Classic Video Showplace

CLASSIC VIDEO SHOWPLACE: “The Lunch Counter Murders”

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The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company. 

For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation. 

Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances. 

From 1939 through the late 1960s, the comedy quartet of George Balzer, John Tackaberry, Milt Josefsberg and Sam Perrin were responsible for some of the funniest bits and comedic sketches on the radio and television mediums.

The four writers not only developed some great sketch comedy routines but also found a way to develop a winning program formula and have success repeating that same episode, literally for decades.

Wait…they repeated the same episode and continue to get new laughs every time?

Let me give you some examples.

On “The Jack Benny Program” alone, the writers developed annual shows like the popular Christmas Shopping and New Year’s Eve programs, which followed the same basic pattern, but would add increasingly funny jokes and added comedic bits with each episode.

For the former, the entire episode each year was Benny looking to buy Christmas gifts for his staff. Utilizing his well-known “skin flint-ness” as a backdrop, Benny would find new ways to save money with increasing cheapness as each show went on.  Every year the cheapness would reach new “highs,” and would culminate with Benny frustrating a salesperson beyond reason, with great comedic results (many would say the 1955 version with Mel Blanc portraying the salesman — ultimately blowing his brains out — was the best/funniest version of this type of episode).

The New Year’s Eve show would feature Benny as the current year’s Father Time, waxing poetic about the highs and lows of the previous year.  While mixing in jokes about the biggest stars and events of the completed year, the climax would be his handing off the role to a young boy portraying the following year’s Baby New Year and a wish of hope and prosperity for the 12 months to come.

Another popular reoccurring episode was the “Lunch Counter Murders.”

Originating as a radio play, the show would focus on Benny running a small-town diner with different members of his cast popping in and for a quick bite while portraying quirky characters.  The show’s second half would feature a guest star heading a group of “dangerous villains” who were on the run from the police and holding Benny hostage at his late night eatery.

Without question, the 1953-version of this skit, with Dan Duryea (who was very popular in films around this time) as the main guest star and cast regular Dennis Day as his sidekick, was the best version of this particular skit.  This edition built on the best comedic gags from the radio version and mixed in humorous visual jokes (complete with a hand-grabbing cash register for people foolish enough to ask Benny for change).

The jokes in this version were fast and furious and featured a surprise, additional guest star at the very end of the skit to top off one of the most popular episodes during the TV program’s early years.

You can catch the laughs for yourself of this specific version of the “Lunch Counter Murder” featured this Wednesday, July 30, at 10:30 am on RCN TV.

Also, see one of the best versions of the “New Year’s” shows, this Tuesday, July 28, at 8pm.

Be on the lookout for more of the annual Benny shows scribed by Perrin, Josefsberg, Balzer and Tackaberry as part of RCN TV’s annual holiday marathon programming.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.