On This Day: ‘Dolly’ Starring Dolly Parton Airs Final Episode in 1988

by Katie Maloney
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Thirty-three years ago, country music legend Dolly Parton’s variety show “Dolly” aired it’s final episode.

By 1988, Dolly Parton was a country music icon. She had co-starred on The Porter Wagoner Show, went solo and landed several number-one hit songs, and made a name for herself across the music world. So it’s not surprising that ABC’s television network knew Dolly would make a great variety TV show host. They gave Dolly Parton her own show called “Dolly” and on September 27, 1987, the very first episode aired. The first episode featured guest stars Dudley Moore, Hulk Hogan and Oprah Winfrey – now that’s variety!

At the time, it had been almost a decade since the last successful variety shows aired including “The Carol Burnett Show,” and “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.” So, the network was taking a chance trying to revive the genre. Nevertheless, they poured all their resources into the show. ABC contracted Dolly Parton for two seasons of the show for a total of $44 million.

With about 39.47 million viewers, “Dolly” holds the record for being the most-watched series premiere of all time. The only other show that’s in the same league is “Undercover Boss” in 2010, which pulled in 38.6 million viewers for its post-Superbowl debut. However, for unidentified reasons, ratings gradually declined until ABC canceled the show completely before finishing its two seasons.

First episode of “Dolly” 1987 starring Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton Hosted the Same Variety Show Almost a Decade Earlier From 1976-77

In the 70s, Bill Graham, president of the same company that produced “The Porter Wagoner Show” asked Dolly Parton if she’d be interested in hosting her own variety show. Soon after, “Dolly” was born. The show had a budget of $85,000 per episode, making it the most expensive show to be produced out of Nashville at that time.

“Dolly” was also the first time the trio Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt worked together. A full decade later, the three released the first of their two critically acclaimed albums. The show also brought Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers together for the first time. The two later topped the country and pop charts with their mega-hit song “Islands in the Stream.”

Although the show had high ratings, it only lasted one season. Dolly Parton asked to get out of her contract for a variety of reasons including that working 18 hours a day was straining her vocal cords. During an interview, Dolly revealed that she wanted out of the show because she never felt like she was being true to herself.

“I liked all of the people that were on…but I would have had a totally different lineup of guests myself,” said Parton. “It was really bad for me, that TV show. It was worse for me than good because the people who didn’t know me who liked the show thought that’s how I was…I mean, I still come through as myself, even with all the other stuff, but not really like I should. Not my real, natural way. And the people who did know me thought I was crazy. They knew that wasn’t me. Including me. I didn’t know that woman on TV!”

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