The Red Skelton Show

The Red Skelton Show is an American variety show that was a television staple for two decades, from 1951 to 1971.  The host of the show, Richard Bernard “Red” Skelton, who had previously been a radio star, had appeared in several motion pictures as well.

 Although his television series is largely associated with CBS, where it appeared for more than fifteen years, it actually began and ended on NBC.  It was second to Gunsmoke (1955–1975) and third to The Ed Sullivan Show (1948–1971) in the ratings during that time.  During its run, the program received three Emmy Awards, for Skelton as best comedian and the program as best comedy show during its initial season, and an award for comedy writing in 1961.

Red Skelton’s network television program began at the start of the 1951 fall season on NBC (for sponsor Procter & Gamble).  The MGM agreement with Skelton for television performances did not allow him to go on the air before September 30th, 1951.  After two seasons on Sunday nights, the program was picked up by CBS in the fall of 1953 and moved to Tuesday night, the time slot with which it would become primarily associated during most of its run.  After his first CBS season the program was moved to Wednesday night and expanded to an hour for the summer of 1954 only; it was then reduced back to a half hour for a time, later expanded again, returning to Tuesday night, where it would remain for the next sixteen years (co-sponsored by Johnson’s Wax and Pet Milk between 1955 and 1962).

The program was produced at Desilu Productions and CBS Television City in Hollywood, and over five years, from 1955 through 1960, was telecast in color approximately 100 times.  In 1960, he purchased the Chaplin studios, with plans to continue using the facility for his television show and for making films. 

Skelton was infatuated with his appearance on color television, and he cajoled CBS to colorcast the program (In 1961, Skelton also invested in three rental remote vans which had full live, film, and color videotape capability).  Although visionary, the venture in color was premature and when it failed, CBS bought Skelton’s facilities (formerly Charlie Chaplin Studios) as part of renewing Skelton’s contract.  From 1956 to 1962, Sherwood Schwartz (later widely known for creating the popular sitcoms Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, among others) was head writer of Skelton’s show, for which Schwartz won an Emmy Award in 1961.

 

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