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When The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour debuted on CBS on the first day of August in 1971 as a five-week summer replacement series, it was an immediate ratings hit. The bright musical arrangements interspersed with humorous on-stage bickering from the husband and wife team scored big with the audience.
Salvatore “Sonny” Bono was a former production assistant for Phil Spector, and Cherilyn Sarkisian had been a session singer.
The image was exactly right for the time though, and when they crooned I Got You Babe into each other’s eyes in 1965 they hogged the US and UK #1 spots for most of August.
By the end of 1973, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was a consistent top-ten winner featuring regulars Terri Garr, Freeman King, Billy Van, Murray Langston (later the ‘Unknown Comic’), and Chastity Bono, the couple’s toddler.
The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour utilised several recurring comedy sketches. There was a ‘Vamp’ segment in which Cher would portray several of the more notorious women throughout history; a ‘Sonny’s Pizza’ segment featuring Sonny as the dumb owner of a pizzeria and Cher as his sexy, beautiful waitress Rosa; the ‘Dirty Linen’ segment with housewife Laverne (Cher) giving her views on men to her friend Olivia (Teri Garr) at the laundromat; and a segment in which news headlines, both current and past, were treated in blackouts.
Frequently seen were full-scale operettas based on legitimate operas, television commercials, types of TV shows, and almost anything else that could be spoofed.
But all was not happy in Sonny and Cher land. By 1973, the tabloids were ripe with stories of their shouting matches, cancelled gigs (including a last-minute cancellation in Vegas, filled by Johnny Carson), and even reports of Cher sporting a black eye.
With the show finishing 8th for the 73-74 season, Bono filed for divorce, and 58 hours later on 22 February 1974, the final episode of the show was taped. The series left the air on 29 May 1974.
With her solo venture limping along after less than a year on the air, a professional reconciliation was arranged with Sonny so that they might work together again. Cher had since married rock singer Greg Allman and given birth to a son.
The new venture was titled The Sonny and Cher Show, but it could never regain the magic of the original. Cher’s put-downs of Sonny – which seemed funny when they were married – just didn’t work as well after they were divorced.
The new series limped along for two seasons and was cancelled in the summer of 1977.