As a teenager in the 1980s, I became interested in indexing (or episode guiding/episode logging, if you will) some of my favorite television shows, such as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “The Bob Newhart Show”, and “The Honeymooners”. Eventually finding out that sitcom episodes had actual titles, even if you never saw the titles on screen, led to me visiting local libraries to scan old TV listings on microfilm, writing television syndication companies to get episode lists, buying old TV Guides, and, when I had the money, buying large reference books such as Larry James Gianakos’ “Television Drama Series Programs 1959-1975”. I was spurned on with my somewhat obscure pursuit by the knowledge that I wasn’t the only person doing this type of thing; reading Mike Tiefenbacher’s media column in the old “The Comic Reader” fanzine revealed that there were other OCD fans that enjoyed doing the same thing (just kidding about the OCD….I think…)
As I grew older, books started appearing dedicated to either a grouping of classic television shows (such as Vince Waldron’s great “Classic Sitcoms”) or to just one particular show (Bart Andrews’ “I Love Lucy Book”, “Love is All Around: The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, Marc Scott Zicree’s excellent “Twilight Zone Companion”, etc.). What I most enjoyed about the best of these types of books was that the background information and individual episode descriptions were so interesting on their own, that you could read them without having seen every single episode of the program under review. In books such as “The Twilight Zone Companion”, the episode descriptions weren’t just simply a case of stating “this happened, then this happened, then that happened, the end”, but instead had full critical analysis of the episodes, including interesting factoids/mistakes, cool “behind-the-scenes” background information, credits, etc. It was these types of books that I found so entertaining I would re-read them often.
After I reached my twenties my interest in indexing things
never completely went away, but rather just migrated to different
media/concerns: Grateful Dead concerts, discographies of bands, and so on.
I became interested in the Jack Benny radio program when, sometime in the late 1980s, a New York classical music radio station began playing Jack Benny programs every Sunday night. I saw a notice of this in a New York newspaper. I knew of Jack from seeing reruns of his television show occasionally but certainly wasn't a fan and I didn't know much about him. The radio station mainly aired shows from the mid-to-late 1940s, and even though, being a commercial radio station in the 1980s they had to edit out any references to Lucky Strike and all the bits with the Sportsmen, I fell in love with the program. I think that it’s somewhat significant that nobody sat me down and said, “This is the funniest radio program ever”; I just became a fan of the show on my own. Sometimes I think that this is the best way to become a fan of something, as we can have resistance to things fostered on us because they’re “the best ever”. It can be more rewarding to discover things on our own. Afterwards I did get into Old Time Radio in general, buying and collecting tapes, and recording the “Golden Age of Radio” show each week on WBAI FM. Even after hearing all these other radio programs, the Jack Benny Show remained my favorite. This all led to my starting research on the show in 1989, as detailed elsewhere on the site; all of that eventually lead to this website.
What all this is leading to: I hope that this website will (eventually) be like the best of the books mentioned above: an entertaining site to read over, with interesting background articles and episode descriptions that are fun to read even if you have never heard the episode, or alternately also fun to read along with while listening to the episode.
The story of how I got involved with this is something people could benefit from. I'd heard a handful of Benny shows years back, on Old Time Radio shows and the like. When I converted my old audio tapes to mp3 years ago, I counted a dozen Benny episodes total. About 9 years ago, I bought 700 episodes in mp3 format on eBay. I started to listen to them at lunch at work, but didn't get very far. The early Canada Dry and Chevrolet Shows weren't great, and I was also using lunch hours to work on my own attempts to write comedy.
Three years ago, I got a new car, and accidentally discovered an interesting fact. The CD player could play .mp3's. This meant that it could play those 700 episodes from eBay, and that I had about an hour of drive-time every day that wasn't being used for anything except driving. Local radio was pretty dull, but with that hour, I could listen to two Benny shows a day without cutting into time that was being used for anything else. At that rate, it only took about a year and a half to listen to them all. I had a notebook in the car, and usually wrote down a one line description of each episode, which wasn't much.
All the Benny episodes I'd heard previously were Lucky Strike shows, and I knew those didn't start until 1944, so I expected to have to slog through a lot of weaker shows before getting to the good stuff, but the show improved noticeably when Jell-O took over, and got really good just about the time Phil Harris arrived. Those jokes they told in later years, where Don Wilson annoyed Jack by talking about how "I took this show when it was down..." are very nearly true.
After finishing Benny, I went through a couple of other shows, and after about a year off, decided to go back through Benny again, but this time have something more lasting afterwards than a series of one-line descriptions. I got a Digital .mp3 recorder to keep in the car, to dictate voice notes while listening to the program, so that they could be written up later. In this way, some fairly detailed recaps could be written, along with notes on where the best jokes were in case I wanted to hear them again. But I figured that to justify doing that much work on it, somebody else had to enjoy it besides just me. I remembered seeing your 40's page, a while back, and wishing that it had info on the 30's and 50's as well.
I still do my own comedy stuff, but it will probably never be published due to copyright issues. Basically, I'm trying to do in a book what Woody Allen did in the movies in "What's Up, Tiger Lily?". I took a turgid and unintentionally campy old soap opera (ABC'S Dark Shadows), story-boarded the episodes as photos, and write captions for the photos, to rewrite the entire story as a comedy, while retaining the original characters and plot lines.
I've done hundreds of episodes like this, and looked into getting it published, but never got the time of day from the people who own the rights, so I've put pieces of it online, hoping that a few people will get a laugh out of it. There's a mini-story online at
If anybody enjoys the Benny write ups and wants to thank me, they can read some of these. If they really like the Benny write ups, they can read it and tell me it's great. I've always had this idea that this was funny enough that even people who had never see the original show might be able to read it, follow it, and laugh at it.
((Graeme has contributed all of the episode logs for Benny shows broadcast during the 1930s. You can contact Graeme at: Graeme Cree email@example.com ))
GARY R. PETERSON
((Gary has contributed episode reviews for the 1939-1940 season))