Steve Allen Show, The (1956-61)


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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About

One of the most famous ratings wars in television history began on 24 June 1956. That night NBC debuted The Steve Allen Show opposite the eighth anniversary program of what had become a television institution, The Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. The two hosts were markedly different. Sullivan was a rigorous master of ceremonies, known for enforcing strict conformity for both his guests and the members of his audience. Allen, too, served as host, but he was also innovative, funny and whimsical. Whereas Steve Allen liked to improvise and ad lib on his program, creating material and responding to guests and audience on the spot, The Ed Sullivan Show followed a strict format.

The appearances of Elvis Presley on the two programs serve to illustrate the differences between them. When Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, Sullivan instructed the camera operators to shoot the picture from the waist up only. On The Steve Allen Show, Presley appeared in a tuxedo and serenaded a bassett hound with his hit "You Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog." Both strategies appeased nervous network censors, but each is emblematic of the show it served.

Relations between the two prominent hosts were not cordial and reached a low point in October 1956. Allen scheduled a tribute to the late actor, James Dean, for his 21 October program. When he learned that Sullivan planned his own tribute to Dean for his 14 October program, Allen charged that Sullivan had stolen his idea. Sullivan denied the charges and accused Allen of lying. Allen moved his segment to October 14 when both programs paid tribute to the late actor and showed clips from his last movie, Giant.

Much of Allen's work on The Steve Allen Show resembled previous performances on The Tonight Show, which he had hosted since 1954. He often opened the program casually, seated at the piano. He would chat with the audience, participate in skits, and introduce guests. Television critic Jack Gould considered the new program merely an expanded version of The Tonight Show and characterized it as "mostly routine stuff." Gould did concede that "more imagination could take the program far." The Steve Allen Show offered Allen a natural setting for what Gould termed his "conditioned social gift" of "creating spontaneous comedy in front of an audience in a given situation."

Allen also continued something else he had begun on The Tonight Show, discovering new talent. Andy Williams, Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence got their starts on The Tonight Show. And on the new show, Allen's man in the street interview segments launched the careers of comedians Bill Dana, Pat Harrington, Louis Nye, Tom Poston and Don Knotts. Dana played the timid Hispanic Jose' Jiminez, and Harrington the suave Italian golfer Guido Panzino.

Characters created by Nye, Poston and Knotts were the best known of the group. Nye portrayed the effete and cosmopolitan Gordon Hathaway whose cry "Hi Ho Steverino" became a trademark of the program. Tom Poston was the sympathetic and innocent guy who would candidly answer any question but who could never remember his name. Probably the best remembered character was the nervous Mr. Morrison portrayed by Don Knotts. Often Morrison's initials were related to his occupation. On one segment he was introduced as K.B. Morrison whose job in a munitions factory was to place the pins in hand grenades. When asked what the initials stood for, Knotts replied, "Kaa Boom!" Invariably Allen would ask Knotts if he was nervous and always got the quick one word reply, "No!!!" Allen characterized the cast as the "happiest, most relaxed professional family in television."

Allen became known for the outrageous. He conducted a geography lesson using a map of the world in the shape of a cube. He opened a program by having the camera shoot from underneath a transparent stage. Looking down at the camera Allen remarked, "what if a drunk suddenly staggered into your living room and saw this shot?"

Although Allen won some of the ratings battles with Sullivan, he ultimately lost the war. In 1959 NBC moved The Steve Allen Show to Monday nights. The following year, it went to ABC for a fourteen week run. In 1961 Allen renamed the program The Steve Allen Playhouse and took it into syndication where it ran for three years.

