Music programs were a staple of television programming in the 1950s. During the first half of the decade network broadcasts in the early evening typically included a fifteen-minute national newscast followed by a fifteen-minute light entertainment program, usually a musical show, each weekday. CBS had Perry Como, Jane Froman, and Jo Stafford, while NBC had Dinah Shore, Eddie Fisher, and Tony Martin.
Later in the fifties, local and national news programs expanded and began to dominate the early evening schedule and the music shows were extended to a half-hour, moved to prime time, and garnered even larger audiences. By the mid-fifties, top rated musical/variety shows were hosted by popular vocalists like Dinah Shore and Perry Como.
In addition to the weekly television series featuring popular singers, the networks created one-time musical specials starring the legendary performers of the decade. These exciting, top-notch productions garnered huge ratings for the television networks.
Performers Starring in Network TV Specials in the 50s
The Bing Crosby Show (CBS) January 3, 1954 Bing Crosby’s first variety special featured guest star Jack Benny
The Judy Garland Show (CBS) September 24, 1955 Judy Garland made her TV debut on this ‘Ford Star Jubilee’ musical variety special.
The Maurice Chevalier Show (NBC) December 4, 1955 Maurice Chevalier’s variety special with Marcel Marceau, Jeannie Carson, Pat Carroll.
The Victor Borge Show (CBS) December 11, 1956 A one-man show by the Danish pianist/humorist.
Ginger Rogers (CBS) October 15, 1958 Film star Ginger Rogers’ variety special with Ray Bolger and the Ritz Brothers.
An Evening with Fred Astaire (NBC) October 17, 1958 Fred Astaire’s first variety special, choreographed by Hermes Pan, featured guest Barrrie Chase.
Magic with Mary Martin and Music with Mary Martin (NBC) Mar. 29, 1959 Two Mary Martin Easter Sunday specials—one in the afternoon, a second in prime time.
The Gene Kelly Show (CBS) April 24, 1959 Gene Kelly’s music/dance special with Liza Minnelli (then age 13) and Carl Sandburg.
Tonight with Belafonte (CBS) December 10, 1959 Music variety special with popular singer Harry Belafonte.