The Boob Tube #44: The Rich Little Show

The Rich Little Show was a mid-season replacement in 1975, and somehow managed to last until 1976.  It was a time when everyone had their own variety show, so why not Rich Little?  Well, I'll tell you why not.

Before I launch into things, let me preface it by saying I have immense respect for Rich Little.  The guy definitely payed his dues on the talk show circuit, night clubs, and celebrity specials.  The dude was everywhere.  But he never quite connected with the younger generation the way, say a Steve Martin could.  His impersonations were of John Wayne, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Stewart and Groucho Marx.  Not exactly a kid friendly repertoire. Thus, I've never been much of a fan, but I can still appreciate his work.

Like all shows of this ilk, it starts with a monologue.  Precious few imitations (his strength), heavy on one liners (his weakness) - not a great plan of attack to start out the show.  But I can appreciate the wardrobe - Little's suits are badass.

Charlotte Rea was Little's sidekick/regular performer.  While I liked in Rae Diff'rent Strokes and Facts of Life, I'm not so much a fan at her sketch comedy skills.  Where Carol Burnett had Tim Conway and Harvey Korman to support her, Rich Little had Charlotte Rae.  Not a recipe for success.

Rich Little shines when he gets a chance to do his imitations midway through each show.  There was even audience suggestions (probably pre-planned); but still, a good performance.... but, again, completely lost on the younger generation.

Of course, the best thing about any variety show are the celebrity guests.  Here, The Rich Little Show was pretty damn respectable with guests such as Glenn Ford (above), Andy Griffith, Bill Cosby, Ron Howard,  Michael Landon, Bob Hope, William Conrad, Bing Crosby, The Hudson Brothers, Bernadette Peters, Chad Everett, Sandy Duncan, Mel Torme, and Starsky & Hutch (David Soul and Paul Michael-Glaser).

Susan St. James

Susan St. James again with Little as Groucho.  

John Davidson.  My father met him back in the sixties - he said he was kind of a dick.  I can see that.

The Jackson 5 were awesome entertainers.. but their comedy skit skills weren't the sharpest.  It didn't help that the writing was horrible.

The Jackson 5 as Sweathogs.

This skit was beyond awkward.

Words cannot describe.

Freddy Prinze wants to shag the "Family Hour Fairy" in the back of his van....and I'm not basing this on his thousand yard stare.  This was a part of the skit.  I've said before that Prinze is in the top ten funniest people of all time, and I still stand by it.

C.W. McCall. 
Big Ben, this here's Rubber Duck. And I'm about to put the hammer down.  Hell yes.

Betty White - as omnipresent then as she is now.

My idol - Martin Milner (AKA Officer Pete Malloy)

All in all, I'd recommend it for retrophiles only.  It's not as well put together as Sonny & Cher, Captain & Tennille or Tony Orland & Dawn.  It's also not as interesting in terms of being a pop culture oddity like The Brady Bunch Variety Hour or Pink Lady & Jeff.  It falls somewhere in the mediocre middle.  Only 70s-aholics need apply.


  1. I vaguely remember this show, but I don't recall liking it much. Compared to Sonny & Cher and Tony Orlando & Dawn, this was a stinker!

  2. Holy Mother of God, those lapels.

  3. I liked Rich Little. I have the First Family Rides Again album with Rich as Ronald Reagan. He was at his best when he did politicians. I think he is the only impressionist who could actually do Gerald Ford's voice. All Chevy Chase did was the pratfalls. My other favorite impressionists were John Byner and Fred Travalena.

  4. AnonymousJuly 09, 2013

    I scored some free tickets to see Rich Little's Tribute to Jimmy Stewart show a few months back at the Las Vegas Hotel (formerly Hilton). Of course he was talented with his impressions, but his show was oh so very dated, literally like he was performing the same material unchanged since the '70's. I was expecting to see a great performer, but instead it felt like I was watching Grampa perform his routine at the nursing home. Surprisingly, he swore a lot, didn't give any credit at all to his unseen piano player but chose to desperately seek a very awkward Q&A with the audience at the finale of his show when most would be walking out after the applause...we almost walked out when he told an extremely offensive joke insinuating that Bill Clinton was a pedophile. Guess Rich Little truly needs the money to make his alimony payments instead of retiring in golf/country club comfort as he told my friend at the bar, "Ever hear of a million dollar F*CK? That was my last marriage!"

    1. Somehow, this is perfect -- Rich Little, from Minor Star to Bitter, Unfunny Has-Been.

  5. I don't remember his variety show (it sounds like it was a clusterf*ck--Charlotte Rae?) but I do remember him making appearances on "Bloopers and Practical Jokes" and other shows. Great synopsis of a forgotten program.

  6. AnonymousJuly 09, 2013

    Bitter much, Rich? Almost forgot to mention, his show opened in amateur fashion, utilizing some very grainy clips of him doing impressions of Jimmy Stewart to Jimmy Stewart at some misc. roast/award show. Kind of insecure that he had to prove to his audience that he really did hob-nob once with Sinatra, Reagan, Bob Hope & company. Time for your nap, Rich.

