, Your Show of Shows is a touchstone of the kind of programming for which the Golden Age of Television is known.
Following the demise of the short-lived 1949 series Admiral Broadway Revue, many of the talents from that show were assembled to make up Your Show of Shows, including producer Max Liebman, writers Mel Tolkin and Lucille Kallen; and stars Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Additionally, such stars as Carl Reiner and Howard Morris and such writers as Mel Brooks and Neil Simon contributed to the show’s legendary behind-the-scenes and in-front-of-the camera chemistry. Memorable sketches include the Bavarian “Clock” that goes awry with the performers as mechanical figures; “This Is Your Story” a take-off of “This Is Your Life” with an unforgettable Howard Morris as “Uncle Goopy”; the recurring Professor sketch with Carl Reiner interviewing Sid Caesar’s eminent expert; and the movie parodies, such as “From Here to Obscurity” a send-up of “For Here to Eternity” in which Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca are splashed by the waves as they lay on the beach.
Not to be forgotten is that in addition to the famed comedy sketches, Your Show of Shows, as a variety series, also employed the considerable talents of such regulars as singer Bill Hayes and choreographer James Starbuck (working with such talents as Bambi Linn & Rod Alexander and Marge & Gower Champion).
“My view of comedy is you have to believe what the [performers] are doing. You have to believe it, so you can laugh. Because if it’s off the wall, you’ll laugh one time. If they can’t follow the story, and they don’t believe it, they lose interest. Even though it’s a comedy. So they have to believe you, [as if] you’re doing a drama. It’s a funny drama. You don’t know it’s funny. The fun is that you don’t know it’s funny. Let the audience find out.” — Sid Caesar
The Archive of American Television interviewed many of the contributors to Your Show of Shows including Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, and Marge Champion; and late greats Lucille Kallen, Mel Tolkin, and Howard Morris. Check out the Archive’s curated Your Show of Shows page (with links to Caesar’s other “live” series: Admiral Broadway Revue and Caesar’s Hour) to watch reminiscences of these interviewees on this classic series.