The Flip Wilson Show
Synopsis of TV Show
“The devil made me do it!”
Variety shows were everywhere in the 1970’s, but The Flip Wilson Show was the first starring an African American comedian/host. It was groundbreaking for that, and also for its short, but incredibly highly-rated, run on the Thursday night TV slate—for a few years, it was All in the Family at number one, and The Flip Wilson Show at number two.
Wilson, whose first name was Clerow, got his nickname because his wild stories used to “flip” people out. He was already a well-known stand-up comedian and Tonight Show frequenter when NBC asked him to host his own hour show. Though Wilson was very private off camera (like all talk show hosts, with the exception of Old Stoneface Ed Sullivan, who seemed gregarious everywhere but his show), onstage he loved to chew the scenery.
Flip's best-known characters included Reverend Leroy, the ethically-challenged pastor of the Church of What’s Happening Now; Freddie Johnson, Flip’s everyday, regular guy; Danny Danger, private investigator; Herbie the Good Time Ice Cream Man; and probably most hysterical of all, Geraldine. This sassy straight-talker was really Wilson in drag. She had a boyfriend named “Killer,” she yakked it up with a variety of the show’s guests and proclaimed often—to the audience’s delight—that, “What you see is what you get!”
Most of the show’s proceedings unfolded on a sparsely decorated circular stage, surrounded by audience members. Wilson would start off with his monologues, often containing stories that lasted five minutes or more, and then move on to ad-lib laden skits with his guests. The bits were rehearsed for five days prior to taping, an arduous rehearsal schedule for TV, but Wilson, who wrote about a third of the material, was a perfectionist. It paid off, because he attracted the biggest stars the seventies had to offer—John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Dean Martin, Bill Crosby, Bing Crosby, Johnny Carson (who, with Redd Foxx, “discovered” Wilson), and Richard Pryor, several times.
Whether he was in a dress or not, Wilson was one of the most well-loved TV comedians of the 70's. And his show was also one of the last times just one man helmed a variety program—nothing but Flip's repertoire of characters, a closet full of costumes, and a bellyful of laughs.
Release History of Prime Time Show9/17/70 - 6/27/74 NBC
TV Sub Categoriesvariety
TV CastHost Flip Wilson
Performers The Jack Regas Dancers
Music The George Wyle Orchestra