A History of Radio Programs That Became Successful TV Shows

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Comedy Bang Bang (formerly Comedy Death-Ray) was once a hit radio show broadcast on an indie station in Southern California, and then a podcast produced by Earwolf Studios. Now it’s set to become a television show on IFC, which will feature the likes of Reggie Watts, Paul F. Tompkins, and many more awesome comedy celebrities. IFC has also announced that it will turn comedian Marc Maron’s “WTF Podcast,” one of the most popular comedy shows on the Internet into a one-camera sitcom.

Back when radio was king, this sort of jump from sound to sight was pretty common both in America and the UK, and we bet you’d be surprised to know which of the most celebrated sitcoms and dramas made the transition. We’ll show you some of the most notable examples after the jump, and let you know about some of the more recent television shows that, like Comedy Bang Bang, were once only for your ears.

Amos ‘n’ Andy

In 1928, when the radio program of Amos ‘n’ Andy was first produced, nobody really minded that the two lead actors were white guys playing harshly stereotypical black guys (who also wore blackface for public appearances — yikes). When CBS tried to make a show in 1946 they used these white actors, but it didn’t catch on, so in 1951, African American actors were cast to replace them. Pressure from the NAACP ended the popular television series a few years later, but the radio version kept on plugging until 1960, and the show continued to air in syndication until 1966. Still, it was the first show with an all-black cast, so that’s something… right?

The Jack Benny Show

One of the most popular and well-known comedians of the ’30s and ’40s, Jack Benny played a exaggerated caricature of himself on the show that bore his name. The radio program debuted in 1934, and was such a huge hit that it launched a variety show spin-off in 1950. While the radio version ended 1955, its TV counterpart went on until 1965, and both were popular in syndication as well.

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

This precursor to Leave It to Beaver! originated the trope of the happy nuclear sitcom family, first on radio from 1944 to 1954, and then on ABC from 1952 to 1966. A real-life couple, Ozzie and Harriet played versions of themselves; their sons were played by actors until their real sons were old enough to take over. Their sons’ real wives also joined the cast when they got married. It was the longest running sitcom until The Simpsons surpassed it in 2004.

Dragnet

Before the days of Law and Order, this drama about a pair of LA detectives found great success when it came to television in 1951. Before that, however, it was a radio program that got off to a bumpy start in 1949. However, it began to pick up steam when its creator started insisting on the show’s attention to realism, right down to police paperwork. The radio program ran until ’57 and the TV show until ’59, and several films and parodies were made, including an educational children’s parody called Mathnet .

The Lone Ranger

Believe it or not, most of your favorite crime fighters were adapted for radio — James Bond, Superman, and even Sherlock Holmes all starred in their own programs. The Lone Ranger was one of the few heroes who was specifically created for radio (though not the only one — he also spawned a spinoff, Green Hornet , who was actually the Lone Ranger’s nephew), and he was an instant hit when he was introduced in 1933. The television show spanned from 1951 to ’57 and was just as popular. Reruns of both are still being broadcast on TV and radio today.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

You might remember this better as a book series or a movie starring Zooey Deschanel and the new Bilbo Baggins, but this Douglas Adams-penned franchise began as a radio serial in 1978. While it was thought to be unfilmable at the time, it still found its way onto TV in 1981, and won several graphics and editing BAFTAS, as well as a Royal Television Society award as Most Original Programme of 1981. Those BBC producers must have been some pretty hoopy froods!

The Mighty Boosh

The tradition of adapting radio shows for TV has continued for much longer in the UK than in America (mostly likely because the British government owns channels on both media forms), and you still see shows being brought from the air waves to the small screen today. Originally called The Boosh, this comedy troupe’s stage show was adapted for radio in 2001, and then ran on television from 2004 to 2007. It has since achieved massive cult status in the comedy world. In fact, even if you haven’t heard of these guys, you’ve probably seen some of their sketches on YouTube without knowing it (remember Old Gregg?).

Loveline

Not all of the shows adapted from radio are sketch comedy and serialized stories — sometimes they’re actual talk shows, with hosts and everything! Loveline began in 1983 as a segment about dating for an LA radio station, but it started to syndicate nationally when Adam Carolla took over one of the co-hosting gigs. The show became so popular that MTV optioned it into a television show that ran from 1996 to 2000. Though the show was cancelled and Carolla has left to do his own thing, the radio show is still going strong!

The Nerdist

Even BBC America’s been getting into the audio-adaption business, through the more contemporary podcast medium. The podcast Nerdist has been optioned for a set of TV specials to be released intermittently throughout the year; three of them have already aired, and they’ve featured such amazing guests as Community’s Alison Brie, comedian Kumail Nanjani, talk show host Craig Ferguson, and the king of the nerds himself, Wil Wheaton.

The Ricky Gervais Show

It’s OK that the BBC is creating shows based on American podcasts, though, because we sort of stole one of theirs — The Ricky Gervais Show, which started in 2001 as a radio show on XFM and then became a podcast, has become an animated series on HBO. If you think watching a bunch of cartoons sit around like they’re in a radio station studio is boring, guess again. Gervais, Stephan Merchant, and their strange friend Karl Pilkington (from An Idiot Abroad) are completely hilarious.

This American Life

One of the most popular radio shows and podcasts in existence, this NPR-produced program was turned into a television show for Showtime in 2007. The result was just like the radio series, which is probably what made it so great. In fact, it received three Emmy nominations and two awards over the course of its two-season run. Ira Glass and the rest of the show’s producers had to call it quits because they were unable to fit the show’s production into their already-crazy schedules, but you can still watch the whole thing on Netflix, and Glass is currently working on another This American Life adaptation for HBO.