-Lindsay E. Pack

STEVE ALLEN SHOW, THE
Comedy Variety

PROGRAMMING HISTORY
NBC

June 1956-June 1958                           Sunday 8:00-9:00
September 1958-March 1959                Sunday 8:00-9:00
March 1959                                         Sunday 7:30-9:00
April 1959-June 1959                            Sunday 7:30-8:30
September 1959-June 1960              Monday 10:00-11:00

ABC
September 1961-December 1961    Wednesday 7:30-8:30

REGULAR PERFORMERS

Steve Allen
Louis Nye
Gene Rayburn (1956-1959)
Skitch Henderson (1956-1959)
Marilyn Jacobs (1956-1957)
Tom Poston (1956-1959, 1961)
Gabe Dell (1956-1957, 1958-1961)
Don Knotts (1956-1960)
Dayton Allen (1958-1961)
Pat Harrington, Jr. (1958-1961 )
Cal Howard (1959-1960)
Bill Dana (1959-1960)
Joey Forman (1961)
Buck Henry (1961)
Jayne Meadows (1961)
John Cameron Swayze (1957-1958)
The Smothers Brothers (1961)
Tim Conway (1961)
Don Penny (1961)

MUSIC Les Brown and His Band (1959-1961)

FURTHER READING

Allen, Steve. Hi Ho Steverino! My Adventures in the Wonderful Wacky World of Television. Fort Lee, New Jersey: Barricade, 1992.

_______________. Mark It and Strike It: An Autobiography. New York: Holt, 1960.

Gould, Jack. "To Meet Steve Allen." New York Times, 24 June 1956.

_______________. "Tribute to Actor Starts TV War." New York Times, 4 October 1956.

Shanley, J. P. "Trio of Thriving TV Bananas." New York Times, 10 November 1956.

"Steve Allen." Current Biography Yearbook. New York: H.W. Wilson, 1982.

Highlights
Don Knotts on his regular appearances on The Steve Allen Show and the famed "Man on the Street" recurring sketch that he did with Allen, Louis Nye, and Tom Poston
02:52
Bill Dana on the genesis of the "Man on the Street" segments on The Steve Allen Show, and working with Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louis Nye on those sketches
10:28
Who talked about this show

Steve Allen

View Interview
Steve Allen on the comedy writing team of Herb Sergeant and Stan Burns on his Tonight Show
05:30
Steve Allen on Pat Weaver deciding to bring The Steve Allen Show to network and re-titling it Tonight
01:33
Steve Allen on the prime-time Steve Allen Show
11:24
Steve Allen on The Steve Allen Show (prime-time version) moving to Hollywood from New York
03:39

Shelley Berman

View Interview
Shelley Berman on working with Steve Allen on The Steve Allen (Plymouth) Show
03:28
Shelley Berman on appearances on The Steve Allen  (Plymouth) Show; on his phone call routines

Bill Dana with Emerson College

View Interview
Bill Dana on writing and performing on The Steve Allen Show
04:29
Bill Dana on his role on The Steve Allen Show
03:46
Bill Dana on the creation of his character "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show
05:00
Bill Dana on the way he portrayed "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show
06:46
Bill Dana on dealing with the controversy over his "Jose Jiminez" character on The Steve Allen Show and The Bill Dana Show
06:42

Bill Dana

View Interview
Bill Dana on the genesis of the "Man on the Street" segments on The Steve Allen Show, and working with Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louis Nye on those sketches
10:28
Bill Dana on the birth of his character "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show in 1959
08:46
Bill Dana on becoming the head writer on The Steve Allen Show in 1956 and a sample from a routine he wrote for Don Adams to perform on that show, which got him discovered by Steve and hired as a writer
06:22
Bill Dana on moving from Steve Allen's Tonight show to the Primetime Plymouth show
00:44
Bill Dana on writing the memorable sketches "The Nutley-Hinkley-Butley-Winkley Report" and "The Question Man" with Don Hinkley and Leonard Stern
04:48
Bill Dana on the "letters to the editor" sketches on The Steve Allen Show
01:29
Bill Dana on the difference in format between The Steve Allen Primetime show and the "Plymouth" show on ABC
02:08

Sam Denoff

View Interview
Sam Denoff on writing for The Steve Allen Show on ABC in 1961
06:44

