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Dean Martin Show

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Martin with guest Florence Henderson, 1968.

The Dean Martin Show also known as The Dean Martin Variety Show is a TV varietycomedy series that ran from 1965 to 1974 for 264 episodes. It was broadcast by NBC and hosted by crooner Dean Martin. The theme song to the series was his 1964 hit “Everybody Loves Somebody.”

Development

Martin was initially reluctant to do the show, partially because he did not want to turn down movie and nightclub performances. His terms were deliberately outrageous: he demanded a high salary and that he need only show up for the actual taping of the show. To his surprise the network agreed. As daughter Deana Martin recalled after meeting the network and making his demands Martin returned home and announced to his family, “They went for it. So now I have to do it.”

Martin believed that an important key to his popularity was that he did not put on airs. His act was that of a drunken, work-shy playboy, although the ever-present old-fashioned glass in his hand often only had apple juice in it. The show was heavy on physical comedy rather than just quips (he made his weekly entrance by sliding down a fireman’s pole onto the stage.) Martin read his dialogue directly from cue cards. If he flubbed a line or forgot a lyric, Martin would not do a retake, and the mistake — and his recovery from it — went straight to tape and onto the air.

The Dean Martin Show was shot on color videotape beginning in 1965 at Studio 4 Stage 1 inside NBC’s massive color complex at 3000 West Alameda Avenue in Burbank, California. The same studio was used for Frank Sinatra‘s yearly TV specials in the late 1960s, and Elvis Presley’s 1968 “Comeback Special”. Studio 4 is currently one of two used in the production of the soap opera Days Of Our Lives.

Regular segments

  • Martin sang two solo numbers per show, one a serious ballad. He would join his weekly guests in song medleys, trading lyrics back and forth. Some of these duets were deliberately played for laughs—Dean and Liberace, for example—with special lyrics by Lee Hale to suit the performers.
  • One recurring segment was based on Martin’s club act, in which he would begin to sing a popular song and suddenly insert a gag punchline. Martin often tried to make his pianist, Ken Lane, laugh hard enough to break his concentration. The segment usually began with Martin leaping onto Lane’s piano; in one episode the real piano was secretly replaced with a phony one. When Martin did his leap the entire faux-piano collapsed under his weight, all to the surprise and delight of the studio audience.
  • A knock on the “closet” door occurred each week, with Martin opening the door to reveal an unannounced celebrity guest. Most of the time, Martin did not know who the guest would be, to keep his reactions more spontaneous, according to Hale’s bookBackstage at the Dean Martin Show.
  • A regular gag during one season was the “Mystery Voice Contest,” wherein Dean invited viewers to write in to guess who was singing a particular song. Invariably, it was the famous Frank Sinatra hit “Strangers in the Night.” Finally on one episode, Sinatra himself showed up to announce that he was the mystery singer. Martin dutifully handed over the prize — a trip to Los Angeles, the city where the two of them already lived.
  • The finale was typically a production number featuring Dean and the guest stars. Occasionally it would be a musical sketch with Martin appearing as “Dino Vino,” a disc jockey who played old records. A vintage record would then be heard, with Dean and his cronies mouthing the words and pantomiming outrageously for comic effect.
  • One of the most highly rated of Martin’s programs was a Christmas episode featuring only his and Frank Sinatra‘s family members: Martin’s wife Jeanne with children Craig, Claudia, Gail, Deana, Dean Paul, Ricci and Gina along with Sinatra’s three children, Tina, Nancy and Frank Jr.

Regulars and recurring guests

In later seasons, many regular performers were added, such as Dom DeLuise and Nipsey Russell in sketches set in a barber shop; Kay Medford and Lou Jacobi in sketches set in a diner, and Medford also pretending to be the mother of Martin’s pianist, Ken Lane.Leonard BarrGuy MarksTom BosleyMarian MercerCharles Nelson Reilly, and Rodney Dangerfield were also featured on multiple occasions, while bandleader Les Brown was a regular.

During the inaugural 1965-1966 season, The Krofft Puppets were seen regularly. Their stint, however, only lasted 8 episodes.   Sid and Marty Krofft were fired because Martin felt he was being upstaged by their puppets.

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