Saturday, February 25, 2023

TCM Underground R.I.P.

On February 22 2023 it was announced that TCM Underground, Turner Classic Movies' Friday night/Saturday morning programming block dedicated to obscure and sometimes downright odd movies, was ending its run on Friday, February 24. Fittingly, the last movie aired on TCM Underground was Ed Wood's camp classic Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Given Millie De Chirico, who had programmed TCM Underground since 2007, was laid off in December of the past year (2022), the announcement of TCM Underground's cancellation perhaps came as no surprise to TCM fans. Still, the announcement was met with disappointment from the show's many fans.

TCM Underground was originally conceived by former Turner Classic Movies marketing director Eric Weber as a higher class version of the old horror movie anthologies aired on local stations, often with a host. The original intent behind TCM Underground was to attract younger viewers to the channel, which, rightly or wrongly, was thought to appeal to an older audience. In its earliest days TCM Underground even had its own horror host in the form of rock musician and movie director Rob Zombie. It was on October 14 2006 that TCM Underground was launched with an Ed Wood double bill of Plan 9 from Outer Space and Bride of the Monster (2005).

The first major change to TCM Underground was that it lost its host. Rob Zombie last hosted TCM Underground on December 16 2006, introducing West of Zanzibar (1928) and The Unholy Three (1925).  Turner Classic Movies never replaced Rob Zombie and the programming block continued to air without a host for the rest of its history.

A much bigger change occurred to TCM Underground in 2007 when Millie De Chirico became the show's programmer. Rather than the old horror hosts, Millie De Chirico looked to such Eighties cable television programs as Night Flight and USA Up All Night, as well as the late night programming of such premium channels as HBO and Showtime, for inspiration. TCM Underground began showing an eclectic mix of movies, from cult classics such as Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971) to such Hollywood oddities as Xanadu (1980) to such obscurities as Private Property (1960). Over the years TCM Underground aired such diverse films as the classic The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953), the B horror movie Alligator (1980), the classic Blaxploitation movie Coffy (1973), the sci-fi classic Death Race 2000 (1975),  Enter the Ninja (1981--the movie that started the Eighties ninja craze), the aerobics musical Heavenly Bodies (1984), the teen comedy Little Darlings (1980), the Japanese horror movie Jigoku (1960), the big budget sci-fi film Logan's Run (1976), the camp classic Prehistoric Women (1967), the propaganda film Reefer Madness (1935), and even the Seventies action movie The Super Cops (1974).

While many of my friends were, I have to confess I was never a regular viewer of TCM Underground. It was on just a bit too late for me. Even so, I would watch some of the movies shown on TCM Underground on the Watch TCM app and On Demand. I always appreciated its similarity to such programs of my youth as Night Flight and USA Up All Night. And I do think TCM Underground filled a much needed niche on the Turner Classic Movies schedule. Prior to TCM Underground it was rare that one saw such oddities as Spider Baby (1967) or The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) on TCM. Indeed, TCM Underground often aired rarely seen, truly obscure films. It was one of the few places where one might see Zig Zag (1970) or The Ninth Configuration (1980). And TCM Underground did show some true classics alongside the cult films and the more obscure movies.

The cancellation of TCM Underground leaves a hole in cable schedules that probably won't soon be filled. Programs such as Night Flight and USA Up All Night fell by the wayside in the Nineties, and TCM Underground took over their mantle of showing cult films and cinematic obscurities. There is currently no other program that does this on any of the major cable channels. It is little wonder that TCM Underground has a large number of devoted fans. Indeed, I have to wonder that TCM's ratings for late night Friday/early morning Saturday won't drop with the demise of TCM Underground.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Barbarella (1968)

 (This post is part of the Fifth So Bad It's Good Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room)

