Pop Life

Five Musical Acts Who Need TV Variety Shows

A few weeks ago, NBC unveiled Maya & Marty, a good old-fashioned network-television variety show. These types of programs dominated the airwaves way back in the ultra-hip 1970s, and frequently the hosts of the shows were musicians. This new entry is hosted by Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, who have some musical talent and pedigree. She’s the daughter of 1970s R&B chanteuse Minnie Riperton, of “Loving You” fame. He’s sung in numerous Broadway musicals, but most would still consider Maya and Marty comedians first and singers second.

The variety shows of days past were filled with musical numbers, sometimes played straight and sometimes used as setups for comedic skits. Sonny & Cher, Donny & Marie, the Captain & Tennille…these ampersanded acts all had long-running variety shows. The Osmond siblings, in fact, are still a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll (from their TV show’s trademark song) with a long-running Las Vegas act that recalls their hit TV program. So pay attention, modern day musicians — there’s a future in cranking up a variety show now. Here are five acts the network bigwigs should start inquiring about, plus one to grow on.

The husband-and-wife team was a popular variety show format. Tall, lovely and talented Cher good-naturedly ribbed her schlub of a husband, Sonny Bono, week after week. Toni Tennille lorded over her piano-playing, mostly silent partner, Daryl Dragon (aka "The Captain"). The arrangement definitely put the ladies first back in the '70s, so the best modern-day couple to fall perfectly into this design is Beyonce and Jay-Z. Such a power duo would be able to draw from the best comedy writers around. They could book top-rate musical guests, but who needs 'em when you have two performers of this caliber with a collective backlog of hits from which to choose? One note though, before these Lemonade-sippers sign up — Sonny, Cher, The Captain and Tennille all wound up in divorce court after their shows ended.

One of the best variety shows of all time, The Muppet Show, was nearly buried in the foam rubble of ABC’s The Muppets last year. Mercifully, Kermit and the gang were relieved of their duties, cancelled and stopped short of reliving Michael Scott and friends on a bad day at The Office. But we shouldn’t be doomed to a Muppet-less world because of a few wrong steps. Let’s bring them back soon in the tried and true format, which could be facilitated by the weird and wonderful humor/songwriting of Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement. McKenzie has already worked with the team and earned an Oscar for his songwriting work from 2011's The Muppets movie.  They'd be great to see on camera occasionally, but their inventive writing could give the show the edge last year's failed project missed. One routine is ready-made for them – Kermit, talking trash about the day's dubious events in a bit called But That's None of My Business.

You can book all the talent in the world for a show like this but if there's no connection with the audience, it'll never fly. You’ve got to have some personality, baby, and The Suffers have it with lots to spare. This is why Tony Orlando and Dawn had a hit variety show: even when they were new, their songs were corny and past their time, but the TV show thrived because of the chemistry between the trio. Imagine that dynamic, times 3.333, with much better songs. That's what The Suffers variety hour would look like. You can see the animated Chapy Luna providing comic relief. Just picture those happy TV producers, so thrilled by the band's epic work ethic. Imagine Kam Franklin given weekly opportunities to polish what is already a confident, cool TV demeanor. Envision the whole group in its arms-to-the-sky formation, a move that’s ready to rival Carol Burnett’s ear tug (1970s references abound here). Foresee David Letterman returning to TV as the show's first guest.

Bruno Mars has already shot down network TV pitches for the Bruno Mars Hour, right? Surely some producers have approached Mars on the strength of his Super Bowl halftime performances, some of the best-received, big time, prime-time sets this side of Prince’s classic turn at SBXLI. Mars is more than just a gifted singer, he’s a showman, which is the kind of person you want to bet all your ratings chips on. He’s got a knack for comedic acting, too. If you need a reminder of just how insanely suited for something like this Mars would be, summon that Saturday Night Live clip where Mars turns Rich Little (another ‘70s reference!) and impersonates Michael Jackson, Justin Bieber and others.


The No. 1 choice for a vehicle of this nature is Justin Timberlake. He's already hyper-friendly with the executive producer of Maya & Marty, his old pal Lorne Michaels. But even if they hated each other passionately, Michaels would have to give in to Timberlake’s assorted talents. The man can sing, dance and make ‘em laugh. He's an EGOT waiting to happen. Giving him a TV vehicle like this could earn him an Emmy but at worst we'd all just be wildly entertained during its run. He's a serious musician who could bring big name acts to the small screen. C’mon networks...bring it on down to TV-ville!

When Grande appeared on SNL, she tried her hand at impressions, too, in a rehash of Mars’ Pandora skit (she was called in to save Tidal) and she was brilliant. She broke through on television, in Nickelodeon series, so she knows her way around a soundstage. She’s got several acting credits on her resume and, of course, a voice that’s better than most of those voices on The Voice. But what makes her perfect for a gig like this is her likeability. She’s less hated than some of her contemporaries who are regularly the butts of jokes and trolls (you know who they are). Practically anyone who can set aside petty jealousy can see the woman is talented. Who wouldn’t want to see that talent every Wednesday night at 9 o’clock, 8 Central?
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.