Home TV by Decade TV Shows - 1950s Nat King Cole Show, The

Nat King Cole Show, The

1 9 5 6 – 1 9 5 7 (USA)

This NBC series (the first TV variety show hosted by an African-American) began as a modest 15-minute show in November 1956, but soon expanded to 30 minutes thanks to Nat King Cole‘s unique talent.

As the reigning monarch of jazz piano, Nat King Cole’s blend of personality and musicality was perfect for the intimate experience of TV viewing.


With a smooth, easygoing style and hits such as Nature Boy and Straighten Up and Fly Right, King’s vocal styling and guests, including such heavyweights as Peggy Lee, Harry Belafonte, and Ella Fitzgerald was a surefire recipe for success.

Unfortunately, despite the positive audience response, national sponsors feared that 1956 was not the ideal time for an African American to be beamed into living rooms and refused to put their money towards keeping the show on the air.

Local sponsors were slightly more generous (and forward-thinking) but the production was never able to overcome the financial barriers.  When the Singer Sewing Machine Company wanted to underwrite an adult western called The Californians, NBC turned over the time slot held by The Nat King Cole Show.

The network offered to move Cole’s programme to a less-expensive and less-desirable place in the schedule (Saturdays at 7:00 PM) but Cole declined the downgrade.

Cole recovered from the failure of the TV show and went on to perform on other people’s shows, as well as in films and on stages around the world until his death in 1965.