Jerry Lewis has had a checkered career on television. He and Dean Martin scored big on The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950-1955) where they were among the show’s rotating hosts. A series of specials did well but then in 1963, he attempted a two-hour live variety/talk show for ABC that was one of television’s most spectacular disasters. It was supposed to be a two-year “firm” committment but after dismal ratings and killer reviews, Lewis announced he was too busy with his film career to do television and exited after thirteen weeks.
Four years later, that film career was starting to fade and he reappeared on NBC with a more conventional variety series done, unlike his earlier efforts which were all live, on tape. It debuted on September 19, 1967 to indifferent response and disappointing ratings. (Lewis was said to have been unamused by the unidentified person who, the day before his debut, papered the NBC studios and Lewis’s car with signs that said, “Ban the bomb before it goes off.”) But NBC believed that Jerry might catch on, as his former partner had with The Dean Martin Show, and kept the fesitivities going for two years. The final broadcast was May 27, 1969.
It was not a great show. Jerry seemed to have trouble relating to any guest or topic that couldn’t have been on the old Colgate Comedy Hour. Many of the guests and jokes actually did date back that far. The sketches were weak and much of the show was devoted to Jerry’s questionable singing talents. Some people seem to recall that during this period, he and Dean exchanged cameo guest appearances but that never happened. Dean did, however, take time on his show to ask people to watch Jerry’s first episode.
Jerry Lewis never had another TV series after that…unless you count his annual Labor Day telethon to benefit Muscular Dystrophy. In 1984, he starred in a week of pilot episodes for a talk show. Thought he trotted out heavyweight guest stars — including Frank Sinatra on the opener — the show didn’t click. Reviewers faulted it (rightly) for devoting way too much of its air time to the host, the guests and sidekick Charlie Callas all discussing the greatness of each other. Since then, Jer has been a frequent guest star on other shows, slowly ascending to Legend status. My favorite of all his appearances was one night when he was on with David Letterman and Dave asked him, as a personal favor, just to run around the stage and act crazy. Jerry was a bit puzzled but he obliged.