NBC is bringing a beloved Broadway musical into our living rooms via the Hairspray Live! television special Wednesday, Dec. 7. The star-studded cast includes Kristin Chenoweth, Billy Eichner, Harvey Fierstein, Ariana Grande, Sean Hayes, Jennifer Hudson, Martin Short, and Derek Hough as Corny Collins. The characters’ stories revolve around Corny’s popular TV dance program based in Baltimore. We know the musical comedy is fictional, but was The Corny Collins Show a real TV show?
According to Playbill.com, The Corny Collins Show is fictional. But, the program was reportedly based on a real Baltimore dance program, and Corny Collins himself was based on the show’s real host. The outlet reported that Buddy Deane’s popular Baltimore's WJZ-TV show ran from 1957 to 1964 and that Deane hosted a throng of teens who danced to popular tracks. The article stated, “The show ran for two and-a-half hours, six days a week and was a local sensation.”
Buddy Deane’s dance show was one of many during the 1960s. Perhaps the best known long-running dance program of its kind is American Bandstand, which ran in some capacity from 1952 to 1989, and featured dancers grooving to Top 40 hits. In its heyday, the show was hosted by Dick Clark. Another notable long-running American dance program is, of course, Soul Train, which ran from 1971 to 2006.
While Hairspray’s storyline revolves around integrating the dance program, this never happened on Deane’s show. Playbill reported that the show not being integrated had nothing to do with backlash from the host or television station, but because it was believed at the time that the “Southern city of Baltimore was perceived as not being ready for such a move.”
Deane has spoken about his show being fictionalized for Hairspray, and he even had a cameo as a reporter in the original movie, according to The New York Times. According to him, the people behind the show wanted to integrate but "the management of the station did not realize that Baltimore was very much a Southern-oriented city," Deane said in a 2002 interview with The Associated Press, according to NYT. The outlet reported that Deane said the show's dancers were asked "what they thought about integration, and they said, 'Well, it's OK with me, but my folks won't be happy.' That was the general consensus."
While The Corny Collins Show may not be real, the themes discussed in Hairspray are an important part of American history, and are still relevant today. From body image to racism, Hairspray Live! is touching on themes that have been huge in 2016, so there's never been a more relevant time to tune in.
Image: Trae Patton/NBC