Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Tribute to ABC's Chord-rippin', Hip-Shakin', Rock 'n' Roll Prime Time Variety Show

Groovy letters and an exclamation point!
While many American prime time variety shows occasionally catered to youths, Shindig! was perhaps the first one to focus solely on that audience. ABC introduced the series in September 1964 at the height of the British Invasion. Shindig! lasted less than two seasons, but its influence was both immediate (NBC launched a rival series, Hullabaloo, four months later) and long-lasting (its descendants include late-night variety shows The Midnight Special and In Concert).

Naturally, the roots of American rock 'n'roll variety shows can be traced to Dick Clark's long-running American Bandstand. In fact, a prime-time edition of Bandstand was broadcast briefly in 1957. However, Clark's series wasn't a traditional variety show with performances by multiple acts. Shindig! borrowed its format from variety series like The Ed Sullivan Show, which featured a host that introduced each act.

Host Jimmy O'Neill.
The host of Shindig! was Jimmy O'Neill, a Los Angeles disc jockey who died in January 2013. O'Neill and his then-wife, songwriter Sharon Sheeley, were instrumental to the show's success. (Trivia note: O'Neill was later married to Troy Donahue's sister from 1969-83.) However, the show's look and sound can be attributed to British producer Jack Good. After launching several rock'n'roll TV shows in Great Britain, Good traveled to the U.S. in 1962 to sell the pilot of what eventually became Shindig! 

Aretha Franklin on Shindig!
Largely due to Good's and O'Neill's industry connections, Shindig! featured many of the top artists of the era, to include: The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, James Brown, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Jerry Lee Lewis, Donovan, Little Richard, and Aretha Franklin. The first episode featured a star-studded line-up of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Everly Brothers, and The Byrds. The Who made their U.S. television debut on Shindig! and, yes, even The Beatles appeared--though their segment was shot in Great Britain. Amazingly, most of the performances were broadcast live (in contrast to Bandstand, where singers lip-synced their hits).

Shindig! regular Donna Loren.
Shindig! also boasted a house band called the Shin-diggers (later renamed the Shindogs), the Shindig Dancers, and semi-regulars Bobby Sherman, Donna Loren, and The Righteous Brothers.The dancers included Beach Party veterans Teri Garr and assistant choreographer Toni Basil (who later scored a monster hit with 1982's Mickey). A 1994 Entertainment Weekly article notes that Jack Good was concerned that American girls wouldn't identify with a bevy of beautiful dancers, so he had one wear fake braces and another horn-rimmed glasses.

Teen idol Bobby Sherman was
everywhere in the 1960s!
Despite it star power, Shindig! struggled to find an audience. Its format and time-schedule changes, dictated by ABC, didn't help. After debuting as a half-hour show, it was expanded to an hour, and then later reduced to half-hour shows that aired twice weekly. After producer Good left the show, ABC added older hosts (perhaps imitating the Beach Party films) like Boris Karloff and Hedy Lamarr.

The last episode of Shindig! was broadcast on January 8, 1966. In the early 1990s, Rhino Entertainment released a series of VHS tapes that featured selected musical numbers--but, sadly, not entire episodes. Surely, there's some entertainment company willing to pay proper homage to the groovliest rock'n'roll variety show of the 1960s!

This post is part of the Classic TV Variety Show Blogathon, hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. Click here to view a schedule of all the great posts in this blogathon.


  1. I also remember... the Shindig, Hullabaloo and Bandstand TV shows. I think all the performances were live, not lipped synched, like they are now. Thank you, for taking me back in time, with your groovy post..

  2. I dig this post and loved seeing the lunchbox with Bobby Sherman!

  3. Shindig was before my time and I had never heard of it, but I learned a lot from your post. Thanks for a great glimpse into the show. What a fascinating time in music history! I also found some Shindig clips on youtube (including The Beatles, The Who, Donna Loren, and Sonny & Cher).

  4. I love watching the dancers! Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Never actually saw the show myself, but I've since enjoyed reading the TV Guide listings to see the guests each week, and watching some of the clips. Good piece!

  6. First of all, Rick, what a fantastic idea for a blogathon! Great entries all around - creative, entertaining AND informative! We should seriously all consider making a toast to the Classic Variety show a yearly event. Kudos to all!
    Secondly, I loved reading this post. Shindig! is yet another show I knew nothing about. Bobby Sherman - what a blast from the past for me! Am now dying to view these - the episodes you mention with Karloff and Lamarr in particular.
    Finally, "The Shindogs" is an absolutely awful name for a band, isn't it?

    Fun post!


  7. Rick, I apologize for being a bit slow with my comment, but your post on Shindig! is certainly worth the wait. Your reminiscence of the heady mix of pop/youth culture from the early sixties to the early seventies is thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating. Unfortunately, I was either not here or too young to have seen either Shindig! or Hullabaloo, but my parents have mentioned both shows on occasion. I would have loved to see Boris and Hedy as hosts of a show for the mod generation, and Tony Basil got her start on this show (she is a name from my youth and childhood).

    I also wanted to thank you for the surprise I found waiting in my inbox this afternoon. You have done yourself proud; your newsletter is engaging and fun, informative and profession. Do you plan to send a new edition every month? I’m off now to see how many film noir titles I can find in the word search. Best wishes

  8. What a golden goodie blast from the past! Shindig and Hullabaloo and Lloyd Thaxton and Where the Action Is were all very influential shows among preteens: we ordered Royal Crown Cola because Donna Loren told us to! Happy to see this classic get its props.

  9. Rick , BTW of The Shindogs at one time included, The Great James Burton(Rick Nelson and later Elvis's lead Guitar ) Glenn Cambell, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and Larry Knechtel

  10. Shindig was a really good show - I was pretty young but already interested in Rock n' Roll. I actually recall that I liked another show called "Where the Action Is" a bit better, perhaps because they weren't always on a stage but often outside - for some reason, I remember "Don and Goodtimes" singing "I'll be good to you" and went to the local record shop to buy the 45! I was 10! :)

  11. Ahhhj - MEMORIES! The Moody Blues - still my favorite band 55 years later!!!