Jonathan Winters Show, The (1967-1969)

I doubt there’s a comedian anywhere who doesn’t hail Jonathan Winters as one of the greats, and whenever I’ve been around the man, I’ve seen an unending stream of people stop to tell him he’s the funniest man alive. With such unanimity of opinion, it’s amazing that Winters hasn’t had more steady work on television. What he does, he does better than anyone…but producers have sometimes been unable to package it in a format that fit neatly into a TV schedule.

The first Jonathan Winters Show was a fifteen-minute program that ran from 1956 to 1957 on NBC, following the evening newscast which then was fifteen minutes in length. It lasted about nine months.

In the mid-sixties, Winters starred in a string of network specials that got high ratings and good reviews, and appeared as a semi-regular on The Andy Williams Show. It all led to CBS, in 1967, installing him in the second Jonathan Winters Show. Most of the show consisted of sketches in which Winters played characters from his repertoire, especially the irrepressible Maude Frickert. Comedian Dick Curtis appeared in most sketches, usually as straight man, and one of the show’s producers, John Aylesworth, functioned as announcer and occasional performer. In addition to them, a number of stars turned up often enough to be considered semi-regulars: Abby Dalton, Paul Lynde, Alice Ghostley, Minnie Pearl and Cliff “Charley Weaver” Arquette.

The highlight of most episodes was the opening, which pretty much consisted of Jonathan standing on stage, letting the audience suggest characters and scenes for him to improvise. Folks at the network suggested that the staff devise some good premises and have them planted among the legitimate suggestions, but Jonathan insisted that not be done. A friend of mine who worked on the show said it wasn’t done and it wasn’t necessary…though of course, they did tape much more than was needed and edit it down for air.

The two above tickets are for the dress rehearsal and taping for the episode produced on October 14, 1968, midway through its second and final season. Later, Winters starred in several other shows, specials and unsuccessful pilots but there never seemed to be a permanent home on TV for the funniest man alive. Our loss.