Clerow “Flip” Wilson Jr. was an American comedian and actor best known for his television appearances during the late 1960s and 1970s. From 1970 to 1974, Wilson hosted his own weekly variety series The Flip Wilson Show, and introduced viewers to his recurring character Geraldine.
The Flip Wilson Show is an hour-long variety show that originally aired in the US on NBC from September 17, 1970, to June 27, 1974. The show starred American comedian Flip Wilson; the program was one of the first American television programs starring a black person in the title role to become highly successful with a white audience. Specifically, it was the first successful network variety series starring an African American. During its first two seasons, its Nielsen ratings made it the nation’s second most watched show.
The show consisted of many skits in a 60-minute variety format. It also broke new ground in American television by using a “theatre-in-the-round” stage format, with the audience seated on all sides of a circular performance area (with some seats located behind the sketch sets on occasion).
Wilson was most famous for creating the role of Geraldine Jones, a sassy, modern woman who had a boyfriend named Killer (who, when not in prison, was at the pool hall). Flip also created the role of Reverend Leroy, who was the minister of the Church of What’s Happening Now! New parishioners were wary of coming to the church as it was hinted that Reverend Leroy was a con artist. Wilson popularized the catchphrase “The Devil made me do it!”.
Geraldine Jones was a huge part of The Flip Wilson Show and was played by Wilson wearing women’s clothing. Some of “Geraldine’s” most famous quotes are, “The Devil made me buy this dress!”, “Don’t you touch me, honey, you don’t know me that well! You devil, you!” and “What you see is what you get!”
In one episode of the show, “Geraldine” and Bill Cosby were in a skit called “The Night Nurse” in which Geraldine and Bill were in a hospital. Cosby was supposed to be the sick patient and Geraldine was the nurse. “She” was convinced that he was there for a swollen ego. It ends with Geraldine lying in the hospital bed watching her favorite show, Iron Hips, while Cosby leaves. In another, she is with Ray Charles and presents him with a reward from the Ray Charles Fan Club, which is a kiss on the cheek. Ray asks what he can do for her, and she says that she has been rehearsing a song in the shower for the past week that she wanted to sing with him. All in all, Geraldine Jones was a favorite of Flip Wilson Show fans, and a major part of the show and the years that the show was running.
In addition to the skits, Wilson also signed many popular singers to provide entertainment. African-American singers such as Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, The Chi-Lites, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Pointer Sisters, Charley Pride, Johnny Mathis, The Temptations, and The Supremes appeared on the program, as well as many contemporary white entertainers like Bobby Darin (a frequent guest on his show), Bing Crosby (two appearances), Roy Clark, Joan Rivers, The Osmonds, Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, and Pat Boone. Usually, the singers also chose to partake in skits with Wilson.
Wilson’s clout allowed him to get both the new breakout performers (such as The Jackson 5, Roberta Flack, Sandy Duncan, Lily Tomlin, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Albert Brooks, Lola Falana, and Melba Moore, all of whom became very popular during this period) as well as established singers. In late 1971, gospel legend Mahalia Jackson made one of her last public performances on The Flip Wilson Show.
While The Flip Wilson Show first shared a studio with other television series, Wilson’s massive popularity allowed for him to get his own set of soundstages, starting in the fall 1972 season. As the seasons went on, however, the show’s ratings slipped; ratings across the variety show genre began a terminal decline in the mid-1970s. This, coupled with Wilson’s repeated demands for higher raises in his salary, caused the series to go over its budget and led to its cancellation.
Half-hour versions of the series aired on TV Land from 1997 to 2006. From 2011 to 2012, the show aired on TV One. From 2012 to 2016, half-hour versions of the show aired on the Aspire network.
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