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Danny Kaye's 100th Birthday
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The Danny Kaye Show

Danny Kaye had been a star for twenty years when CBS television executive James T. Aubrey offered him his own television program, The Danny Kaye Show, for the 1963 season. It was not Kaye's first appearance on television; he had been a guest star or was interviewed on several shows. Still, it was a medium that he was reluctant to join, often saying, "Television will be here for a long time. I'm in no hurry. When the time is right for me, I'll go into television."

In 1960, Kaye was offered $1.5 million for three yearly specials, An Hour with Danny Kaye (1960), The Danny Kaye Special (1961) and The Danny Kaye Special with Lucille Ball in 1962, which earned Kaye an Emmy nomination.

The Danny Kaye Show was created by Dena Productions (named after Kaye's daughter), a company formed by Kaye and his wife, songwriter Sylvia Fine in 1953. The company had produced Kaye's most famous film, The Court Jester (1955), but Fine, who had written Kaye's most famous songs and comedy numbers, was not involved in any way with the show, and only went to one taping at the end of the run in 1967.

Perry Lafferty helmed the show, which he spent six month preparing. Among the writers he hired were Paul Mazursky, Mel Tolkin and Larry Gelbart, who is best known for M*A*S*H. Gelbart was only available to work on the pilot for two months, but was so highly respected that his salary was worth it. He had been a fan of Kaye's and went to meet with him at his apartment at the Sherry Netherland Hotel. Gelbart found that Kaye was unsure of television and not interested in being innovative, but rather in following tried and true formulas, like one of Gelbart's other shows, Sid Caesar's Caesar's Hour. Gelbart later said, "It was an open secret that we were still writing the Sid Caesar show."

The Danny Kaye Show was done in a variety format - a mixture of sketches and musical numbers, which allowed Kaye to demonstrate the talents that had made him a star. It also included a segment where Kaye would sit in a chair and address the audience as though he were telling them a story, or bring in children and tell the story to them (Kaye was well known for his work on behalf of UNICEF).

The process of creating the program would begin on Monday, when Kaye would go over the script with the writers, who often had to convince him the material was good. Kaye was always skeptical and would remind them that he, not they, was "the one who has to stand up in front of thirty million people and do this." Rehearsals went from Tuesday through Thursday, with a full dress rehearsal on Friday. On Saturday, the show was taped in front of an audience and aired just as it happened, without retakes. This was done because Kaye wanted the charge that comes from doing a live stage show, which doesn't allow for retakes. On stage with Kaye would be a special guest star like Louis Armstrong, one of his favorites, with whom he had worked in A Song Is Born (1948), Tony Bennett, Art Carney or Gene Kelly. Kelly's October 23, 1963 appearance on the show was so good that writer Mel Tolkin later called it "theatrical magic. It was an hour that deserves a place of honor in television history."

To help support Kaye, a sort of repertory company was formed, including his former girlfriend, Gwen Verdon, Harvey Korman (who would later become a staple of the Carol Burnett Show), Howard Morris and Joyce Van Patten. The musical numbers were accompanied by The Earl Brown Singers, The Tony Charmoli Dancers and the Clinger Sisters.

After taping and editing were complete, the show would air in Canada first, because those near the American border could pick up the signal and it would hurt the ad sales of Canadian products. The American broadcast was shown on Wednesdays. The Danny Kaye Show debuted on September 23, 1963 and garnered good reviews from the critics, like Jack Gould, who wrote in The New York Times , "To call it a TV show might be misleading; at heart it was a small Broadway revue [...] The true Kaye, both the performer and the personality, at long last found himself on the home screen." Eventually, the program won a Peabody Award and an Emmy, and earned ten Emmy nominations. However, despite the promising start, the show never made the Top 10 Nielsen ratings. Part of the problem was the time slot. Kaye had been offered Sunday at 9:00pm, which would have put it opposite Bonanza. Kaye knew he couldn't compete with the most popular show on television, so CBS offered him the Wednesday 10:00pm slot, which made it much too late for his core audience - children. It also went up against I, Spy starring rising comedian, Bill Cosby, as well as Wednesday Night at the Movies on NBC. As the seasons progressed, Kaye began to abandon the double-talk specialty numbers and sang in his normal voice. And the ratings did not improve.

The Danny Kaye Show was cancelled during the 1967 season, although it later ran in repeats in the UK on BBC 2 for three years. Kaye was by no means done with television; he made several specials - mostly children's programs - and, toward the end of his life, several guest appearances. His last, ironically, was on The Cosby Show a year before his death in 1987.

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
Adir, Karin The Great Clowns of American Television
Gottfried, Martin Nobody's Fool
Gibberman, Susan R. and Newcomb, Horace The Encyclopedia of Television
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