1 9 5 6 – 1 9 5 7 (USA)
53 x 15/30 minute episodes
This NBC series (the first TV variety show hosted by an African-American) began as a modest 15-minute Monday evening show in November 1956, but soon expanded to 30 minutes on Tuesday nights 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, Cole’s vocal styling and guests, including such heavyweights as Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Mahalia Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr, Peggy Lee, Harry Belafonte, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett 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.
The performing community was well aware of Nat’s sponsor problems, and many stars appeared on the show for minimum fees as personal favours to him, in an effort to save the show.
But 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.
Nat King Cole recovered from the failure of the TV show and went on to perform frequently on other people’s shows, as well as in films and on stages around the world until his death in 1965.
Nat King Cole
The Herman McCoy Singers
The Randy Van Horne Singers
The Jerry Graff Singers
Nelson Riddle and His Orchestra