The last time I did one of these Classic Television Thursday posts (and I apologize for the intervening weeks, but what with the holidays and life intervening as you’ve noticed, I’m sure, my posting here lately has simply been on the sparse side), I posted a few of the Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts just to give you a taste of what they were like. Today I’ll go into a bit more about them.
From 1965-1974 Dean Martin hosted one of the most popular variety shows on television. The show aired on Thursday nights on NBC except for the final year which saw it move to Friday night. It’s during this final season that the show changed, and upon which I want to focus today.
Due to declining ratings during the show’s eighth season it was decided that it was time to retool things. During this season, a series of “Man of the Week Celebrity Roast”s were added to the weekly offerings, and these proved to be very popular with the television audience. Therefore, rather than renewing The Dean Martin Show for a tenth seaon, NBC decided to work with Martin on this format and signed him to a series of specials, including roast specials. Martin was agreeable to this because it actually meant less work for him, while still keeping his name in the spotlight.
The first specials, which began airing early in 1974 with a roast of Bob Hope were shot in California before they finally moved to a permanent home in the Las Vegas MGM Grand Hotel’s Ziegfeld Room. For 10 years, from October 1974 to December 1984, Martin held court as roastmaster as some of Hollywood’s and Vegas’s top comedians and other celebrities would come together in a Friar’s Club style roast to playfully chide and or insult one of their fellow celebrities about his or her career. Then, at the end, the “honoree” would get a chance to take to the dais to respond to these quips and taunts with a few sharp lines of their own. Unlike some later iterations of the celebrity roast (I’m thinking particularly of the Comedy Central iteration of the concept) all of this was obviously meant as good, relatively clean fun as opposed to an occasion to see who could be the most insulting to the guest of honor.
Actually, I feel like I should go back and clarify a bit. Though Martin did indeed havea 10 year contract with NBC to do these specials, there were actually only 5 of them produced, with none airing from 1980-83, and the show finally returning with a few specials in 1984 to wrap up Martin’s obligations and fulfill the terms of the contract.
Okay, I’ve nattered on enough. Now I think it’s time to just sit back and enjoy a few more of these roasts, beginning with a roast of the man himself. Have fun!