Top comedians find gold in performing on television

Comedians and television have been intertwined like red, white and blue fabric for American audiences for decades.

“Late Show” host David Letterman announced his retirement plans the same month legendary comedian Bob Hope made his television debut in 1950.

Rumors are swirling about who will replace Letterman.

Whomever takes the spot will either continue a career in television with a big promotion or become the latest comedian to enter the small screen realm. Sitcoms also have become a great way for comedians to launch their careers.

Here’s a look at others who made it big by taking comedy acts to television throughout history.

Bill Cosby, “I Spy” (1965-68)

Cosby is probably best known for his title show, “The Bill Cosby Show”, but the famed comedian’s biggest break came when he played Alexander Scott, an American agent with a tennis coach cover in “I Spy”.

Cosby later would entertain the masses with “The Bill Cosby Show”, a family-based comedy that focused on parenting and education. The series originally started in 1969, but dropped off for more than a decade before coming back in 1984.

The show lasted until 1992 before giving way to “The Simpsons”.

Robin Williams, “Mork & Mindy” (1978-82)

Williams got spot roles in a few TV shows before landing the role of alien Mork in “Mork & Mindy. In the comedy, Williams showed off his ability to manipulate his voice and gestures while playing an alien sent to understand Earth.

Williams parlayed the role into an illustrious career that included prime roles in “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “Aladdin” and “Mrs. Doubtfire”. Williams also performed in dramas such as “Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting”.

Will Smith, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1990-1996)

Smith’s blockbuster acting career took off after playing a character by his own name in the comedy about a wealthy family that takes in its irresponsible, street-smart nephew.

Before the show reached its conclusion, Smith had starred in “Bad Boys” and became the lead character in “Independence Day”. Smith went on to star in big-screen hit after big-screen hit as he took on action roles as well as dramatic characters. 

Jerry Seinfeld, “Seinfeld” (1990-1998)

Seinfeld dabbled on screen with his stand-up routine before launching the series “Seinfeld” based on turning common activities such as buying soup into hilarious viewing entertainment.

Ellen DeGeneres, “Ellen” (1994-98)

One of the premier female comedians of her generation, DeGeneres starred in the title role for “Ellen”, a show about the happenings of a bookstore employee and her friends.

DeGeneres later launched the popular comical variety daytime talk show “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”, which became an Emmy Award-winning hit. She also served as a judge for “American Idol” for one season.

Her popularity spurred her to be selected to twice host the Oscars, and a tweet of a photo she took with other celebs at the most recent awards show became the most retweeted post of all-time.


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