Bowes's field assistant was Ted Mack, who scouted and auditioned talent for the program. Mack brought the show back in 1948 on ABC radio, where it ran until 1952. When Mack assumed the host duties, his position in the field was taken by Albert Fisher. The official archives of "The Original Amateur Hour" and the rights to the original programs and related material are now owned by Fisher. Fisher has donated the radio recordings and television films and tapes to the Library of Congress, and has compiled a DVD collection of highlights from the series.
The television debut came on January 18, 1948 on the DuMont Television Network with Mack as the host. The regular staff for the television show included Lou Goldberg (aka Lewis Graham); Lloyd Marx, musical director; accompanist Dotty Marx, his wife; and Jac Hein, writer/producer, all of whom were with the show for Mack's entire tenure. The show regularly traveled to other cities across the United States and made at least two trips to Europe for the USO. In the early 1950s, the show went to Washington, D.C. for a memorable benefit featuring contestants from Congress and the Truman administration.
The series is one of the few shows -- others were The Arthur Murray Party, Down You Go, and Pantomime Quiz -- to have appeared on all four TV networks during the Golden Age of Television. It was broadcast weekly on the now-defunct DuMont network until September 25, 1949, then moved to NBC in October 1949 where it remained until September 1952. NBC then hosted it from April 1953 to September 1954.
The show moved to ABC (October 1955 to June 1957), then returned to NBC (July 1957 to October 1958). It then ran from May 1959 to October 1959 on CBS, before returning to ABC for a last prime-time run from March 1960 to September 26, 1960. Even then the show wasn't finished -- it ran for another decade as a late-Sunday-afternoon feature on CBS, beginning on October 2, 1960. Many long-running CBS shows were cancelled in 1970-71 because they attracted viewers of an advanced age; Ted Mack beat CBS to the punch and terminated the Original Amateur Hour of his own volition. The final show was broadcast on September 27, 1970.
The format was almost always the same. At the beginning of the show, the talent's order of appearance was determined by spinning a wheel. After it was announced how many episodes the current one marked (which counted back into the radio days, so the numbers eventually got into the thousands, with the final broadcast on CBS being the 1,651st), the wheel was spun. As the wheel spun, the words "Round and round she goes, and where she stops nobody knows" were always intoned. (From the late 1950s forward, the wheel was gone: it was symbolized by flute arpeggios as Ted Mack invoked the traditional phrase.)
Various acts, sometimes singers or other musicians, quite often vaudeville fare such as jugglers, tap dancers, baton twirlers, and the like, would perform, with the audience being asked to vote for their favorites by postcard or telephone. The telephone number JUdson 6-7000 was on a banner at the bottom of the screen for viewers to call. As the show gained markets outside New York, Mack would give the address ("Box 191 Radio City Station") where viewers could send their postcards; he did this after every act. The winners were invited to appear on the next week's show. Three-time winners were eligible for the annual championship, with the grand-prize winner receiving a $2000 scholarship.
Ted Mack ensured that the show was very fast-paced. Despite the program's title, it was generally only a half-hour show, the only exception to this rule being from March 1956 to June 1957 on ABC, when it was expanded to an hour.
Some contestants became minor celebrities at the time, but few ever became really big show-business stars. The two greatest successes of the show's television era were Gladys Knight, then only a child, and Pat Boone, singing sweet ballads or occasional "covers" of songs which had been written and recorded by black artists which were then largely unknown to the show's predominantly white (some would say "white bread") audience. In fact, Boone's appearances on the show probably caused the closest thing that it ever had to a scandal. After he had appeared, and won, for several weeks, it was revealed that he had appeared on the popular CBS Television show Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, meaning that he was technically not an "amateur" singer. He was removed from the program, but by then his fame was assured. Other future celebrities discovered on the show include Ann-Margret (in 1958) and Irene Cara (in 1967).
The greatest fame attained by anyone appearing on the show was that achieved by Frank Sinatra, who appeared on the show during its radio days with "The Hoboken Four". During World War II it was widely rumored among the U. S. Armed Forces that someone involved with the program was a Nazi sympathizer, "proof" being that shortly after many of the programs, an American naval vessel would supposedly be sunk; this was allegedly due to coded information being passed out in the course of the broadcast of the program. Some went so far as to accuse Bowes himself; obviously nothing of this sort was ever even remotely proven. As a matter of fact, Bowes was one of President Roosevelt's closest friends and was personally responsible for having the swimming pool constructed at The White House when FDR was president. As the years went by, the audience for this program aged as well; the best proof of this was that the CBS Sunday -afternoon version of the 1960s was invariably sponsored by Geritol and other patent medicines.
That this exact format was truly timeless may have been proven in 1992. That year, Albert Fisher revived the program (as The New Original Amateur Hour) on cable television's Family Channel (now ABC Family), hosted by weatherman Willard Scott. This revival lasted one season, in spite of its popularity and high ratings, and also featured the debut of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter. The show also revived the practice of counting the number of episodes, with the first being show number 1,652 and the last, show number 1,664.