Tony Orlando & Dawn

Before he “made it,” Tony Orlando drifted back and forth between working behind the scenes in the record business and in front of the microphone. Once he and two back-up singers scored big with “Candida,” “Knock Three Times” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree,” TV execs came calling, hoping the replicate the success of Sonny and Cher in a variety format. Orlando and the two ladies who comprised Dawn (Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson) didn’t quite have the same knack for snappy and mutually-insulting banter but their show had enough music and enough energy, as well as a stellar array of guests. It debuted as a summer series in 1974 and managed to stick around until December of ’76. For its last gasp, it was renamed The Tony Orlando and Dawn Rainbow Hour, as a way of signalling that it was undergoing some kind of unspecified revamp. The new title doesn’t seem to have meant much difference to anyone.

The reference on one of the above tickets to the audience being seen on camera refers to a weekly segment in which Orlando would wade out into the crowd, perform in the aisles and sometimes get audience members up to sing and dance with him. It became a signature routine of his and one that sparked battles amidst the show’s production staff and at the network, some of whom felt it was amateurish. The live audience loved it (no surprise) and each week, the producers would way overtape such material, then quarrel in the editing room over how much to include. There’d be pointed arguments that every song that Tony performed with a fat lady in an aisle seat meant they’d have to cut out a polished, rehearsed musical spot with one of the show’s well-paid and professional guest stars. On the other hand, even those who fought for less audience numbers had to admit that Tony was never better than when he and his fans were energizing one another. He had a genuine love for the people who came to see his shows tape (and vice-versa) and that probably is what is best remembered from that series.