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Dolly Parton’s ’80s variety show: 5 memories from rare failure

Dolly Parton gets in the holiday spirit on

Dolly Parton gets in the holiday spirit on her short-lived '80s variety show, "Dolly." Credit: AP / Lennox McLendon

This week’s TV movie, “Dolly Parton’s Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love” (Nov. 30 on NBC), offers another heartwarming tale from the singer’s childhood. Its ratings are expected to be just as high as last season’s extremely popular “Coat of Many Colors.” The country music superstar has also enjoyed a productive TV career, even if one of her most high-profile gigs didn’t turn out as anticipated. In the fall of 1987, ABC had high hopes that a variety show starring Parton would single-handedly revive the moribund format. (She had hosted a syndicated variety show a decade earlier.) Alas, ABC was wrong and “Dolly” was gone by the summer of 1988. Here are five things to know about that show:

  • Parton, lying in a bubble bath, introduced the first show thusly: “People have been saying to me, ‘Well, Dolly, you’re never gonna sing like Glen Campbell and you’re never gonna be as funny as Carol Burnett and you’re never gonna look like Cher.’ Heck, I know that. I’m not trying to compete with those great people, I’m just out here trying to be myself.”
  • On the debut episode, she performed a duet of “Hey, Good Lookin’ ” with Pee-wee Herman, appeared with Hulk Hogan in a music video of “He’s Got a Headlock on My Heart” and sang gospel with Oprah Winfrey. (Even New York City Mayor Ed Koch made a cameo.)
  • She ended every episode with a rendition of her classic hit “I Will Always Love You.”
  • Most of the show’s episodes were taped in ABC’s studios in Los Angeles, but many “special” episodes were recorded on location, including Hawaii, New Orleans, Nashville and a Thanksgiving episode in Parton’s hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.
  • The show’s initial ratings were relatively high but declined rapidly as the months progressed, resulting in its cancellation after just one season.

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