The ORIGINAL Saturday Night Live, Part 3: Dress Rehearsal
Your Show of Shows was preceded by a very similar program – also produced and directed by Max Liebman; also starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca – called The Admiral Broadway Revue. It was broadcast live on Fridays from 8-9 pm, on both the NBC and DuMont networks, from January 28 to June 3, 1949.
Although a huge success, the program ended after only 19 weeks “because Admiral, recently having entered into the manufacturing of televisions, had more orders for sets than it could handle, partly due to the success of The Admiral Broadway Revue. The company chose to put the money it was spending sponsoring the show into expanding its manufacturing capabilities. In effect, the show was cancelled for being too successful.”
By September, most of those involved in the cancelled program were back on the air. It probably wasn’t a tough decision for NBC vice-president Pat Weaver but he downplayed the earlier program in his somewhat unreliable memoir, The Best Seat in the House. “The Admiral Broadway Revue was successful, though not as great as Sid Caesar later remembered,” he wrote, adding (inaccurately) “It was on CBS.”
Like the Admiral revue, Your Show of Shows is mainly remembered for comedy sketches that “dared to satirize modern painting, psychiatry, movie epics, advertising, and other themes not commonly treated on television.” No political satire, however – this was the 1950s, after all. The only controversial portions of YSOS were the sensuous performances of the dance team “Mata and Hari” (Ruth Mata and Eugene Hari).
Photo 1: The dance team of Marge and Gower Champion, soon to be working in Hollywood at MGM, made the cover of LIFE with only the modest caption, “Television Revue Team.” Inside the article begins: “The television revue, which is now firmly established as TV’s most popular form of entertainment, has reached its most lavish height with the new Admiral Broadway Revue… the most expensive revue on the air, costing $25,000 a week.”
Photo 2: In flirtatious dance, Marge and Gower Champion express admiration for each other with a flurry of frenzied kicks and graceful leaps.
Photo 3: A colorful scene is created backstage as the players in costume at the Admiral Broadway Revue warm up outside their dressing rooms. On the stage level, Marge and Gower Champion dance, watched by Producer-Director Max Liebman. Above them, first tier, are the stars: Comedian Sid Caesar tries his version of Rigoletto; Mary McCarty combines her operatic heroines into one named Marguerita Lucia; Imogene Coca plays Carmen, and Loren Welch is Hopalong Escamillo. On tiers above supporting players are decked out as other operatic character and international beauties.
Photo 4: (Top left) In an opera take off, Mary McCarty and Sid Caesar peer into the distance, looking in vain for the faded glories of their Sauerbraten Light Opera Company. (Bottom left) As a squeaky prima donna, Mary McCarty wriggles about the stage while she gurgles an agitated operatic aria, “Just call me Mary Lou!” (Top right) As a fashion expert, Imogene Coca sports ratty furs which start falling apart as she asks rapturously, “Have you ever seen such soft lovely bellies.” (Bottom right) As ballet nymph, Imogene Coca is hoisted impetuously by her male partner, who then spies another nymph and leaves Coca dangling on proscenium.
Photo 5: The third annual LOOK TV awards: “1,000 professional television creators and reviewers were polled on their favorite programs on the air in 1952.” Max Liebman won for Best Producer and Best Director. Your Show of Shows won for Best Variety Show. “Show of Shows has turned in more than 100 different performances, each one of Broadway proportions and quality.” Imogene Coca and Sid Caesar are in western costume atop the scaffolding; Carl Reiner and Howard Morris are on the far left.
(The ORIGINAL Saturday Night Live, Part 1. Part 2. Part 4.) Photos from the Library of American Broadcasting Collection.
 The Great Clowns of American Television, by Karin Adir.
 Laughter in the Living Room: Television Comedy and the American Home Audience, by Michael Tueth.
 “Sex and Censorship on Postwar American Television,” by Bob Pondillo.