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Editorial: Bob Hope’s Passing Marks End of Era

Aug 4, 2003  •  Post A Comment

There will never be another Bob Hope.
That is obviously true in a literal sense, but it is also a reality in a more symbolic sense. It’s the end of an era. Mr. Hope’s passing really represents closure for the first generation of television’s greatest stars.
They came out of vaudeville, live theater, radio and movies and were in position when a new medium with a voracious appetite for content came along. Then, as now, people didn’t watch networks; they watched TV shows. They watched mostly because of the personalities who brought those shows to life. They were the biggest personalities of their era, and they gave life to a fledgling medium. They brought along a bag of tricks and years of jokes and performance skills that helped shape our perception of small-screen entertainment.
Besides Mr. Hope, they included such stars as Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, George Burns and Jimmy Durante. None, however, had as much impact on TV as Mr. Hope.
There will never be another Bob Hope because today’s entertainers are typically pigeonholed into one or two areas. It is a big deal that Jennifer Lopez can be a star of movies and recordings, or that Oprah Winfrey can be both an actress and a talk show host. That pales when compared with Mr. Hope, who found success on TV, in movies, in recordings, as an author and in live performance, while helping shape the cultural landscape.
From his first flirtation in 1932 until his final TV special in 1996, Mr. Hope’s TV career spanned 64 years. He was under contract to NBC as a TV star for 47 years. He did some 284 prime-time shows and specials which averaged-averaged-a 40 percent share of audience. Four of his specials were watched by more than 70 percent of all TV homes in use at the time. He had 19 shows with more than a 60 share and 50 others that were seen by more than 50 percent of all TV viewers. Those are the kinds of numbers only the Super Bowl, World Series now attract.
There are those critics who will carp that Mr. Hope stayed on stage too long, that his super-patriotism during the Vietnam era didn’t play well or that his later shows didn’t measure up to his best earlier work, and all of that may hold a grain of truth. However, Mr. Hope’s contributions were so successful that for many they have become just a part of the landscape.
Bob Hope is gone, but the contributions he made to TV live on. Send those residual checks to heaven.