  7. I saw him live in 1981 with Suzanne Somers as his opening act. Shook hands with him as he walked through the audience. I thought he was great at the time but in retrospect, there were many impressionists just as good.

    BTW--The Family Hour Fairy is Julie McWhirter, a marvelous comedienne and cartoon voice actor. She married Rick (DISCO DUCK) Dees not long after this series. Looks like she stopped working about 20 years back.

  8. On an equally forgettable John Davidson variety show from around that same era, the one skit that's stayed with me all these years was when they did Hollywood Squares with Rich Little playing the celebrity in all nine boxes. And Davidson's program was shot like a stage show, so it wasn't edited camera tricks, they made poor old Rich frantically climb up and down ladders to get to the right boxes as two contestants from the audience played the game more or less for real.

    Amazing that of all the flotsam and jetsam of seventies television out there, The Rich Little Show is available on DVD.

  9. Since I share the same hometown of Ottawa, Ontario as Rich Little, I'll always have a certain fondness for him as a hometown boy who made good. However, as much as I admire his impressions, I agree that his comedy material was awful. In fact, if memory serves, I think he and his wife of the time wrote all of his material, which could explain a lot if that's the case.

    In his defence, though, if his repertoire of impressions seems dated and unchanged since the 70s/early 80s, keep in mind that over the last 20 to 30 years there really haven't been any larger-than-life type personalities with distinctive voices like there were in the mid-20th Century. Seriously, if Rich Little were to attempt an impression of Johnny Depp or Ryan Gosling, who the hell would be able to tell who it was? Let's face it - our movie stars today may be fine actors, but they're pretty bland and generic as "personalities".

  10. I remember a show on HBO thirty years or so ago, Rich Little's Christmas Carol, with Little playing all the roles. He did Scrooge as W.C. Fields, Bon Cratchit as Paul Lynde, Tiny Tim as Truman Capote, Ghost of Christmas Past as Humphrey Bogart, etc. Bizarre.

  11. Gotta disagree about Rich's impersonations being too old for the younger generation. John Wayne, Richard Nixon, W.C. Fields, and Jimmy Stewart were *exactly* who everybody did impersonations of back then. Everybody knew who they were, including kids. Hell, I did impersonations of those guys as well when I was little. It just wouldn't work to impersonate Bobby Brady or Danny Partridge.

    While I always enjoyed when somebody did impersonations for comedy's sake, I never felt like Rich Little was really giving it his all. He always had that sort of standoffish, not-really-into-it look, as if he was thinking "just one more joke and I'll be able to pay off the house in Malibu." And he *always* sounded like Rich Little.

    But the worst thing about the show is that illustration behind him of the various stars he impersonated. They mostly look like movie star impersonators, not the actual stars.

  12. The 70s never really produced any "impersonators." Not like Rich Little and of course David Fry. But then, in their day, we had personalities in entertainment and in government. Even done badly you knew it was Richard Nixon, Humphrey Bogart, LBJ, or Jimmy Stewart. If I did a bad Brad Pitt or Senator Diane Fienstein, would anyone recognize it?

    I always loved Rich Little as a guest, but I agree with you, as the main attraction he got old fast.

    Now, how about a look at the Shields and Yarnell show.

  13. AnonymousJuly 10, 2013

    Anybody remember "The Copycats?" It was a summer replacement show for the Kraft Music Hall (I think) and it starred a bevy of great impressionists - Rich Little, Frank Gorshin, George Kirby, David Frye, Marilyn Michaels, Fred Travalena to name a few. There was a great sketch between Rich Little (as Jimmy Stewart) and George Kirby (as a missing person's police officer) where Rich says that "Cleveland is missing! Everybody in the whole city is gone...gone I tell you!" to which George answers, "All right...what are their names?" They then proceed to enter, name by name, all the names in the Cleveland phone book. It's a running gag throughout the show, so each time they come back to them, they're up to another letter in the alphabet. Finally, when they're all finished, the phone rings, Rich picks it up, pauses and says to George, "New York City is missing!!

  14. I kinda liked Rich Little as a guest on the Carson show but I'm sure I never saw his variety show. I mentioned as a comment on here before that I pretty much loathed 1970s variety shows.

  15. I recall seeing one episode in early 1976. During the "audience request" portion, somebody shouted out "do Batman and Robin as gas station attendants!"

    Rich did a terrific Adam West impersonation! "Robin, we MUST clean that good patron's windshield..and....not..waste..a..MOMENT!!"

    All I could remember of the show!

    Al Bigley

  16. I remember seeing this show as a kid and remember they did a bit with them doing the Three Stooges and Rich was Moe. The show did seem to be hit and miss to me. Another one I remember was when The Brady Bunch was on the show and he imitated Cindy after they bumped heads!