Is Your Life
It's been called TV's first reality show, but whatever it was, This Is Your Life was certainly one of America's most beloved institutions. Each week, viewers would tune in to see host Ralph Edwards throw what was, in effect, a big surprise party. The show would typically honor the accomplishments of one distinguished individual and feature a review of the honoree's life. Family and friends, some of whom the honoree hadn't seen in years, would be brought onstage for an often teary-eyed reunion.
Like many early TV shows, This Is Your Life started on radio. Initially, Edwards, who was the program's producer as well as its host, intended to honor World War II veterans who had lost limbs in their country's service. The idea was to show them how much their fellow citizens appreciated their sacrifice and to help with their readjustment to civilian life. But soon, the show's subjects began to include educators, humanitarians, entertainers, and anyone who had accomplished something noteworthy. A lifelong contributor to worthy causes, Edwards would frequently throw in a plug for whatever charity the honoree might be involved with.
A glance at the honoree list reveals not only a host of famous celebrities but many ordinary people who had managed to make a difference. It was this mix of the well-known and the unsung that gave TIYL such an interesting balance. And the genuine emotion on the faces of the show's subjects at being honored by friends and family made it good television.
On April 3, 1954, Your Show of Shows, did a hilarious spoof of TIYL (called This Is Your Story), with Carl Reiner as the amiable Ralph Edwards-type host and Sid Caesar as the reluctant honoree. Six years later, Edwards got the last laugh when he made Reiner his subject on the real TIYL.
TIYL ran on radio from 1948 to 1950 before moving over to TV in 1952. It finished its initial TV run in 1961 but came back in syndication from 1971 to 1973. A second syndicated edition hosted by Joe Campanella ran during the 1983-84 season. There were also several TIYL specials on NBC in 1981, 1987, and 1993.