The Jack Benny Program
Synopsis of TV Show
Not every big-time radio star was able to make the transition to television in the 1950’s, but then, not every big-time radio star was as consistently funny as Jack Benny. The star of radio’s The Jack Benny Program made an easy switch to television, bringing most of his famous radio co-stars along for one of television’s early highlights.
TV’s The Jack Benny Program first appeared in 1950, but Benny was initially cautious about his television foray. Still appearing weekly on his radio program, Benny made a series of ten specials from 1950-52, each of which was warmly received by the viewing public. In 1953, the show began airing on a bi-weekly basis, and radio’s notorious cheapskate was now a TV fixture.
Very little changed in the transition from radio to television: Jack was still a penny-pincher, still drove his wreck of a Maxwell, still insisted he was perpetually 39 years old, and still projected the kind of blustering ego that had made him an audience favorite since the early 1930’s. Jack’s gravel-throated valet Rochester Van Johnson was there too, as were tubby announcer Don Wilson, Mary Livingstone (Jack’s real-life wife), dim singer Dennis Day, the incredibly rude Frank Nelson (“Yeeeeeeeeesss?”) and Jack’s violin teacher Professor Le Blanc (played by cartoon voice king Mel Blanc, who also made the Maxwell’s engine noises).
On any given show, Benny might make room for a musical interlude or celebrity guest appearance (everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Frank Sinatra to Humphrey Bogart), but there were always ample opportunities to dive into the Benny treasure trove of trademarked comedy: a trip to Benny’s well-guarded money vault, an argument with announcer Wilson, torment from Nelson, torment of Professor Le Blanc, or simply a very well-timed look of disbelief out at the home audience. Whatever the set-up, the gags were priceless, and television audiences were on the floor in stitches.
The Jack Benny Program went weekly in 1960, and it remained a popular choice through its remaining five years on television. In 1965, after more than 30 years of regular performances on radio and television, Benny took a bit of a break, returning to film the occasional TV special over the next decade. The supposed miserly egomaniac (a very nice guy in real life, by all accounts) passed away in 1974, but his legacy of radio and television comedy survives today. One look or listen is all it takes to prove that The Jack Benny Program not only managed to make the jump from radio to television, it has made the jump from old-time favorite to timeless comedy classic.
Release History of Prime Time Show10/28/50 - 9/15/64 CBS
9/25/64 - 9/10/65 NBC
TV Sub Categoriescomedy
Television NetworkCBS, NBC
TV CastJack Benny Himself
Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson Himself
Don Wilson Himself
Dennis Day Himself
Mary Livingstone Herself (Zelda Marx)
Various Frank Nelson
Various Artie Auerbach
Professor Le Blanc, various Mel Blanc
The Maxwell Mel Blanc