Even if you are not a professional actor, musician or variety entertainer, it isn't too hard to end up on TV today. If you can't actually audition for and win a spot on a reality show, or get your house or your restaurant on some cable real estate or road food series, or be interviewed right in the big house for one of MSNBC's prison schlockumentaries, you can always record yourself displaying your unique talent and post yourself to YouTube, where you might go viral. These days, the bar for entry to the world of televised entertainment is only as low as your personal standards.
Evidence to the contrary, it was actually quite difficult to get on network television in the 1970s — but if you had a certain kind of hit record at that time, CBS might have given you a variety show. The Starland Vocal Band had a CBS variety show (for six weeks), and so, briefly, did the Hudson Brothers. Bill, Mark, and Brett Hudson (née Salerno) were three real brothers from Oregon whose career as a teen-appeal pop act peaked in 1974, the year they released a few songs that made it into the top 30 (assuming you were not a regular reader of 16 magazine, "So You Are a Star" and "Rendezvous" are tunes you might remember if you were an attentive American Top 40 listener or a small-market DJ). That was also the year the brothers starred in two CBS television series: The Hudson Brothers Show in prime time, and The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show, which aired on Saturday mornings and is now available on DVD.
Highlights of the nighttime iteration (selected, we suspect, from that material which could be cheaply cleared) are excerpted in this set. The prime time series featured the brothers performing musical numbers, in short sketches, and in slapstick closely modeled on the Marx Brothers in general and so blatantly, as in a bit entitled "Groucho, Harpo, Chico & Karl," that Groucho (still alive at that point) could have had a case. Did 11- or 12-year-old kids even know who the Marx Brothers were? Yes, because their movies were shown on local TV, and because their parents knew Groucho, etc. as icons — and because, 30 years ago, families had shared experiences of pop culture that were still more parent-driven than kid-driven. Not that there weren't plenty of Disney films and bubblegum pop acts, but children knew and grew to love or hate the cultural references of their parents and older relatives alongside their own; kid culture was a presence, but it did not dominate the popular culture the way it often does today.
Thus, on their prime time series, the brothers were hosts to some big TV names including Andy Griffith, Danny Thomas, and variety veteran Ken Berry. The prime time show introduced running characters that would carry over to Saturday morning, like Brett Hudson as Chucky Margolis, resident of his mom's basement way before it became a lifestyle, and Rod Hull & Emu, the crazy English puppeteer with the "bird" that could not keep its beak to itself. Dedicated DVD viewers will soon discover or recall that the Saturday morning show adhered to a tighter formula: a rapid series of short sketches in situations — deserted island, Medieval knights — that were consistent from week to week and included the occasional pro-social message for the little kids, sandwiched between playback (miming) of the brothers' Beatlesque pop for maximum teen appeal. They had some adult viewers, too; then in the midst of his "lost weekend," John Lennon is said to have been a big fan (he's quoted, right on the package).
Whether playing to viewers who were under the influence of sugary cereal or something stronger, the producers knew to use quick cuts and keep up the pace: 1968's Laugh-In had made such a huge impact on television that Sesame Street, which premiered one year afterward, used Laugh-In's rapid pacing as a model. Where the Hudsons were concerned, the Laugh-In connection was no accident: producer Chris Bearde (of the '68 Elvis comeback special) was a writer on Laugh-In and producer/writer of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour — the show for which the brothers' prime time variety show was the "summer replacement."
The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show is a sweet slice of harmless Me Decade kitsch, its hair, clothes, and studio TV production values all preserved for posterity. The Hudsons did make the bar for entry to the world of prime-time seem pretty low — not as low as say, Pink Lady and Jeff, but it wasn't a huge leap. After the brothers enjoyed their brush with TV stardom, Bill married (and divorced) Goldie Hawn, and Brett worked in TV, while Mark went on to become a record producer and songwriter for artists including Aerosmith and Ringo Starr. Still, the two 1974 variety series were the beginning of the end for the Hudson Brothers as an act, as Mark Hudson told Mix magazine: "The TV guys didn't take us as serious comedians, because they thought we were a rock band. And the rock people didn't take us as serious rockers because we were on TV."