Flip Wilson Show (1970)

The Flip Wilson Show was an hour long variety show that aired in the U.S. on NBC from September 17, 1970 to June 27, 1974.  The show starred American comedian Flip Wilson; the program was one of the first American television programs starring a black person in the title role to become highly successful with a white audience.  Specifically, it was the first successful network variety series starring an African American.  During its first two seasons, its Nielsen ratings made it the nation’s second most watched show.  The show consisted of many skits over 60 minutes.  It also broke new ground in American television by using a ‘Theatre-in-the-Round’ stage format, with the audience seated on all sides of a circular performance area (with some seats located behind the sketch sets on occasion).  Wilson was most famous for creating the role of Geraldine Jones, a sassy, modern woman who had a boyfriend named Killer (who, when not in prison, was at the pool hall). Flip also created the role of Reverend Leroy, who was the minister of the Church of What’s Happening Now.

The premier of this show is extremely important because it does so in the wake of the assignations of MLK and RFK, meaning that it must navigate through the racial implications there while still appealing to the country as a unified whole.  It paved the way for black entertainers that would follow Flip because he so uniquely took the threat away from blackness and in turn made it humorous.  Its inclusion of white characters on stage also enabled it to be more salient towards the white population, which increased its popularity.  Its utilization as both a political act and an appeal to the notion of brotherhood made the show become the most popular one of its time and would transcend African American programming that would follow it.




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