The Big Show - Single Episodes

(4.8 stars; 12 reviews)


In 1950, the advent of television was not only causing concern in the film industry but radio was beginning to feel the effect as well. In short, audiences were dwindling. To combat the problem, NBC spent lots of money to produce The Big Show, a 90 minute radio program which would feature famous guests performing skits, songs, and comedic routines. Tallulah Bankhead was asked to host the show. She had guested in various radio programs in the past but had never done anything on an ongoing basis before. She was nervous and didn't really know what to expect or what her duty actually was so she approached the show with guarded anticipation. The Big Show premiered on November 5, 1950 and played every Sunday night for the next three years. It was a rousing success and Tallulah was a great success. The guest list varied but included such names as Ethel Merman, Danny Thomas, Fanny Brice, Phil Silvers, Bob Hope, Clifton Webb, Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Holliday, Ethel Barrymore, Jimmy Durante, Milton Berle, Josephine Baker, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, George Sanders, Yul Brynner, Shirley Booth, Peggy Lee, Rosalind Russell and Merv Griffin.

NOTE: Updated Release! Fixed known issues with MP3 files freezing on Episodes 7 and 24, and other minor miscellaneous changes (21-Jul-2012).

From the Old Time Radio Researcher's Group. See "Note" Section below for more information on the OTRR.

This recording is part of the Old Time Radio collection.



Interesting Choice Of Time Slot

(4 stars)

"Big Show" was launched as much to lead NBC Radio's counterattack against the CBS "talent raids" of 1948-49 as it was to fight the growth of television. From the dawn of network radio through 1948, NBC Red/NBC dominated Sunday-night listening. At the end of 1948, Jack Benny (whose show had been the "anchor" of NBC's powerful Sunday-night lineup for the preceding sixteen years) suddenly left and moved to CBS, where his show would be heard on Sunday nights from 7 to 7:30 P.M. Eastern time---the very same timeslot he had been heard on NBC for all those years. Suddenly, NBC's dominance of Sunday-night radio had ended. Everything NBC tried for a year-and-a-half failed to lure listeners away from Benny on CBS. By having "Big Show" run for 90 minutes from 6 to 7:30 P.M. Eastern time, NBC hoped that listeners would stick with it and not change stations to the local CBS affiliate at 7 to hear Jack Benny. I would not be surprised if "Big Show" actually had a decent numebr of listeners during its firs hour, only to have the numbers plunge when Jack Benny came on CBS. Although "Big Show" was also intended to fight the growing influence of TV, it is interesting that it ended a half-hour before the start of the two top-rated Sunday-night shows of early 1950's television: "The Colgate Comedy Hour" on NBC-TV and "The Ed Sullivan Show" (originally known as "Toast Of The Town") on CBS-TV, both of which aired from 8 to 9 P.M. Eastern time. Thus, I think "Big Show"'s scheduling was more an attempt to compete against Jack Benny's CBS Radio show that to compete against early television.

A window to great talent from the early 1950s

(5 stars)

This is an excellent radio broadcast series worth turning to for diversion and pleasure when one's time allows. These programs provide a great escape. The early 1950s were not the most particularly agreeable years with the rise of repressive McCarthyism, the Cold War and fear of nuclear war, the Korean conflict, etc.-- but the entertainment world still dazzled with remarkable talents, which included incomparable iconoclasts and wits. The series host, Tallulah Bankhead, and her "reputation" certainly kept the series lively. I think it is too bad that she is less remembered today. Wouldn't it be nice if the USPS would issue a stamp with her picture on it? Thus far, as I listen to the programs, I've not gone without some hearty laughs. The comedic routines and banter are thoughtfully interspersed with some more weighty dramatic sequences, chorals, songs, and more-- from which one can draw reflection. The Big Show portrayed an America that could laugh at itself, be more inclusive: a Big Family, so to speak. Radio, and later television, had the power to broaden one's thinking. What became of that? What is to become of the internet? For the time being, the internet is certainly wonderful in the way it can bring these wonderful programs and people back to life. I would mention, that the audio quality varies, parts are difficult to hear, I noticed that the end part to Episode 28 appears to be missing. I am glad the Old Time Radio archivists are working to steadily improve and restore the programs as much as possible. My hat is off to them.

Great series but skip the last available show

(4 stars)

The one with Richard Easton is a complete bore. Tallu sounds desperate, the jokes are lamer than usual, even Ethel Merman disappoints -- although she and Bankhead have an okay catfight at one point. If you like unintentional humor, Peter Lorre sounds like a parody of himself by Mel Blanc, but it just goes on too long. Bottom of the barrel is purported comedian Joe Frisco who is about as funny as your own stubbed toe. The rest of the series is generally excellent, especially the ones with Groucho, Phil Harris, George Sanders, & Bob Hope. The episode from London with Sanders features a wonderful reading of "Antony & Cleopatra" by Vivien Leigh and then-husband Laurence Olivier. The 4/1/51 episode has great repartee between TB and Ethel Barrymore. This is a must for theater buffs.

New Year's Eve 1950 show

(5 stars)

Download or play this episode if you want to cure the C-19 Blahs. Was listening to this last night and was blown away by buried treasures like Gloria Swanson and Jose Ferrer performing a scene from Twentieth Century; 14-year-old Margaret O'Brien and Ferrer doing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet; Fran Warren's two songs, the latter of which (So In Love) is included in a show-ending Best of Broadway 1950 medley; Vivian Blaine in character from Guys and Dolls bantering with Tallulah, and loads more. There is some unfortunate radio static bleed on the Swanson/Ferrer pairing, but maybe a freelance audio engineer can figure out how to remove it.

What happened to Season Two of The Big Show?

(5 stars)

The first season of the Big Show is available through Radio Archives and from Jerry Haendiges. But no one seems to have any of the Shows from Season two. Radio Archives has recently been releasing Radio Archives Treasures and have included 2 or 3 of these shows including part of NO. 56. The closing show No. 57 does not seem available. Does anybody know how to get these missing shows? Thanks for any information.

Robert B Livingstone

(0 stars)

Robert, drop me an email at I have this entire series in incredible first generation quality straight from the original transcription discs. It sounds as if it were recorded yesterday. It's the best radio variety show of all time in my opinion. Tallulah should be a legend - she is to me!


(5 stars)

Martin Grams has been in contact with someone in possession of complete transcriptions from Season Two that he expected would be circulating ''soon'. That was in 2016. The shows exist but, for now, we have to be content to enjoy the content we have.


(4 stars)

Be prepared for a vaudeville-variety format and some kind-of silly interstitial banter between guests. Beyond that this is a great representation of the biggest talents from this era. I do enjoy it and save it for a long weekend afternoon of cooking and dishwashing.