Contrary to popular belief, the variety show didn’t really die at the start of the 1980’s; it just got turned over to the amateurs. Star Search turned that time-tested variety/talent show format into a proving ground for up-and-coming talent, winning great success for both the show itself and a number of stars in the making. Hosted by Ed MacMahon (far from a TV amateur), this syndicated series presented a talent contest broken down into separate categories: male actor, female actor, male vocalist, female vocalist, vocal group, dancer, comic, and model/spokesperson.
Every week, seven pairs of contestants competed in their separate categories. Each contest was presided over by a panel of judges, usually consisting of producers and talent agents, who choose a winner in each category. The victor in each category returned the following week to face a new challenger, and the longest-running champions came back in the spring for a final competition to select the Best New Star of the year.
Though the general format of Star Search stayed the same during its lengthy syndicated run, the show was reshaped and remodeled in small ways. Over time, the acting category was phased out to expand the musical and dance categories. The model/spokesperson category, which was initially a woman-only category, was expanded to include male contestants. Original MTV VJ Martha Quinn was also added in 1994 to emcee the musical competitions.
TV talent shows have taken some flack over the years for failing to produce lasting stars, but Star Search was a clear exception to this rule. The many talented alumni who got their start on that syndicated stage include Dennis Miller, Sinbad, and Britney Spears.
USA / Syndicated – Metromedia / x50 minute episodes / Broadcast 1983-1995
Martha Quinn, Vocal Competition MC (1994-95)