The Space Age and the Sexual Revolution were two events that coincided, both roughly taking place in the Fifties and the Sixties. It was probably these two events that resulted in the French comic strip Barbarella, created by Jean-Claude Forest. Jean-Claude Forest imagined Barbarella as an emancipated woman of the sort that the Sexual Revolution might produce. In the comic strip Barbarella travelled through space, often winding up in sexual situations with aliens. The comic strip first appeared in the spring of 1962 in the French magazine V. It was in 1964 that publisher Éric Losfeld collected the comic strip stories into the book Barbarella. In France Barbarella was a source of some controversy as one of the first adult comic strips ever published. Barbarella would find its way to the United States, with an English translation by Richard Seaver appearing in issues 37 to 39 (1965-1966) of Evergreen Review.

While controversial in its native France, the comic strip Barbarella was also popular. It should then come as no surprise that a screen adaptation of the comic strip would come about only a few years after its debut. Producer Dino De Laurentiis bought the film rights to the comic strip. He then negotiated a distribution deal in the United States between the French production company Marianne Productions (which would produce the film) and Paramount Pictures. Although Barbarella remains one of Jane Fonda's best known roles, she was not the first actress considered for the part. Virna Lisi, Bridget Bardot, and even Sophia Loren were all approached about starring in the film. Finally Jane Fonda was cast in the role of Barbarella. Her husband at the time, Roger Vadim, would be the film's director. According to Miss Fonda's autobiography My Life So Far, he was enthusiastic about science fiction movies and believed they were "the wave of the future."

Terry Southern, known for his novel Candy as well as having worked on the screenplays for Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and The Loved One (1965), was hired to write the screenplay. While Terry Southern's screenplay drew upon Jean-Claude Forest's first batch of Barbarella stories, he largely altered the character of Barbarella from that of the comic strip to something more resembling his character Candy from his novel of the same name. Like Candy, Terry Southern's Barbarella was a wide eyed innocent who often finds herself in sexual situations. While Mr. Southern enjoyed working on the script, he also thought Dino De Laurentiius wasn't particularly interested in making a good film. In the end, seven other screenwriters would be credited for the screenplay for Barbarella, with Charles B. Griffith later saying he did uncredited work on the screenplay. Jane Fonda would later say that they had not worked out the screenplay in advance.

It is perhaps because of the sheer number of writers that worked on Barbarella that the film's plot is not particularly easy to describe.  The President of the Republic of Earth (Claude Dauphin) assigns Barbarella (Jane Fonda) the task of locating scientist Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea), who has developed a positronic ray capable of mass destruction. She crash lands on the 16th planet of the Tau Ceti system. From there she encounters children with flesh eating, mechanical dolls, Mark Hand, the Catchman whose job is to retrieve stray children (Ugo Tognazzi); Pygar, a blind angel who can no longer fly (John Phillip Law); Pygar's mentor, Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau); and ultimately The Great Tyrant, also known as the Black Queen, essentially the villain of the film (Anita Pallenberg).

As seen above,  Barbarella featured several notable actors beyond Jane Fonda. Immediately prior to Barbarella, John Phillip Law had appeared  in the title role in Dino De Laurentiis's Danger Diabolik (1968). He had earlier appeared in the comedy The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) and later played the title role  in the Ray Harryhausen movie The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973). Of interest to comic book fans, John Phillip Law not only read the Barbaella comic strip, but comic books featuring DC Comics' Hawkman as well to prepare for his role. Anita Pallenberg had a relationship with The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones and would later have one with Keith Richards. Milo O' Shea was a veteran of stage and screen who had played Leopold Bloom in the 1967 screen adaptation of Ulysses. Of course, Marcel Marceau was a world famous mime who appeared frequently on variety shows on both sides of the Atlantic.

