Entertainment reporters kept asking Jack Benny when he’d make the jump. In interviews, he never seemed sure. But obviously talks were going on behind the scenes with CBS, American Tobacco (his sponsor) and his handlers to make it happen.
The problems were all solved. CBS worked out a new Benny deal including television. American Tobacco bought 45 minutes of time on Saturday night that Anheuser-Busch owned for the Ken Murray Show (Variety, Oct. 11); Murray made an appearance on the Benny show as part of the deal.
Jack prepared for his TV show by sitting in as a producer on the Wiere Brothers’ TV show on CBS; Benny had convinced CBS president Bill Paley and underling Harry Ackerman to sign the Wieres (Variety, Sept. 18).
Critics were generally pleased with the Benny premiere though several, including Jack Gould of The New York Times and Joe Csida of Billboard, complained there was too much old radio and not enough television (Gould wrote two reviews, one for the Sunday magazine edition). But Benny must have known his audience tuned in to his radio show because of familiarity and that’s what he was going to give them on TV; John Crosby of the New York Herald-Tribune admitted that approach made the most sense (you can read Crosby’s review HERE).
Here’s what Weekly Variety had to say about the show in its November 1, 1950 edition.
JACK BENNY SHOW
With Jack Benny, Eddie (Rochester) Anderson, Don Wilson, Sportsmen Quartet, Artie (“Mr. Kitzel”) Auerbach, Mel Blanc; music conductor, Mahlon Merrick; guests, Dinah Shore, Ken Murray
Producer: Hilliard Marks
Director: Dick Linkroum
Writers: Sam Perrin, Milt Josefsberg, George Balzer, John Tackaberry
45 Mins.; Sat., 8 p.m.
AMERICAN TOBACCO CO.
CBS-TV, from New York
For CBS-TV, under his Fort Knox deal, Benny proved himself a very worthy asset. He has poise, pace and polish. His debut vehicle of what was announced a once-every-eight-weeks’ series was insured by his writers through reincorporating the trademarked Bennyisms — the close-student-of-the-dollar guy, including all the props that ran the gamut from 8c for an autograph (bus-fare type joke) to the coin phone, Bendix laundromat and coin-vending cigarette machine in the parlor. Not forgetting the garrulous polly who snitches on Rochester; the latter’s references to his boss’ asthmatic motor vehicle; the goodlooking vis-a-vis who dates Eddie Anderson via a phone bit. The Ameche is again well utilized for a telephonic “audition” by Dinah Shore of “I’m Yours.” The songstress took her camera angles very flatteringly throughout “Tess’ Torch Song” and her finale duet with Benny, “I Oughta Know More About You”; per usual, of course, she handled her vocal chores in big league manner.
The cohesiveness which usually distinguishes Benny's AM shows came through on his TV debut with an ear-pulling bit for the LSMFT commercial (first with Don Wilson, on cue, and later as a more affectionate bit with Miss Shore); the Sportsmen Quartet’s outlandish parody rhapsodizing of the commercials (“No Business Like Show Business,” and later, in tails, with Miss Shore in “Ought Know More About You”).
In excellent composure, Benny attacked the new medium with such kidding-on-the-square asides as “I’d give a million to know how I look” and “I wasn’t nervous; it was just that my sponsor didn’t have the nerve.” His monolog, as he pondered the pattern of his new adventure into TV, accented “I’m not stingy,” and from there on the bits and scenes gave lie to the premise by continuing his trademarked radio characterization, such as checking up on Rochester’s banana-swiping, and the rest.
Ken Murray and Anheuser-Busch, his beer sponsor, who relinquished this Saturday-at-8 slot got a commercial credit, and Murray came on for an effective comedy bit, including what probably was a genuine cue that time was running out. As it developed, Benny could have done the full hour solidly but for some reason the comedian picked on a compromise 45 minutes as more “right” for him on TV. That's fielder’s choice although, from the network’s viewpoint, it permitted Sam Levenson to hitch-hike importantly for that comedian’s own 15-minute premiere.
For the finale Benny pompously essayed “Love In Bloom” on the fiddle to a walkout audience and the usual finaleing commercials.
The back-of-the-camera credits are generously apportioned to all. Mahlon Merrick did a good music accomp but what is there about video bands, when they get their innings, they want to make sure they’re heard? It’s probably more the director's fault in not using the music fader to maintain volume balance with the dialog. In short, the ear is attuned to the comedy but give the average TV orchestra half a chance and they go into high and blast the looker’s eardrums. This has been a noticeable shortcoming on almost all networks, and usually with comedy programs, as if the maestros resent having been held in check as mere musical accompaniment.
But Benny won’t blast anybody away from the video screen. If New York is such a magnet to the comedian he’s a cinch to accelerate that once-in-eight-weeks’ schedule. He should. Benny is bigtime looker-innering. Abel
Benny, arguably, had the best timing in show business, but his timing was way off on his TV show. 45 minutes was too short. A duet with Dinah Shore wraps up far too quickly. The last gag (the audience walking out) doesn’t play out; it’s cut off. Director Linkroum cuts to Dorothy Collins who doesn’t seem to notice she’s been cued to sing the cigarette jingle. In fact, that wasn’t supposed to be the ending at all. Benny was annoyed with what happened but he really only had himself to blame. He could have, and should have, taken the full hour (Wildroot bought the last 15 minutes for Sam Levenson). Variety of November 1st reveals:
Luckies’ Comm’l Must Go On, Vexes Benny As TV Finale Is ScissoredThis was post was supposed to be a lead-in to a video site link to view the actual show. I had never seen it until this week. But, silly me, I’ve discovered it was shared on the public International Jack Benny Fan Club Facebook group. If you’re on Facebook, you can see it there. The chemistry between Jack and Miss Shore in the song is great, Mel Blanc is always funny, there’s a singing pumpkin and people in weird Hallowe’en costumes in the far-too-long opening commercial (I didn’t realise until now that Snooky Lanson sounds like Kay Kyser), and Artie Auerbach shows off some subtle TV acting. The show was off to a good start. If you’re not on Facebook, content yourself with viewing my favourite Benny TV show: Jack trying to win money from guest star Groucho Marx on guest show “You Bet Your Life.”