I had the pleasure of working with Garry Moore and Arthur Godfrey on various projects. We can't leave Godfrey's Wednesday night show out of the pantheon of classic variety shows. Ironically, he also did the Talent Scouts show on Tuesday nights in the 50s, which along with Ted Mack's Amateur Hour were the shows from which the tarted up American Idol was spawned. Mack inherited the show from a guy named Major Bowes who did it on radio.
The thing about Godfrey and Moore that many don't remember was that they were among broadcasting's "iron men." Godfrey had a morning show, plus the Talent Scouts plus the variety show ("Arthur Godfrey and his Friends"). To this day he remains the only performer in the history of television to preside over three top-rated shows simultaneously. Somebody figured out that he was on the air LIVE some eight hours a week. (The morning show was simulcast on CBS radio, and if memory serves it was a half-hour longer than the TV version.) On top of that, for a while he did a 15-minute filler show on CBS where he gave ukulele lessons. He was far more popular (adjusting for population and sets in use) than Oprah ever dreamed of being, and he appealed to a much broader demographic. And could that man sell soup!
Of course, Godfrey was already doing his show on radio with great success when TV came along. Once, after a recording session, we repaired to his place for wine and conversation and I asked him if making the transition to TV was hard for him. He said it was brutal. He told me that at first he insisted that the cameras be put in the balcony of the theater because "I didn't want anything getting between me and my people." Eventually of course, like all TV performers, he had to make his peace with treating the camera as a person. Recently a friend gave me a DVD of one of Godfrey's Talent Scouts programs--it was in fact the night the McGuire Sisters were on the show for their first nationwide shot that launched their careers. I was fascinated to see that even then, Godfrey played more to the studio audience than to the cameras. Not many could get away with that, but he did. Of course, the medium was young and everybody was still feeling their way along.
Same story with Garry Moore. He had a daytime show as Trip points out, and he had the nighttime variety show, and he hosted the "I've Got a Secret" quizzer. Later, he did "To Tell the Truth."
These guys and others like them were giants. We owe them so much.