The Big Show
Radio variety, 1950-1952, NBC Radio
On November 3, 1950, the NBC Radio Network launched one of the last great variety programs to appear on network radio. The program, called The Big Show, was a 90-minute extravaganza that featured (as the press release called it) “scintillating” guest stars: mainly famous actors, comedians, and vocalists. Even though television was rapidly siphoning off radio’s audience, NBC thought there might be a bit of life left in the variety show format.
True to its hype, The Big Show did have quite a guest list every week, featuring such names as Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Ethel Merman, Fred Allen, Judy Garland, and Ella Fitzgerald. One of the show’s main selling points, however, was its hostess, the “glamorous, unpredictable Tallulah Bankhead”. Miss Bankhead had been a well-known actress and notorious personality for years, and NBC figured listeners would especially tune in to hear her, in that trademark deep voice of hers, trade barbs with her famous guests.
Each week, the show began with Miss Bankhead announcing that, “You are about to be entertained by some of the biggest names in show business. For the next hour and thirty minutes, this program will present in person such bright stars as …”, and then each guest would say their name. The introductions were invariably followed by, “… and my name, dahlings, is Tallulah Bankhead!”
In the time that followed, there’d be songs, comedy, witty banter (lots of that), and perhaps a dramatic performance or two. The show had the feel of a late-night showbiz party, replete with famous guests, to which the listener had been invited. One of the best-remembered parts of the program was its closing, in which Miss Bankhead and her guests would each sing a verse of Meredith Willson’s “May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You”.
The show’s format worked and worked well, for nearly two years. Finally, though, it became clear that nothing radio could do would bring back its vanishing audience. The pull of television was just too strong. The Big Show can still be heard today; many of the programs were recorded and are available from old time radio vendors.
Buxton, Frank and Owen, Bill. The Big Broadcast 1930-1950. New York, New York: Avon Books, 1973.
Salomonson, Terry. “Audio Classics Archive”, Radio Broadcast Log of The Big Show. 1992. <http://www.audio-classics.com/lthebigshow.html>. (26 - 29 January 2004).