Ed Begley, Jr. with Emerson College

View Interview
Ed Begley, Jr. on cast members from The Steve Allen Show guest-starring on St. Elsewhere
02:02
Ed Begley, Jr. on guest-starring on Maude, and on The Steve Allen Show being his favorite show
01:18

Pat Harrington, Jr. with Emerson College

View Interview
Pat Harrington, Jr. on appearing on The Steve Allen Show
02:46
Pat Harrington, Jr. on appearing on The Steve Allen Show
05:15
Pat Harrington, Jr. on the writers and cast of The Steve Allen Show, including Louis Nye and Bill Dana, and on his characters on the show
05:52

Buck Henry

View Interview
Buck Henry on being assigned Stan Burns as a writing partner when working on the new Steve Allen Show
Buck Henry on the use of double-talk on The Steve Allen Show and the desire to make the band laugh

Don Knotts

View Interview
Don Knotts on his regular appearances on The Steve Allen Show and the famed "Man on the Street" recurring sketch that he did with Allen, Louis Nye, and Tom Poston
02:52
Don Knotts on a big laugh he got playing the nervous character in the "Man on the Street" sketch on The Steve Allen Show
00:57
Don Knotts on Steve Allen
01:34
Don Knotts on a funny take-off of To Tell the Truth (he accidentally references What's My Line) that he participated in on The Steve Allen Show with guest star Errol Flynn
00:41
Don Knotts on his Steve Allen Show co-star Louis Nye
00:26
Don Knotts on his Steve Allen Show co-star Tom Poston
00:15
Don Knotts on his Steve Allen Show co-star Dayton Allen's sense of humor
00:37
Don Knotts on co-star/writer Bill Dana (and on the weatherman sketch on The Steve Allen Show)  
01:33
Don Knotts on when The Steve Allen Show went to Havana
00:48
Don Knotts on a "moment" for him when ventriloquist Edgar Bergen asked him to hold famed puppet "Charlie McCarthy"
00:25

Mario Kreutzberger

View Interview
Mario Kreutzberger on a segment of Sabado Gigante  interviewing children, which was influenced by The Steve Allen Show, which he watched when he first came to the U.S in 1959
00:51

Tom Poston

View Interview
Tom Poston on working with Louis Nye on The Steve Allen Show
01:25
Tom Poston on being cast on The Steve Allen Show
05:04
Tom Poston on differences between Steve Allen's Tonight  and The Steve Allen Show
03:36
Tom Poston on working with Don Knotts on The Steve Allen Show
03:19
Tom Poston on working with Bill Dana on The Steve Allen Show
01:23

George Shapiro

View Interview
George Shapiro on clients Bill Persky and Sam Denoff getting hired by Bill Dana on The Steve Allen Show
02:10

Tom Smothers

View Interview
Tom and Dick Smothers on their early TV appearances
02:46

Dick Smothers

View Interview
Tom and Dick Smothers on their early TV appearances
02:46

Mary Kay Stearns

View Interview
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Johnny producing the local version of The Steve Allen Show
03:28

Johnny Stearns

View Interview
Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns on Johnny producing the local version of The Steve Allen Show
03:28

Leonard Stern

View Interview
Leonard Stern on recurring sketches on The Steve Allen Show : Man on the Street and The Question Man; how Don Knotts' "nope!" came about; Tom Poston's character who forgot his name
Leonard Stern on coming on as head writer of the Steve Allen Show (Sunday evening NBC show) and hiring new cast members hiring Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Bill Dana, Tim Conway, Dayton Allen, Pat Harrington
Leonard Stern on why they never found a female comedian to work on the Steve Allen Show depsite working with Carol Burnett and Nanette Farbray
Leonard Stern on the "letters to the editor" sketch on The Steve Allen Show ; Martha Raye

Fred Willard

View Interview
Fred Willard on appearing on The Steve Allen Show
00:49

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