The great writing/producing team of Allan Blye and Bob Einstein ('Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour', 'Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour') had a long string of variety show failures and short runs in the seventies, most of them excellent television despite lackluster ratings. The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour was one of those high-profile failures, but it was also of the most adventurous variety shows of the seventies.
The press played up the story that Redd Foxx left NBC because they wouldn't give him a window for his dressing room - inexplicable because Foxx was one of the network's biggest stars. Sanford and Son was so hot for NBC it was running two nights a week during the summer of 1976 and five times a week in the mornings.
More likely it was the big money ABC was offering that got the star to jump ship; essentially, the alphabet network lured Foxx away from NBC to get ratings powerhouse Sanford and Son off the air (it worked). The success of Redd Foxx's new show was relatively unimportant to the network.
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There was a great deal of turmoil surrounding the production, exacerbated by guns and drugs on the set. As a result, when Demond Wilson asked NBC for a huge raise to be the solo star of 'Sanford and Son' sans Redd Foxx, NBC passed - remembering Wilson's huge cocaine habit, rampant paranoia and reports that he once chased Norman Lear down the hall with a gun.
NBC's successor to 'Sanford and Son' was 'Sanford Arms' starring familiar characters - LaWanda 'Aunt Ester' Page, Whitman 'Grady' Mayo, Don 'Bubba' Bexley, Raymond 'Woody' Allen and Theodore Wilson. The series debuted in the fall of 1977 but lasted only a month.
Meanwhile over at ABC, the The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour was scheduled for Thursday nights at ten starting September 15, 1977 with guest-star LaWanda Page in a racy massage parlor routine that had ABC censors on their toes.
Redd Foxx was a seasoned nightclub performer; he used the one-hour format to reveal more of himself on this series (he was also executive producer), often addressing the problems the show was having in his monologues.
Famous for decades for his dirty humor, Foxx joked in the first episode that. "The only thing I can do from my nightclub act is smoke." 'The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour' marked the first appearance of Bob Einstein's 'Super Dave Osborne' character and the return of Andy Kaufman's surrealistic routines to primetime television.
Regular features included 'Redd's Corner' (a showcase for comedians that Foxx had worked with on the club circuit), 'The History of the Negro in America' (through the eyes of Redd Foxx), and confrontations with large and sassy JoMarie Payton , who provided the show's regular female foil, like Aunt Ester did on 'Sanford and Son'. Only now crude fat jokes were added to the formula.
JoMarie Payton (AKA - Harriette Winslow from the long running ABC show "Family Matters" w/ Steve Urkle) tells TVparty, "I came across your (wonderful) website by accident. It was the highlight of my day.
"I played the character of "Georgia Brown" the jazz singer with Redd, Slappy, Prince Spencer and Gerald Wilson was the musical director. The sketch segments were titled, Dr. Sausage and the Pork Chops where Redd played the band leader. It was a New Orleans type setting and the theme song was "Sweet Lorraine" and I was dressed kind of like Bessie Smith. Costumes were by Bill Whitten.
"I also played the character of Redd's wife "Victoria" in the Alphonse and Victoria sketches. These two characters emerged again in the TV series "The Royal Family" with Redd and Della Reese. I did all the shows for that short but wonderful run (12 or 13 shows).
"I remember it well because it was my first national television debut and I truly loved Redd. We had some real good talks and I met some really super artists. This was a huge springboard for me. I got a holding contract from ABC and a costarring role in a pilot at Paramount Studios. I sang the theme song and the pilot was directed by Jimmy Burrows ('Will and Grace' fame). I was 27 years old then and I am a happy 52 now."
The stellar cast also included comedy veterans Slappy White, Billy Barty, Hal Smith (Drunken Otis on 'The Andy Griffith Show'), Bill Saluga (as Raymond J. "You doesn't have to call me" Johnson) and "Iron Jaw" Wilson who could pick up tables and chairs with his teeth. In the show's introduction, a list of guest stars not appearing on the program was read.
Redd Foxx often took questions from the audience, which led to some hilarious exchanges and gave the comedian a chance to exhibit his razor sharp wit. The sketches were better than the usual variety fare, with Redd 'walking off the set' in the middle of routines over differences with the producers, and just generally acting the petulant, spoiled superstar role.
The show was an undisciplined, unbridled affair - brilliant when it worked, odd but interesting when it didn't - coming off like a variety show produced in the 'Bizarro' world.
"I'm going to do anything that can possibly be different from what's been done before," Redd Foxx said at the time. "I'll be doing skits, bits, obnoxious things. I might do 'Romeo and Juliet' with a gorilla."
Perhaps it was all too different. 'The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour' was axed due to low ratings on January 26, 1978.
years after the series went off the air, I had some work to drop off
at the Redd Foxx building in Hollywood. As I was leaving, I noticed
the janitor looked familiar and did a double take. It was "Iron Jaw"
brings you these sound clips from
The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour:
LaWanda Page and Redd Foxx clash for the last time ever on television. The setup was that they were waiting in line for tickets (in 1978) for the 1984 Olympics.
Monologue from an early episode of The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour. I liked the fact that they always left the flubs in.
"I was pleasantly surprised to see an area of your site dedicated to the Redd Foxx variety show. I recall that being one of the better of the genre at the time - I know my late Dad loved it and was very sad when it wasn't renewed. I remember one of the greatest bits I ever saw took place on that show. There was no dialogue in a skit where Redd played a poor man in a small apartment at Christmas time who obviously could not afford a Christmas tree. Rather than let that get him down, he simply "made" a tree out of things he had lying around the apartment and decorated it.
"Truly a classic heart-tugging bit that I am surprised did not become a Christmas 'classic.' I also remember quite a bit of controversy from one episode when they 'interrupted' the show to do a bit on Farrah Fawcett-Majors contract dispute with Charlie's Angels at the time. They made it look for all intents and proposes like they were breaking in with a REAL Special Report, and you simply didn't do things like that in those days!
"I recall seeing a big piece in the paper about how mad ABC News was about the show doing that, and they had to promise never to do it again! Interestingly, David Letterman got in similar hot water with the NBC News people years later for doing the same thing - a fake Special Report that looked a little TOO much like the real thing! Anyway, just wanted to let you know your site jogged those memories out of the deep, dark recesses of my brain - at least what's left of it!"
- Regards, Pete Cipriano
THE REDD FOXX SHOW
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