Filming on Barbarella began on June 6 1967 and continued until November of that year. It was filmed at Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica Studios in Rome. Barbarella was released in the United States on October 10 1968. Barbarella  was not particularly well received by critics. Variety called its script "flat" and described the cast as "not particularly adept at comedy." The New York Times noted that following the film's initial, now famous, zero gravity strip tease scene, Barbarella "...rapidly becomes a special kind of mess." The Globe and Mail stated that following the striptease scene, "we are plunged back into the mundane, not to say inane world , of the spy thriller with a dreary overlay of futuristic science-fiction." As might be expected, even though it is mild by today's standards, the sexual content of Barbarella was controversial upon its initial release. The National Legion of Decency gave Barbarella a "condemned" rating , which meant practising Catholics should not see the film, and even attacked the Production Code Administration for having approved it.

If Barbarella was not particularly well received by critics upon its initial release, it could be because the film was a bit of an anachronism even in 1968. Barbarella appears to have been made with a camp aesthetic in mind. The style known as camp, which according to Susan Sontag in her famous 1964 essay Notes on Camp emphasizes artifice, frivolity, and middle-class pretentiousness, was a bit of a fad in the mid-Sixties. Indeed, the hit television series Batman was intentionally made in a camp style. Like many fads, however, camp ran its course and was pretty much out of fashion with mainstream audiences by 1968.

Even if Barbarella was not intentionally made as camp, it would certainly seem to qualify as such. The film's production design is over the top in a way that only Federico Fellini films might usually be. Particularly given 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in the same year, the special effects in Barbarella seem rather cheesy. The music can rightfully be described as psychedelic. The episodic plot of Barbarella is hardly progressive in its portrayal of the sexes. In many respects Barbarella simply fills the role of a Space Age damsel in distress. The movie has even been described as adolescent and it is hard to argue that it isn't. Even so, the film's plot is so outrageous that it is hard to take seriously. Quite simply, it is so over the top as to be laughable. Even though it was meant to be a comedy and may have been meant to be camp, it may well succeed in ways Roger Vadim did not intend for it to.

If there is one thing that keeps Barbarella from being a truly bad film it is Jane Fonda's performance as Barbarella. As Barbarella, Jane Fonda projects an innocence and sweetness that greatly adds to the film's appeal. Indeed, if Barbarella works as a camp classic, it may well be because of the sincerity of Jane Fonda's performance. The film certainly would not be nearly as enjoyable without her.

Despite being critically lambasted upon its initial release, Barbarella would become a cult classic and would even have a lasting impact. Among other things, the classic New Wave band Duran Duran took their name from Milo O'Shea's character in the movie, Durand Durand. Barbarella would also have a lasting impact on the production design and costumes of science fiction TV shows and movies. The animated television series Æon Flux and the movie The Fifth Element (1997) both drew some inspiration from Barbarella.

Barbarella is an altogether ridiculous film, but at the same time it is an appealing movie for those who appreciate camp or even kitsch. For those who are willing to suspend their disbelief (or even their tastes) for  98 minutes, it can be quite enjoyable. Certainly there was never a science fiction movie like it before and there hasn't ever been one like it since.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Short-Lived 1970 Sitcom Barefoot in the Park

The Odd Couple
, starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, remains the best known sitcom based on a Neil Simon play. What has been forgotten is that when The Odd Couple debuted, there was another sitcom based on a Neil Simon play. Barefoot in the Park was based on Neil Simon's 1963 play of the same name, upon which the 1967 feature film starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda was also based. What made the sitcom Barefoot in the Park different from many adaptation of Neil Simon's works is that the cast was predominantly Black.

The sitcom Barefoot in the Park was developed for television by Bill Idelson and Harvey Miller. Bill Idelson may be best remembered for playing Sally's boyfriend Herman Glimscher on The Dick Van Dyke Show. From acting he had moved into writing, writing episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show; The Andy Griffith Show; Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.; and several other shows. Harvey Miller had written for such shows as Studio One, Accidental Family, The Mothers-In-Law, and That Girl.

