The ’70s was the era of the musical variety show. You could swing the dial without landing on a pop star that had hit it big in the ’70s getting to yuck it up with the panelist from Hollywood Squares. Many stars twinkled and went as summer replacement shows which is what CBS did when they brought in the duo in for a special that aired in August of 1971. Sonny and Cher were already a little bit comical with the slim Cher towering over her husband with the bushy mustache. It had been a few years since their last hit of “The Beat Goes On.” They were already tinkering with their live act so it was a bit more humorous with Cher mocking Sonny on a variety of things. They were ready to go from a Vegas stage to Television City in Los Angeles. I Got You Babe: The Best of Sonny & Cher contains 10 episodes from The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour from its three seasons that came to a swift end when reality made the good times too awkward.
Fred Silverman’s Rural Purge had just taken place at the end of the 1971 and gone were The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, Hee Haw, The Jim Nabors Hour, Lassie, Mayberry R.F.D. and The New Andy Griffith Show. Even more importantly was the snuffing of The Ed Sullivan Show. The network needed “newer” blood for a variety show to compete with the hip audiences that could seem a bit more “Now” without completely freaking out the folks at home that were digging Gunsmoke and Here’s Lucy. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour received a summer test run with an episode that aired in August with special guest star Jimmy Durante. This was the 50th anniversary of Durante starting in Vaudeville. He was far from new blood, but the singer of “Inka Dinka Doo” worked well with the couple. The hippish couple immediately felt at home on stage as they Cher knocked her husband for a variety of reasons. They are the return of the radio hit The Bickersons so it makes sense to have the elderly Durante on the show. The show did well enough to get picked up for the regular season and in January of 1972, the duo found themselves back before the cameras with bigger stars Glen Campbell, Carol Burnett, Tony Curtis and Dinah Shore. They had the show set up with a mix of comedy sketches with their guests, solo musical numbers and musical comedy moments. Nothing was too involved. During this episode, Tony Curtis shows off the concept of the sit-down suit that looks great on a bench, but has a drawback when walking. Working on staff for the show at this time was Steve Martin and Bob Einstein, who’d go onto fame as Super Dave Osborne. Also from the first season is an episode with Carol O’Connor who flourished in the post-Rural CBS and another with Art Carney from The Honeymooners.
Season two had the show settling into its groove with four episodes that mixed up stars of various venues dropping by the set. NFL Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Joe Namath get to expand their acting chops after both got into the movies. Musical guess include Jim Nabors, the Righteous Brothers, Bobby Vinton and the Supremes (after Diana Ross left). Seeing how it’s a variety show in the ’70s, Jerry Lewis drops by the soundstage. The two episodes from season three pay tribute to the ’60s when Sonny & Cher met. This is remarkable in that it was only 1973 and they were waxing nostalgia for a bygone era. Can you imagine anyone paying tribute to 2007? The first episode pulls out all the stops with a medley of hits that included Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. Bobby Vinton gives us a dose of “Blue Velvet” that would one day be remembered as part of the David Lynch movie. Part Two has the dream team of Paul Anka and Neil Sedaka proving they weren’t the same person. Also we gets a howl from legendary disc jockey Wolfman Jack.
The show continually grew in the ratings over the three seasons This was helped by having it go from Monday at 10 p.m. to Wednesday at 8 p.m. when eyes weren’t so bleary. But things came to an abrupt end when Sonny and Cher entered divorce court. They couldn’t stay together for the sake of the series. Oddly enough part of the break up included a dividing up elements of the variety show as both were lined up to get their own series. Sonny would get the writing staff and the characters. All Cher walked away with was fashion designer Bob Mackie. While TV critics were betting Sonny would be the one to be the variety success story, he was still Sonny. Cher’s show was the massive hit. It’s Cher’s show that is part of the 10 DVD version of the boxset from Time-Life. Sonny’s series was canceled after 13 weeks. Eventually Cher took a bit of pity out on Sonny and the duo returned to one variety show, but made their divorce part of the comedy. The reunion only lasted a season. Cher would go on to acting stardom. Sonny would become elected to Congress and get killed by a tree while skiing.
The ten episodes featured on I Got You Babe: The Best of Sonny & Cher give a deep sense of what made The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour a hit in the ’70s. That deep sense is mostly Cher as she established herself as a comedic actress and was able to get recognized as a singer without having to harmonize with Sonny all the time. The shows appear to be almost complete. A few of them might have had a song snipped, but nothing too jarring. I Got You Babe: The Best of Sonny & Cher is a fine way to experience the rise of Cher.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The series was captured on standard definition video, but the resolution is good enough to see the amazing fashion designs Bob Mackie made for Cher. You can also see the huge soles and heels on Sonny’s shoes that looked like Kiss boots. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. Things sound fine for a show that was made on a soundstage before a live studio audience. The episodes are subtitled.
The Barbara McNail Show (8:07) is a sneak “Sonny & Cher Pilot” from 1970. The couple comes out and does a bit of comedy routine about how big Sonny’s mother is followed by Cher singing “Danny Boy.”
Jerry’s Place (14:27) is Jerry Blavat’s show on Philadelphia television. Sonny talks about being in Philly to check out studio space so he can make an indie film. Blavat was a big time disc jockey in the town. Cher says that being in a movie was easy for her. Which sounds cocky except she’d eventually win an Oscar for Best Actress. The couple sings “I Got You Babe.” They speak about working nightclubs and supper clubs at that time.
Interview with Cher (17:09) has the singer remember her long career. She wanted to be a dancer, but couldn’t afford lessons. She speaks about how they changed their act to have her being more comedic presence on stage. People came for their jokes and enjoyed the music. Within two years of altering the act, they landed the show.
Frankie Avalon (10:23) discusses how he guest starred on their live act at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas for a three week run. David Bryner was also part of the evening. This is where Fred Silverman saw them and signed them.
Producers Allan Blye and Chris Bearde (16:34) has them talk about being a part of the show after being part of the legendary Elvis Presley comeback show. Fred Silverman brought them together with Sonny and Cher.
Time Life presents I Got You Babe: The Best of Sonny & Cher. Starring: Sonny Bono and Cher. Rated: Unrated. Boxset Contents: 10 Episodes on 5 DVDs. Released: February 11, 2020.
Tags: Cher, Sonny & Cher Show, Steve Martin, Time life