The Abbott & Costello Show

1951 | United States

Although slammed by the critics The Abbott and Costello Show became a firm favourite with the viewing audience as the comic twosome brought to the small screen the same brand of slapstick humour that had pulled in theatre patrons for years. William Alexander Abbott (born October 6, 1897 in Asbury Park, N.J.) was already an experienced 'straight man' when he first met his partner Louis Francis Cristillo (born March 6, 1906 in Paterson, N.J.) on the burlesque circuit. In 1936 the duo teamed up and became a much in demand act. However, it wasn't until an appearance on the Kate Smith Radio Hour, performing what would soon become their most famous sketch "Who's On First," that Bud Abbott & Lou Costello were to experience true stardom and a Hollywood career. 

Signed by Universal in 1939, Bud & Lou were hailed by the studio as "The New Kings Of Comedy," and went on to produce a decade of box office hits. In 1951 they took their unique brand of humour to the TV screens of America due to Lou's desire that the pair would own outright, for the first time, the best routines from their stage, radio and movie appearances, and although something of a forgotten classic these days, they produced 52 episodes of one of the most syndicated shows in television history. In the series, Bud and Lou were two unemployed actors sharing an apartment in a boarding house owned by Mr Fields (Sidney Fields), who was always hounding them for rent. Across the hall lived Lou's girlfriend Hilary (Hilary Brooke), and Stinky (Joe Besser). 

Following the first 26 episodes, which were made up of material that the boys had been using on stage and screen since first coming together (including "Who's On First" and "The Susquehanna Hat Company"), a number of changes were made. The first to go was Lou's pet Chimpanzee, Bingo, who had made the mistake of biting the diminutive star during rehearsals. Lou, who owned the rights to the show, then employed Jean Yarborough to get things more organised, with consistent storylines and a new gag writer, Clyde Bruckinan, as by this time they were running out of their old material. Another 26 episodes were made before CBS pulled the plug on the show. However, the shows were rerun endlessly over the next decades beginning with six months on CBS' Saturday morning line-up from September 1954 to February 1955. The partnership finally broke up in 1957 and in 1959 Bud Abbott sued Lou Costello, alleging he was owed $222,666 as his share of the profits from the TV series. Lou Costello passed away that same year at the age of 52. 

But the pair were still remembered with great affection and in 1966 a cartoon version of The Abbott and Costello Show was made by Hanna-Barbera with Stan Irwin voicing Lou's part and Bud Abbott supplying his own voice. (Abbott passed away in 1974). Fifty years later The Abbott and Costello Show continues to show up on US television and in 1994 NBC screened an Abbott and Costello retrospective hosted by long term fan Jerry Seinfeld, who probably summed up their appeal best when he said, "If it weren't for Abbott & Costello, many of the wonderful burlesque routines which is a part of the American fabric, would have been lost forever. They were giants of their time who truly immortalized burlesque forever. Maybe that art form is largely lost, but I try and keep it alive in my own show." The series was shown in the UK from 1957. 

Published on November 26th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

Previous post ABC Armchair Thriller
Next post The A Team