ARTISTIC DIRECTOR NOTES
This play is based on television history.
Although it conflates the writing staffs of two Sid Caesar television programs – Your Show of Shows, which ran from 1950-1954, and its successor, Caesar’s Hour, which ran from 1954-1957 – Laughter on the 23rd Floor otherwise hews closely to the history of Your Show of Shows. The play is based on Neil Simon’s days as a young writer for that show. It takes place in 1953, when Your Show of Shows was widely considered by audiences and critics alike to be the best, most sophisticated comedy on TV. It shaped the way America thought of TV comedy – sitcoms and variety shows alike – for generations to come, and most of the writers who passed through its doors continued to wield an outsized influence through the 1980s and beyond.
The show was performed live, without cue cards, and nobody ad-libbed. It was tightly scripted, scrupulously rehearsed and highly professional, with high-quality costumes and sets. The plot arc of Laughter on the 23rd Floor mirrors the trajectory of Your Show of Shows itself. The show was originally 90 minutes long and had a large writing staff that was the highest paid in the business. However successful it was, the lavish budget was a constant thorn in NBC’s side, and Caesar battled with the network continually over cuts.
By 1953, the show’s ratings had embarked on a two-year slide as audience tastes began trending toward the less sophisticated, and, in 1954, the network won the battle. The show was cut to an hour that year, and then cancelled altogether as NBC wanted its two main stars, Caesar and Imogene Coca, each to have their own show. Caesar’s next incarnation was the aforementioned Caesar’s Hour, which ran for three years; The Imogene Coca Show lasted one season. Apart from this play, Your Show of Shows was the inspiration for The Dick Van Dyke Show (its creator, Carl Reiner, was a regular both in front of, and behind, the camera on Your Show of Shows) as well as the 1982 Peter O’Toole film My Favorite Year (produced by Mel Brooks).