Barefoot in the Park starred Scoey Mitchell as Paul Bratter, a lawyer for the firm Kendricks, Keene & Klein. He had only recently married his wife Corie (played by Tracy Reed). Corie's mother, Mabel, who was always meddling in their marriage, was played by Thelma Carpenter. Nipsey Russell played the local pool hall owner, Honey, and an admirer of Corie's mother. Scoey Mitchell had guest starred on Get Smart and was part of the recurring cast on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He guest starred on The Mothers-In-Law, Here Come the Brides, The Carol Burnett Show, and That Girl. Tracy Reed had appeared in the unsold 1967 pilot Me and Benjy and guest starred on The Brady Bunch. Thelma Carpenter was a successful jazz singer who had appeared on variety shows in the Fifties and Sixties. Nipsey Russell was perhaps best known at the time as Officer Dave Anderson on the classic sitcom Car 54, Where Are You? and appearances on many variety shows during the era.

Barefoot in the Park debuted on ABC on September 24 1970, with The Odd Couple debuting immediately afterwards. Both of the new sitcoms were scheduled following Bewitched, so it may be safe to assume that ABC was hoping the audience for Bewitched would stick around for the two new shows. Unfortunately, Bewitched fell in the ratings that season, so that the 1970-1971 season was the first one in which the show, at one time a top ten program, did not rank in the top thirty shows for the year. The weak performance of Bewitched perhaps had some effect on the ratings of both Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple, as neither show did particularly well in the ratings.

Of course, part of the problem with the ratings for Barefoot in the Park might have been that audiences never became enamoured of the show. While there were no bad reviews, reviews of the show were lukewarm at best. Columnist Ernie Kreiling wrote of Barefoot in the Park in his column from around November 22 1970, "It's not always funny; It's not always unfunny. It's just there to be watched or ignored as one wishes, always in the knowledge that if your attention wanders you're not really missing much." After the show had been cancelled, in her March 6 1971 column, Hazel Garland wrote, "Unfortunately, the show just wasn't as good as the pilot had indicated. Few episodes were really funny."

Even if the ratings had been better, it is possible Barefoot in the Park would not have lasted long. There is a reason The Odd Couple  survived, but it didn't. Lead actor Scoey Mitchell came into conflict with ABC executive vice president in charge of programming Douglas S. Cramer. According to Scoey Mitchell, he was "forced to do the Uncle Tom bit." According to Earl Wilson's column from October 23 1970, Scoey Mitchell not only punched a network vice president, knocking out one of his teeth (although unnamed, one has to assume it was Douglas S. Cramer), but even punched co-star Thelma Carpenter. Ultimately, ABC cancelled Barefoot in the Park after only twelve episodes, perhaps in part so they would not have to replace Scoey Mitchell. Fortunately for Scoey Mitchell, Barefoot in the Park would not end his career. He went on to make many guest appearances on television and even had a recurring role on Rhoda.

Today it is difficult to evaluate Barefoot in the Park today as it is not widely available. Running only one season, it is not available in syndication nor on any streaming services. It has never been released on VHS or DVD. In his book Primetime Blues: African Americans on Television, esteemed film and television historian Donald Bogle wrote of the sitcom, "...the creators had no idea what the real Black bourgeosie was like and relied (with its older characters) instead on trite, hand-me-down depictions from the past." He further wrote of the show, "Ultimately, Barefoot in the Park seemed a standard, generic, white middle-class comedy that was hopelessly out of sync with contemporary outlooks and interests."

Regardless, Barefoot in the Park was historic in that it was the first sitcom since Amos 'n' Andy to have an all Black cast. Both Julia and The Bill Cosby Show, which had debuted in the years leading up to 1970, had both Black and white characters in their casts. In that respect, it paved the way for other shows with predominantly Black casts, including Sanford and Son and Good Times.

Monday, February 20, 2023

The Late Great Richard Belzer

Richard Belzer, the comedian and actor best known for playing Detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Streets and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, as well as many other shows, died yesterday, February 19 2023, at the age of 78.

