1955: The Greatest Year for Comedy in US Network Television History?
Collectively speaking, the “golden age” of our comic trio lasted only from about 1950 to 1956. They were far from alone during that time. In fact, it can be argued that 1955-56 the greatest year for comedy in network television history. It was certainly one of the most crowded:
I Love Lucy continued to be the highest-rated comedy in the land; Sid Caesar's variety hour offered first-rate sketch comedy every week; George Burns and Gracie Allen continued their smooth mix of vaudeville and sitcom (Burns also produced the funny Bob Cummings Show); Bob Hope presented his usual slate of comedy specials; Red Skelton was coming back strongly after a long slump; a young talent named Johnny Carson fronted a new prime time series; Jack Benny was at or near the top of his form; Groucho Marx continued his immensely successful comedy quiz; Jackie Gleason was filming his "classic 39" episodes of The Honeymooners; Dean Martin and +Jerry Lewis did their final shows together; Phil Silvers debuted his deathless character, Sergeant Bilko; Danny Thomas's charming Make Room for Daddy was in the third year of its very long run; The Texaco Star Theater presented Jimmy Durante's music and comedy and Ozzie and Harriet Nelson's gentle domestic comedy was doing well. In their final season were Martha Raye and Milton Berle; so was Eve Arden's high school sitcom Our Miss Brooks Meanwhile, in the daylight hours, such up-and-coming personalities as Garry Moore, Jack Paar, Robert Q. Lewis, along with veteran Arthur Godfrey, brought amusement to millions of viewers. At the same time, Steve Allen was busy inventing late-night television.
So robust was comedy that season, Variety was able to say:
“.... The early reports make one point that stands out like a beacon light-- the big-time comic is still the giant in TV. Drama, audience participation, even a $64,000 question, can come and go, but the comic who's worth his salt remains the A-1 basic ingredient who can pull 'em in and give a network that something extra when the Nielsens and Trendexes are tabulated.
“.... Comedians are proving the mainstays and the staple commodities.” The Comics are Still the Giants of TV; Networks Ponder Ratings, Wonder What Went Wrong Where?” (Variety, October 19, 1955 p. 21)
Unfortunately, this happy state of affairs would not last. Change was swiftly approaching.