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In the early days of the BBC virtually all broadcast entertainment would be considered light by today's standards, as great pains were taken not to offend audiences—which is not to say that they always succeeded in this.
Singers, magicians and comedians were drafted from the music hall circuit to fill the schedules. Stage acts were transferred directly to screen and in the case of productions such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium the broadcasts actually came from large theatres. Many future household names, including The Beatles, were given their first public airings during these programmes, which attempted to cater for varying tastes through staging variety acts. Bruce Forsyth was one of several hosts for the show and went on himself to present the studio-based Generation Game which remains a landmark in the light entertainment genre. The Generation Game revolved around the now-common television standby of getting members of the public to provide the entertainment themselves by doing silly things for prizes.The show's format was somewhere between the old variety programmes and the increasingly ubiquitous quiz shows and it and its descendants still appear in the television schedules.
The 1970s continued the move away from the music hall format to studio-based shows. Staged concert acts lived on through television magicians such as Paul Daniels and Royal Variety Performances. The Comedians was another programme which looked back at the live entertainment of the music halls and was also a prototype of many later stand-up comedy series. It employed a number of comics from the working men's club circuit to do their routines on camera.
In the 1980s the budgets available for light entertainment increased, and shows had dazzling sets and expensive prizes. With the simultaneous ascendancy of alternative comedy, however, the popularity of light entertainment shows started to decline among audiences. An example of this phenomenon is found in the name of a lesser-known panel show Bring Me the Head of Light Entertainment (which is also a pun on a broadcasting job description). Part of the complaint was that light entertainment sought to amuse, yet younger audiences found the attempts at humour weak and watery.
In spite of critical reaction, light entertainment continues to be popular, perhaps because it provokes no awkward questions when the viewing is shared by different generations of the same family. Current light entertainment icons are Ant & Dec, but have also included Bruce Forsyth and the late Cilla Black.
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During the 1970s, CBC Television introduced Sunday at Nine, a time slot where '"dramas [such as Corwin] alternate with light entertainment [such as The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour] and special documentaries."
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- Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society
- Miller, Mary Jane (1987). Turn Up the Contrast: CBC Television Drama Since 1952. University of British Columbia Press. p. 160. ISBN 0774802782.
It was scheduled in the Sunday at Nine (1970–73) slot, where 'single dramas alternate with light entertainment and special documentaries' (CBC Times, 8-14/11/69).