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June 25, 2013

LIZ CIANCONE: TV reality shows have a colorful history

We rarely turn on our television set until time for the evening news, and sometimes we turn it off at the end of that half hour. If I were a male, I would be a curmudgeon.

I especially dislike the so-called “reality shows.” The “stars” may be out in the boondocks, dirty and disheveled, but bet your last dollar there will be a herd of television crewmen and any number of producers and directors within a stone’s throw. If you really wanted off that island, or out of that jungle, there would be no problem.

And then there are the talent-search shows. I was scornful of shrieking vocalists and low-talent performers and then I remembered the talent-search biggie of my youth. Today may have “America’s Got Talent,” but we had “Major Bowes and the Original Amateur Hour.” Of course, the Major had no celebrity panel sitting in judgment of the talent. He alone was the judge and he alone gave the would-be star “the gong,” thereby ending high hopes of a professional career.

In fairness, Frank Sinatra got his start as a winner on the Original Amateur Hour and could be very funny on the experience. The audience was asked to judge his trio (or was it a quartet?) and they won. Then, at the Major’s request, they came back week after week with only a name change. Who knew? We couldn’t actually see them and a week’s hiatus dimmed memory of the voices.

The rest is history when it comes to Sinatra.

I may snicker at modern television, but for really off-the-wall entertainment, few things equal a show out of Chicago some years ago. It starred a piano player and a room full of canaries. The announcer would proclaim, “Live from warehouse 39, it’s Don Artiste and the Hartz Mountain canaries.” How could I make this up?

Don would tinkle the keys of one of the warehoused pianos — for sale — and the birds would twitter along. Some birds seemed to have no sense of timing because they twittered whether or not Don was tinkling. As I recall the program lasted about 30 minutes.

Mom liked to listen because she was convinced that our canary, Mr. Watson, enjoyed the show and liked to sing along.

I might have enjoyed watching that on television — or maybe not.

Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter. Send email to


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