6. 'Your Show of Shows' (1950-1954)
This is TV sketch comedy's big bang. Catskills-to-Copacabana veteran Sid Caesar had already seen the early potential for television comedy after guest-starring on Milton Berle's variety show. Though his first foray into live TV, The Admiral Theater Revue, was cancelled after 19 weeks, he saw that you could translate vaudeville-style routines for the small screen. So Caesar gathered together a who's-who writers room of future legends (Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon), and started to build on what he'd done: "The sketches got a little longer," he'd tell EmmyTVLegends.org. "We found out where we could go. 'Hey, that professor character worked? Let's do it again two weeks from now. Let's do a silent movie sketch.' It grew organically." The rest was history. If Your Show of Shows didn't invent the form, it certainly sold it wholesale to the masses: For many viewers, this was their first exposure to the idea of taking a single comic concept and executing it, commando-style, in five minutes. Caesar and his rubber-faced partner Imogene Coca could nail a relatable skit involving marital strife and then reset by going hilariously broad — a classical music recital interrupted by loud noises, a This Is Your Life episode that devolves into communal hysterics — without losing momentum.