Sonny and Cher take their Shtick on TV

In the mid-60s, Sonny & Cher soared to the top of the pop music charts. Cher’s sculptural figure next to little mustached Sonny was a striking combination. Improved by stage jokes and colorful TV appearances, it didn’t take long for the odd couple to land their own variety show. Time for comedy Sonny & Cher created on August 1, 1971.

Cherilyn Sarkisian was just 16 when she left home to start a career in Los Angeles. Soon after, she met Sonny Bono, an older and established songwriter. They became friends, then business partners, and soon lovers. Originally called Caesar and Cleo, Bono introduced the duo as Sonny & Cher when releasing their single “I Got You Babe” in 1965.

Quickly finding fame, Sonny & Cher produced several hits throughout the 1960s, but by 1971 they weren’t producing much new music. Instead, the newlyweds traveled across the country, performing songs and tracks in clubs and honing their quarrel comedic style. The couple’s look naturally lent itself to comedy. CBS head of programming Fred Silverman attended one of these concerts and, according to legend, was so impressed that he immediately offered the duo a TV show.

Watch Sonny & Cher perform “I Got You Babe”

Time for comedy Sonny & Cher was designed as a summer replacement series for the network. Its premise was pretty straightforward: each episode opened with the theme song, which bled into the couple’s 1967 song “The Beat Goes On”. Next, Cher, glamorous in Bob Mackie’s stunning designs, would piss off Bono sarcastically in an opening monologue. Rather than glossing over the obvious differences between Sonny and Cher, the comedy took a look at this fun setup. Criticizing each other’s looks and talent, the couple presented a new way to get married on television, which resonated with audiences.

Time for comedy Sonny & Cher earned high ratings and was quickly added to CBS prime time programming. Besides the monologue, each half hour featured musical performances and various comedy sketches, such as “Mr. & Mme ”,“ Sonny’s Pizza ”,“ At the Laundromat ”and“ The Fortune Teller ”.

Employing many screenwriters and producers of Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour – which was canceled two years earlier – Time for comedy Sonny & Cher appeals to that previous show’s somewhat edgy fan base. With that in mind, sketches on Time for comedy Sonny & Cher featured many of the most prominent comedians of the time. Regular cast members included Teri Garr, Murray Langston and Steve Martin, who also wrote for the series.

Watch the opening of “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour”

Famous guests have also regularly appeared on Time for comedy Sonny & Cher, among them Carol Burnett, Merv Griffin, Farrah Fawcett, Glen Campbell, the Jackson 5, Burt Reynolds or Ronald Reagan. Sonny and Cher’s child also appeared often, singing alongside their famous parents. (At the time, Chaz Bono was called Chastity. They have since made the transition.)

Despite all the renowned guest stars, the success of Time for comedy Sonny & Cher thrived on the duo’s marriage. And in show business, it’s a difficult concept to achieve. The couple separated in the fall of 1974 and, in a high-profile divorce proceeding, Cher accused her bossy partner of “involuntary servitude.” This acrimonious breakup forced their series to cease airing after four popular seasons.

Watch Chaz Bono in “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour”

Bono and Cher have both run solo variety shows: The Sonny Comedy Review and Dear, on ABC and CBS, respectively. And while Dear did well (much better than The Sonny Comedy Review, which lasted a season short of audiences), the star canceled her schedule in her second season to reunite with her ex-husband for the new Sonny and Cher Show.

As professionals, Bono and Cher put the divorce behind them. But when they performed as an ex, rather than as a fiery lover, their interactions lacked the spirit that had characterized Time for comedy Sonny & Cher. Remarried to Gregg Allman, Cher was pregnant at the time of her second child, Elijah. Obviously, she was moving on. At the same time, the old model of variety shows was losing its appeal to the general public.

After a short second season, The Sonny and Cher show was canceled in 1977 – for good. But it wasn’t the last time we heard from either of the stars. In the late 1980s, Bono embarked on a surprising career in politics. Meanwhile, Cher embarked on a career in, well, pretty much everything.

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Karl M. Bailey

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