Richard Belzer was born on August 4 1944 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. His mother was physically abusive, and his comedy grew out of trying to make his mother laugh so she would not hit him. He attended Dean Junior College in Franklin, Massachusetts, but was expelled because of organizing protests on campus. He worked a number of odd jobs, including census taker, dock worker, jewellery salesman, and even a reporter for The Bridgeport Post. It was his father's suicide attempt, three years after his mother had died of breast cancer, that spurred him to try his hand at stand-up comedy.

To that end, Richard Belzer answered an ad in The Village Voice for an audition for Channel One, a comedy troupe based out of East Village in New York City. His audition was successful and he became part of Channel One in 1971. Channel One's skits, which parodied television, would eventually lead to the movie The Groove Tube (1974), which marked Richard Belzer's movie debut. In the late Seventies Richard Belzer worked as the warm-up comedian for Saturday Night Live and also appeared on the show three times. He also appeared on the TV shows Sesame Street and Fame.

In the Eighties Richard Belzer appeared in the movies Author! Author! (1982), Night Shift (1982), Café Flesh (1982),. Flicks (1983), Scarface (1983), Likely Stories, Vol. 3 (1983), America (1986), The Wrong Guys (1988), Freeway (1988), The Big Picture (1989), Fletch Lives (1989), and The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). He guest starred on the shows Not Necessarily the News, Moonlighting, Miami Vice, D.C. Follies, and Tattingers. Richard Belzer had a recurring role as smarmy television reporter Joe Kline on the short-lived television show The Flash

In the Nineties he had a recurring role as the no-nonsense Inspector Henderson on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. It was in 1993 that he began playing Detective John Munch on Homicide: Life on the Streets.John Munch was an acerbic, sceptical police officer who nonetheless believed in several conspiracy theories. Following the end of Homicide: Life on the Streets in 1999, Richard Belzer began appearing in a regular role as John Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. He would ultimately appear on other Law & Order series as well, including the original Law & Order, Law & Order: Trial By Jury as well. Not only did the character appear on other Law & Order shows, but also The X-Files, The Beat, Arrested Development, The Wire, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and American Dad. In the end Richard Belzer played John Munch for 23 years and the character John Munch may well have appeared on more individual television series than any other character in the history of television.

In the Nineties, aside from his appearances as Detective Munch, Richard Belzer also guest starred on such television shows as Monsters, Good Sports, Human Target, Nurses, The Larry Sanders Show, Mad About You, South Park, and 3rd Rock from the Sun. He appeared in the movies Off and Running (1991), Missing Pieces (1991), Mad Dog and Glory (1993), Snake Eyes (1993), North (1994), The Puppet Masters (1994), Not of This Earth (1995), Girl 6 (1996), A Very Brady Sequel (1996), Species II (1998), Jump (1999), and Man on the Moon (1999).

In the Naughts Mr. Belzer continued to appear as Detective Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and other shows. He guest starred on the show Minding the Store. He appeared in the movie Polish Bar (2010). In the Teens he continued starring as John Munch on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and other shows. He guest starred on 30 Rock. He appeared in the movie Santorini Blue (2013). His final television guest appearance was on American Dad, where he played John Munch. His last movie appearance was in The Comedian in 2016, where he played himself. Richard Belzer retired from acting in 2017.

Richard Belzer was also the author of the books How to Be a Stand-Up Comic; UFOs, JFK, and Elvis: Conspiracies You Don't Have to Be Crazy to Believe; and I'm Not a Cop! A Novel.

As a comedian Richard Belzer was a genius. He was known for engaging with his audiences. His comedy act was a balance of friendliness and sarcasm. His humour was often edgy and irreverent. It is little wonder that Mr. Belzer often found himself playing stand-up comics and masters of ceremonies in movies and television shows. He was so perfect as a stand-up comic that it was natural for producers to want to cast him in those sorts of roles.

