1926-1927 1927-1928 1928-1929 1929-1930 1930-1931 1931-1932 1932-1933 1933-1934 1934-1935 1935-1936 1936-1937 1937-1938 1938-1939
26 Fox Varieties (1rl) 189 presentation acts (1rl) 52 Fox Movietone Entertainments (1 and 2rl) 26 Columbia-Victor Gems (1rl) 6 Musical Fantasies (1rl) 4 Harry Lauder Shorts (1rl) 13 Hollywood on Parade (1rl) 13 Hollywood on Parade (!rl) 12 Melody Masters (1rl) 13 Big Time Vaudeville Shorts (1rl) 13 Big Time Vaudeville Shorts (1rl) 4 Broadway Follies (1rl) 18 Melody Masters (1rl)
186 presentation acts (1rl) 26 Varieties (1rl) 44 Paramount Sound Shorts (1x1/2rl, 24x1rl, 1x1 1/2rl, 18x2rl) 26 Metro Movietone Acts (25x1rl, 1x2rl) 104 Paramount Acts (1rl) 7 Melody Masters (1rl) 13 Melody Masters (1rl) 13 Melody Masters (1rl) 21 Paramount Headliners (1rl) 13 Melody Masters (1rl) 18 Melody Masters (1rl) 18 Melody Masters (1rl) 5 Music Hall Vanities (1rl)
3 Radio Personalities (2rl) 191 presentation acts (1rl) 32 Paramount Acts (1rl) 13 presentation acts (12x1rl, 1x2rl) 42 Paramount Acts (1rl) 13 NBC Musical Broadcasts (1rl) 13 Paramount Headliners (1rl) 19 Paramount Headliners (1rl) 18 Paramount Headliners (1rl) 15 Paramount Headliners (1rl) 15 Paramount Headliners (1rl)
128 presentation acts (125x1rl, 3x2rl) 12 Paramount Acts (1rl) 2 Radio Star Reels (2rl)
11 Radio Star Reels (10x2rl, 1x1rl)


One of the marketing ideas behind Warner Bros.’ move into sound was the idea that sound short subjects could provide cost-cutting substitutes for the live “presentation acts” then popular in big-city movie theaters. Initially these aspirations were pursued on a distinctly highbrow footing. For its initial program of sound-on-disc Vitaphone shorts accompanying Don Juan on August 6, 1926, Warners offered the overture from Wagner’s Tännhauser, tenor Giovanni Martinelli’s aria from I Pagliacci, sopranos Marion Talley and Anna Case performing music by Wagner and Beethoven – with only Roy Smeck’s solo on the Hawaiian guitar offering lighter musical fare. But Warners abruptly shifted gears with its second program (October 7) – which showcased performances by Al Jolson, George Jessel, and the comedy team of Willie and Eugene Howard – inaugurating a policy of “canned” Broadway-style performances that immediately set a new industry standard. As one of the earliest chroniclers of the history of sound film, Fitzhugh Green, explained in his 1929 study The Film Finds Its Tongue: “Audiences manifestly liked the vaudeville shorts better than they did the operatic ones, and Sam [Warner] and the Manhattan crew began making vaudeville acts and dance orchestras in preference to the heavier stuff.”

A majority of the major studios followed Warners’ lead by including series in the Broadway style for their initial sound seasons: MGM, for instance, had its Metro Movietone Acts (featuring “vaudeville stars or teams”), Paramount a series of Paramount Talking Acts (“produced with the cream of screen stars and of Broadway talent combined”), and Fox its Fox Varieties. By the 1930-1931 season, however, the format was in decline, surviving primarily in musical shorts that provided rudimentary narrative motivation for the display of presentation numbers (for instance, MGM’s The Devil’s Cabaret [1930], wherein Satan tries to make Hades a more appealing destination by putting on cabaret acts for its denizens). Warner Bros. itself largely forsook the format it helped pioneer when, in 1931, its short-subject division was reorganized to emphasize more clearly identifiable film series such as the Big “V” Comedies, Looney Tunes cartoons, and E. M. Newman’s Travel Talks.