Sonny & Cher’s hit TV variety show: Music, comedy… and divorce (1976)

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Sonny and Cher years on TV

Real-life drama unfolds during Sonny & Cher’s five years on TV

By Austin Philips

Not many couples raise a child, get divorced and reunite as professional partners in front of 20 million television viewers. Yet this real-life drama has unfolded throughout the five years that Sonny Bono and Cher have been a Sunday night ritual for television viewers throughout the country over CBS.

The Sonny and Cher Show - Sonny Bono and Cher - 1970s

The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1971-1974)

By now everyone knows the Sonny and Cher story. The couple has gone through many changes both as individuals and as an act. They have surmised the many transformations of the music world, having been one of the first acts to make the successful transition from rock performers to television stars.

They spent many years behind the scenes, and in the mid ’60s, burst forth with hit after hit, establishing themselves as top performers. Then, as the musical tastes of their audiences switched to hard rock, Sonny and Cher turned to television, and to everyone’s surprise, became the hit of the 1971 season, paving the way for many other successful musical variety shows on television.

The Sonny & Cher Show (1976-1977)

Emmy-winning producer Nick Vanoff, who came of semi-retirement to act as executive producer of The Sonny and Cher Show, says he feels the fifth season of the show is perhaps the best yet.

“We kept the best of what we had, and added much that’s new. We still have the upbeat, fast-paced comedy, spectacular costumes by Bob Mackie, and the rich staging for the musical numbers and comedy sketches.

“Also certain characters created by Sony and Cher are back on the air, including Cher’s ‘Laverne’ and Sonny’s ‘Alvin.’ Laverne and Alvin are still sitting in a bar watching The Sonny and Cher Show as regular Ted Zeigler pours drinks and puts up with their particular brand of lunacy.”

But this year Alvin and Laverne reach a new stage in their lives — they’re going to get married — on Jan. 23.

It will be a very special event indeed. They will be wed in the bar where they met and fell in love. Zeigler, the bartender, will be the best man, and the admiral of the Seventh Fleet will give the bride away. Guest star John Davidson will be the preacher who presides over the whole shindig. Mackie has designed a wedding gown which fits the occasion.

Real-life drama unfolds during Sonny and Cher's years on TV (1976)

Since Sonny and Cher are about as predictable as the weather in the Great Lakes area, something new is always cropping up on the show.

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For instance: Cher plays Mother Goose as only Cher could portray her. In each of these sketches, a well-known Mother Goose rhyme is updated in typical Sonny and Cher fashion so it tells a story of America today.

There are also sketches which are on almost every week. “The Not So Grand Hotel” is a crazy Marx Brothers-like takeoff on other eras in the world of show business and “The Morbid Manor” is a kind of monster soap opera.

Sonny and Cher 1971 (1)

Bright new additions to The Sonny and Cher Show

One of the brightest additions to the 1976-77 season is the husband-and-wife team of Shields and Yarnell.

In recent months, the two have captivated millions on The Mac Davis Show, and have brought audiences to their feet in Las Vegas.

Now as regulars on The Sonny and Cher Show, they will continue to bring their “space-age vaudeville” to an ever-growing group of devoted followers.

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As in the past, guest appearances on Sonny & Cher by top stars are a continuing feature. Bob Hope, Jim Nabors, Dinah Shore, Donny and Marie Osmond, The Sylvers, Jack Albertson and Steve Lawrence are a few of the stars who have already appeared this year.

Redd Foxx, Tom Jones, John Davidson, George Gobel, Don Knotts, Andy Griffith, Twiggy and David Steinberg are some of the personalities who will lend their diverse talents to the show during the remainder of the season.

Sonny and Cher with the Jacksons

Aiding and abetting Vanoff are coproducers Frank Pepiatt and Phil Hahn. Tim Kiley is the director, Jaime Rogers creates the choreography, and Harold Battiste is the musical director.

“Putting on a variety show is murderous,” says Cher. “I was really lonely doing the show all by myself at the beginning of last year. In many ways, Sonny and I have grown up together, and we can see many things with the same eyes. We’ve got to keep changing and trying new things — that keeps it fun.

“We really have a good time when we work together, and we try to get that across.”

Vanoff obviously feels the same way: “We have something working for us that no other show in the world has… the magic of Sonny and Cher.

“If I had to describe the series in a few words, I’d say it’s a lot at fun and a lot of love.”

Sonny and Cher with child Chastity - Chaz Bono - 1974

Sonny and Cher 1971 (3)

Sonny and Cher 1971 (2)

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