Of course, Richard Belzer played more roles than stand-up comics and Detective John Munch. On The Flash he played TV commentator and reporter Joe Kline. Unlike many of Mr. Belzer's other characters, Joe Kline is a bit sleazy and much more concerned with his television ratings than the truth. He often proved to be a thorn in The Flash's side just by doing sensationalistic stories about the hero. Inspector Henderson on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was about as far from Joe Kline as one could get. He was straight forward and honest, and dealt fairly with reporters Lois and Clark.

While Richard Belzer did play other roles, I think there can be no doubt that he will always be remembered as Detective John Munch. Not only did he play the character for decades, but he played him on multiple shows. And it is largely because of Richard Belzer that John Munch may be one of the greatest television characters of all time. Detective Munch was cynical and sarcastic. His politics veered towards the left and he had a tendency to believe in conspiracy theories. While John Munch might often doubt the overall honesty of the human race, he ultimately cared about his fellow human beings. If he was dogged in pursuing cases, it was because he cared about the victims of those crimes. It is little wonder that audiences loved and still love John Munch. Richard Belzer brought a humanity to the character that is not often seen in many long-running television characters.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Sammy Davis Jr. Show

Variety shows were a popular format in the Sixties, with such successes as The Hollywood Palace and The Carol Burnett Show. It was also a period when the career of Sammy Davis Jr. was at its height. The singer and actor had appeared in such movies as Ocean's 11 (1960) and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964), as well as such television shows as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Rifleman, and The Danny Thomas Show. He also had a highly successful recording career, having released albums regularly since 1955. A variety show starring Sammy Davis Jr. would seem to have been primed for success. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way for The Sammy Davis Jr. Show.

Although it was short-lived, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show was historic. While variety shows were common in the Fifties and Sixties, there had been only a few Black performers to have hosted them. In 1948 Bob Howard became the first Black performer to host a regularly scheduled show on television. The Bob Howard Show aired once a week on WCBS, New York City's CBS affiliate. In 1950 Hazel Scott became the first Black performer to host a television show on a broadcast network. The Hazel Scott Show aired on the Dumont Television Network from January 3 1950 to September 29 1950. It was on November 5 1956 that The Nat King Cole Show debuted on NBC. Despite the phenomenal success of Nat King Cole, the show was unable to find a national sponsor. As a result, it aired its last edition on December 17 1957. With The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, Sammy Davis Jr. then became only the fourth Black performer to host his own variety show.

Sammy Davis Jr. had long wanted his own television show. He had filmed a pilot for a sitcom called Three for the Road (and alternatively We Three  and Three's Comany) as early as 1953, but it didn't sell. It was in 1965 that Sammy Davis Jr. shot two television specials for ABC, the first of which (Sammy Davis Jr. and the Wonderful World of Children) aired on November 25 1965. Despite having shot two specials for ABC, it was NBC who approached Sammy Davis Jr. about hosting his own variety show. To a degree this should come as no surprise. Sammy Davis Jr. had hosted NBC's rock 'n' roll show Hullabloo several times. Furthermore, NBC's World War II drama Convoy had absolutely bombed on Friday nights, and the network wanted to replace it as quickly as possible.

To produce The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, Joe Hamilton was tapped. Joe Hamilton had produced the highly successful Garry Moore Show, on which he had met his wife Carol Burnett. The writers on The Sammy Davis Jr. Show included Bill Angelos and Buz Kohan. Bill Angelos was a veteran of The Perry Como Show and had written on Sammy Davis Jr.'s special Sammy Davis Jr. and the Wonderful World of Children. Buz Kohan had worked on the TV series Ford Presents the New Christy Minstrels and had also written on the special Sammy Davis Jr. and the Wonderful World of Children. To better acquaint Joe Hamilton, Bill Angelos, and Buz Kohan with his act, Sammy Davis Jr. had them watch every performance of his four nights at the Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami, Florida.

