During his 45 years in television programming, Bob Banner has been involved in many television “firsts.”
None was more personal, nor is remembered with more fondness, then “The Carol Burnett Show” on CBS.
Banner, Burnett and her husband, Joe Hamilton, who was co-producing the show with Banner, went to dinner after the first couple of programs had been taped, but not yet aired.
Banner was thoughtful. Something was bothering him. For the first two tapings , Burnett had come out in a yellow robe and done a kind of warm-up with the audience, conducting Q&A sessions. These appearances weren’t taped.
At dinner, Burnett recalls, Banner said, “‘Carol, you’ve got to go out there and be yourself.”‘
“I don’t know how to be myself,” Burnett replied. “I can only be characters in sketches like I was on Garry’s show. I get nervous.”
But Banner was firm, Burnett remembers. “What we’re going to do is we’re going to tape the warm-up, the questions and answers,” Banner told her.
Burnett was apprehensive. “Nobody will ever believe that those are not plants in the audience,” she said. “We can’t tape that, Bob. It’ll bomb.”
“Just try it,” Banner advised. “Trust me.”
And that, of course, was the opening of “The Carol Burnett Show” for 11 years. It turned out to be Burnett’s TV signature.
“It proved to be one of the most popular segments because it got the show off to an honest start,” comments Burnett.
Recounting the critical decision recently, Burnett said, “Joe and I trusted him enough to say ‘OK,let’s go for it.’ And we did and it worked.”
That experience is one of the reasons Burnett calls Banner “the velvet hammer.”
Other Banner “firsts” include:
- On the staff of “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” one of TV’s first, longest-running and most loved children’s series.
- Director of “Garroway At Large,” TV’s first informal talk show and the forerunner to “The Today Show,””The Tonight Show” and “David Letterman” (NBC).
- Producer-director of “The Fred Waring Show,” Sunday night’s first big-band, comedy-variety show performed before a studio audience (CBS).
- Director of “Omnibus,” the prototype cultural series and model for subsequent PBS programs (CBS).
- Director of the first opera to appear on television, “La Boheme,” for “Omnibus” in 1953.
- Director of the first televised ballet, “Billy the Kid,” for “Omnibus” in 1953.
- Producer-director of “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show,” one of the first television variety series to achieve major success with a woman as host (NBC).
- Demonstrating the first color compatible TV show to President Dwight Eisenhower: “The Dinah Shore Chevy Show” (NBC).
- Helping to open the color studios in Burbank, again via “Dinah” and “Frank Sinatra” segments for specials (NBC).
- Producer of the “Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall” special, first TV show to win the Golden Rose Award (first place) at Montreux (Switzerland) Film Festival.
- Producer of “The Jimmy Dean Show,” first prime-time network series to star a feature country singer and feature Country and Western music exclusively (ABC).
- Executive producer of “Candid Camera,” resurrecting the previously moribund program for its long run as a highly successful, prime-time entry (CBS).
- Executive producer of the highly acclaimed “The Carol Burnett Show,” the last of the successful comedy-variety series with a regular cast (CBS).
- Executive producer of “My Sweet Charlie,” probably the first made-for television movie to deal with racial issues and the first to receive a theatrical release. Patty Duke won an Emmy for her portrayal of a pregnant, white southern girl–the first given to a TV movie performance.
- Executive producer of the “Peggy Fleming Visits the Soviet Union” special in 1973, the first international co-production with the former U.S.S.R. (NBC).
- Executive producer of “A Salute to American Imagination,” commemorating Ford Motor Co.’s 75th anniversary (CBS).
- Executive producer of “Solid Gold,” the first prime-time series to feature contemporary music stars since the “Ed Sullivan Show,” the first Operation Prime Time special to become a regular series, and one of the precursors to MTV: Music Television and first-run syndication. “Solid Gold” cleared 92% of U.S. markets its initial season, the most stations ever at the time for syndicated series premier (Syndication).
- Executive producer of “It’s Showtime at the Apollo,” a prime-time variety series serving as show-case for black performers, taped before live audience at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre (syndication).
- Executive producer of “Star Search,” TV’s biggest, glossiest talent show; many alumni going on to showbiz careers (syndication).
- Executive producer of the Dionne Warwick AIDS concert in 1988 at the Kennedy Center, the first televised concert for the benefit of AIDS research.