From a reunion of Caesar and "Your Show of Shows" writers
Television pioneer Sid Caesar died today at home in Beverly Hills, according to biographer and friend Eddy Friedfeld. "Television had its share of comedy geniuses,” LA Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg wrote in 1994. “Yet arguably none has been as uniquely gifted and inventive as Caesar. Watching him perform, you just know light bulbs are popping continuously in his brain.” His greatest fame came on " “Your Show of Shows,” which debuted on NBC in 1950. From Variety:
Caesar, partnered with Imogene Coca, is credited with breaking ripe comedic ground with the 90-minute live program: It didn’t rely on vaudeville or standup-inspired material but rather on long skits and sketches written by an impressive roster of comedy writers including Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, Lucille Kallen and Mel Tolkin.
“Your Show of Shows” was “different from other programs of its time because its humor was aimed at truth,” Simon once observed. “Other television shows would present situations with farcical characters; we would put real-life people into identifiable situations.”
Following Caesar’s Camelot-days in the ’50s, however, he made a precipitous decline into alcoholism and barbiturates, a self-described “20-year blackout” from which Caesar finally recovered and subsequently related in his 1982 autobiography “Where Have I Been.” “At my worst, I had been downing eight Tuinals and a quart of Scotch a day,” Caesar recalled of his darkest days. “When I was awake I’d think of nothing but ‘I must do it faster, kill myself faster.’ I’d get up to take pills just to go back to sleep. I had no friends. My life was over.”
The show was an immediate success and was to become one of the most influential programs in TV’s golden era, launching the careers of Carl Reiner and Howard Morris, as well as the enviable team of writers including Simon, Brooks and Gelbart.
In 1954, when the ratings began to slip, the program was trimmed and renamed “Caesar’s Hour.” Coca was replaced by Nanette Fabray. The change enabled Caesar to last three more years on television. He was nominated for Emmys every year from 1951 to 1958 and won two.