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A descendant of Vaudeville: an anthology of unrelated performances, some musical, some comedic. The first breakout television shows were variety shows, most notably The Ed Sullivan Show. Important examples include The Carol Burnett Show, The Jackie Gleason Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. As you might notice, many such shows were named for the host.

This format fell out of favor in the early 1980s. Cable (particularly MTV and HBO) provided alternate outlets for the music, stand-up comedy, and miscellaneous acts that were the bread-and-butter of these shows, and viewers no longer had to sit through three acts they weren't interested in for the sake of one that they wanted to see. Moreover, fatigue with the genre had sprung up in The SeventiesDonny and Marie and Sonny and Cher were only the best-known examples in a decade that also brought us increasingly corny shows toplined by such acts as The Brady Bunch and the Bay City Rollers. One-shot and annual specials such as Circus of the Stars persisted into the early 1990s, but even those are now relatively rare.

Occasional attempts to revive the genre (on networks or cable) have been doomed to failure, though some might argue that Sketch Comedy shows such as Saturday Night Live, the late-night Talk Show format, and reality competitions such as American Idol and America's Got Talent keep the form on life support.

Producers of the British Sitcom The Young Ones booked a band for a guest appearance in every episode; musical performances qualified the series as a variety show, and it was therefore permitted a larger budget than usual for a BBC sitcom.

Examples of Variety Show include:
  • Many an American Christmas Special is this, including the notorious The Star Wars Holiday Special.
  • The Brady Bunch Hour
  • The Carol Burnett Show
  • Donny and Marie
  • The Ed Sullivan Show
  • The Muppet Show — Somewhere between a straight example and a spoof of this genre.
  • Pink Lady and Jeff — This 1980 NBC flop was the arguable Genre Killer.
  • The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
  • Solstrom — A Widget Series take on the format: This 2003 limited-run series produced by Cirque Du Soleil had whimsical fantasy storylines brought to life via a selection of circus/variety acts from both within and without Cirque's live shows.
  • This Is Tom Jones
  • The last legitimate attempt at a traditional Variety Show on American network television was 1987's Dolly, starring Dolly Parton - it lasted one season and was considered a huge gamble even then.
  • A radio example would be A Prairie Home Companion.
  • Technically, by having bands on The Young Ones was considered a variety show. (This was because variety got a higher budget than light entertainment at the BBC.)