It’s easy to be cynical about a show like The Dean Martin Variety Show. For a modern audience, a show like this one could seem very old fashioned. However, what I gained from digging into a couple of hours of Dean Martin and his gaggle of friends was that his show was a quick witted, loose (very loose) hour of TV that offered a little something for everyone. There was music (well, duh) and plenty of laughs, but there was also a lot of style. Everyone on stage who joined Dean carried with them a sense of class. Most important, everyone on the shows eemed to be having a great time, often at the expense of Dean.
What I enjoyed most about The Dean Martin Variety Show was that it wasn’t limited to music and comedy. There were segments devoted to performances from Broadway musicals, at one point the Kroft puppets were regulars, and there was even time for some drama. On the DVD I viewed, Orson Welles appears, game for anything Dean threw at him. However, I was glued to the television as Welles was given a segment to deliver a soliloquy from The Merchant of Venice. That’s something that just doesn’t happen on today’s talk shows variety hours. I fear that producers don’t think their audiences are patient enough to sit for something profound and dramatic.
I sometimes wonder if a variety show like this one would survive in the 21st Century. This type of television program was such a product of the early age of television and it seems that with so many viewing options, viewers don’t often watch a show that gives you witty banter, music and an hours worth of jokes about the host’s alcohol consumption. I’m not talking about late night gab fests, like Leno, Letterman, Conan or the Jimmys. I’m talking about the type of show that featured a star. That’s what people got when the watched The Dean Martin Variety Hour. Dean was as big as they got back in the 60’s, and he had the friendships to bring all of his Hollwyood pals on stage for an hour and screw around in front of the camera.
Imagine, if you will, if Tom Hanks decided to do his own variety show. The guy is funny, he could probably hold a tune, and he has the phone numbers of just about everyone in Hollywood. Imagine the Tom Hanks Variety Hour and you get an idea of how popular The Dean Martin Variety Hour was at the time. It ran for eight seasons on NBC, 1965-1974, and featured a huge list of celebrities, old and new, that will make your head spin.
Time Life, in a licensing deal with NBCUniveral and the Dean Martin Estate, had begun releasing The Best of the Dean Martin Variety Show in DVD. The 2 DVD sample that I watched was just that, a sample. It contained plenty of funny, musical moments and made me lament for a simpler time on television when a show like this could survive in priime time. But, as I said, you need stars for a variety show to survive and Dean-o had the clout to bring in anyone from a young Steve Martin to the chairman of the board, Frank Sinatra. Fans of Dean will surely gobble up these discs- I have a cousin who attends the Dean Martin Festival each year in Steubenville, Ohio and I’m sure he has his order placed- but fans of classic television should definitely check this out. More than just for historical purposes, The Best of the Dean Martin Variety Show offers plenty of timeless entertainment.