The Jack Benny Program

The Jack Benny Program, starring Jack Benny, is a radio-TV comedy series that ran for more than three decades and is generally regarded as a high-water mark in 20th-century American comedy.

Jack Benny made his TV debut in the 1949 season.  There is a kinescope of his later November 1949 TV appearance on the intermittent Jack Benny Program special appearances of the time.  Benny ran shorter runs in his early seasons on TV into the early 1950s, as he was still firmly dedicated to radio.  The regular and continuing Jack Benny Program was telecast on CBS from October 28th, 1950, to September 15th, 1964, and on NBC from September 25th, 1964, to September 10th, 1965.  343 episodes were produced. His TV sponsors included American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike (1950–59), Lever Brothers’ Lux(1959–60), State Farm Insurance (1960–65), Lipton Tea (1960–62), General Foods’ Jell-O (1962–64), and Miles Laboratories (1964–65).

The television show was a seamless continuation of Benny’s radio program, employing many of the same players, the same approach to situation comedy and some of the same scripts.  The suffix “Program” instead of “Show” was also a carryover from radio, where “program” rather than “show” was used frequently for presentations in the non-visual medium.  Occasionally, in several live episodes, the title card read, “The Jack Benny Show.”  During one live episode, both titles were used.

The Jack Benny Program appeared infrequently during its first two years on CBS TV.  Benny moved into television slowly: in his first season (1950–1951), he only performed on four shows, but by the 1951-1952 season, he was ready to do one show approximately every six weeks.  In the third season (1952–1953), the show was broadcast every four weeks.  During the 1953-1954 season,  The Jack Benny Program aired every three weeks.   From 1954-1960, the program aired every other week, rotating with such shows as Private Secretary and Bachelor Father.  Beginning in the 1960-1961 season, The Jack Benny Program began airing every week.  It is also worth noting that the show moved from CBS to NBC prior to the 1964-65 season.  During the 1953-54 season, a handful of episodes were filmed during the summer and the others were live, a schedule which allowed Benny to continue doing his radio show.  In the 1953-1954 season, Dennis Day had his own short-lived comedy and variety show on NBC, The Dennis Day Show.

The Jack Benny Program was shot in Hollywood at Desilu Studios with an audience brought in to watch the finished film for live responses.  Benny’s opening and closing monologues were always filmed in front of a live audience.  However, from the late 1950s until the last season on NBC, a laugh and applause track was also used for “sweetening” the audience reactions.

In Jim Bishop’s book A Day in the Life of President Kennedy, John F. Kennedy said that he was too busy to watch most television but that he made the time to watch The Jack Benny Program each week.