Unfortunately, things would go awry for The Sammy Davis Jr. Show almost immediately. With The Sammy Davis Jr. Show set to debut on January 7 1966, ABC decided to air its second Sammy Davis Jr. special (Sammy and Friends) on February 1 1966. This would not be a problem except ABC had a clause in their contract with Sammy Davis Jr. stating that he could not appear on television 21 days before the special and 8 days afterwards. In other words,after the premiere of The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, Sammy Davis Jr. would not be able to host his own show for a month. Unfortunately, NBC would not move the premiere date of The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, nor would ABC air the special at an earlier date in December 1965. ABC even refused an offer from Sammy Davis Jr. to buy the special.

NBC reran the classic television special Peter Pan in the timeslot of The Sammy Davis Jr. Show one night, which left the network and Sammy Davis Jr. with only three guest hosts to find for the show. Ultimately, it would be Johnny Carson, Sean Connery, and Jerry Lewis who would substitute for Sammy Davis Jr. on the show.

If the inability of Sammy Davis Jr. to host his own show was not enough of a problem, a greater problem may have been the critical lambasting the show's premiere received. Sammy Davis Jr.'s guests on the first show were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the megastars of the highest calibre. Unfortunately, Sammy Davis Jr.'s interview with the two stars turned out to be rather dull, as did Sammy Davis Jr., Elizabeth Taylor, and Richard Burton's musical performances. Critics tore the show apart. Tom Mackin of The Newark Evening News commented, "Although no one knows what makes Sammy run, Liz and Dick slowed him to a walk."

The premiere having received blistering reviews from critics, Sammy Davis Jr. then changed the format of the show so that it would more allow himself to be himself. He returned to The Sammy Davis Jr. Show on February 11, with guests Trini Lopez, Paula Wayne, and Corbett Monica. As much as critics hated the premiere episode, they loved the February 11 episode. Further episodes of The Sammy Davis Jr. Show also received good reviews. What is more, the show featured an all-star line-up of guests, including The Supremes, Tom Jones, Judy Garland, Peter Lawford, Diahann Carroll, Mel Torme, and yet others.

Unfortunately, while critics loved The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, the show was faltering in the ratings. The Sammy Davis Jr. Show had received incredible ratings on its premiere, ranking ninth for the week. Sadly, the television audience may have had the same reaction to the premiere as critics and simply did not tune back in. It probably did not help that it aired opposite Hogan's Heroes (which would rank 9th for the year) and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (which ranked no. 2 for the year) on CBS. By February 21 1966, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show had dropped to 100 in the Nielsen ratings.

It was in March 1966 that NBC put out its fall schedule, with The Sammy Davis Jr. Show conspicuously missing. Having failed in the ratings, the show was cancelled. In reaction to the cancellation the NAACP picketed NBC and even promoted a letter writing campaign, but in the end The Sammy Davis Jr. Show remained cancelled. While it might be tempting to chalk the cancellation of The Sammy Davis Jr. Show to racism, it seems likely any show that received ratings that low would be cancelled. The following season The Tammy Grimes Show on ABC was cancelled after only four episodes after similarly disastrous ratings.

In February 1966 a studio album The Sammy Davis Jr. Show was released to take advantage of the new variety show. It was a collection of recording from five different recording sessions from 1961 to 1966. It proved more successful than the television show it was named for, receiving good reviews and selling quite well.

Sadly, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show is not widely available. It has never been released on VHS or DVD. The only way to watch the show currently is at the Paley Centre for Media, which has every episode except two.

While it only lasted briefly and did poorly in the ratings, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show would be historic as one of the earliest variety shows hosted by an African American. Despite its failure, it paved the way for further variety shows with Black hosts. It would be around five years after The Sammy Davis Jr. Show ended its run that The Flip Wilson Show debuted. Unlike The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, The Flip Wilson Show would prove to be a success, topping the ratings in its first season.