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1949: DuMont Launches 'Cavalcade of Stars'
June 4, 2019  | By David Bianculli
 
You think the "late-night wars" of 1993 were high-stakes poker, with CBS wooing and stealing David Letterman from NBC after Jay Leno got (and kept) the Tonight Show job? Well, you're right, they were — but they weren't anything new, and they weren't any tougher than what Cavalcade of Stars had to endure in the early years of television.

If the name Cavalcade of Stars — which debuted on this day in 1949 — doesn't mean much in the nineties, it's because DuMont's competition was so good at stealing talent from this particular show in the fifties. A large-scale variety show, DuMont's biggest and best, Cavalcade began with comedian Jack Carter as host; after one season, Carter was snatched by NBC, which gave Carter his own show with a good time slot: the lead-in to Your Show of Shows.

That first hit was no big loss. DuMont recovered by replacing Carter with Jerry Lester — but four months later, NBC stole him too, and almost immediately handed Lester hosting chores on Broadway Open House, the late-night precursor to NBC's The Tonight Show.

Without Lester, DuMont turned to a comic named Jackie Gleason, who hired some impressive talent (most notably Art Carney), worked with his writers to develop some resonant characters (including Ralph Kramden, Reginald Van Gleason III, Joe the Bartender, and the Poor Soul), and basically did some great work. So great that, after two years on DuMont, Gleason was offered tons of money to jump ship to CBS — and took it, bringing most of his characters, and even Carney, with him.

Larry Storch took over as the final Cavalcade of Stars host, but three direct hits were all the show, and the network, could sustain. Stars came tumbling down, and DuMont itself followed a few years later.
 
 
 
 
 
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