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Something To Laugh About: TV Comedy, From Milton Berle to David Letterman

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Monday, December 11, 2023 - 6:30 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0319
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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David Letterman with guest Teri Garr, 1982

From commercial television’s earliest days, making people laugh was a central goal of TV programmers. Successful radio formats like the situation comedy and the comedy-variety show were re-created for TV in the late 1940s, joined a few years later by the medium’s own innovation, the late-night comedy talk show. For the next seven decades, these three formats dominated the airwaves, showcased by brilliant comedians such as Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner, and Jerry Seinfeld.

Media historian Brian Rose surveys the extraordinary landscape of American TV comedy, examining how comedy evolved from the vaudeville shtick of Milton Berle and the slapstick artistry of Lucille Ball to relevant sitcoms like All in The Family and M*A*S*H, the social satire of Saturday Night Live, a twist on the sitcom with The Jeffersons, and the self-reflexive absurdities of David Letterman and The Simpsons.

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