Gleason's first variety series was aired on the DuMont Television Network under the title Cavalcade of Stars. The show's first host was Jack Carter, who was followed by Jerry Lester. After Lester quit in June 1950 (soon to become the star of NBC's first late-night series, Broadway Open House), Gleason—who had made his mark on the first television incarnation of The Life of Riley sitcom—stepped into Cavalcade on July 15, 1950, and became an immediate sensation.
The show was broadcast live in front of a theater audience, and offered the same kind of vaudevillian entertainment common to early television revues. Gleason's guests included New York-based performers of stage and screen, including Bert Wheeler, Smith and Dale, Patricia Morison and Vivian Blaine. Production values were modest, owing to DuMont's humble facilities and a thrifty sponsor (Quality Drugs, representing most of the nation's drug stores).
In 1952, CBS president William S. Paley offered Gleason a considerably higher salary. The series was retitled The Jackie Gleason Show and premiered on CBS on September 20, 1952. Paley used the show's position on CBS to showcase artists like Frankie Laine, Frankie Avalon, Doris Day and teenage guitar prodigy Zane Ashton.
While much of DuMont's programming archive was destroyed after they ceased broadcasting, a surprising number of Cavalcade of Stars episodes survive, including several episodes at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. At least 14 Gleason episodes survive at the Paley Center for Media.
See also: List of programs broadcast by the DuMont Television Network
See also: List of surviving DuMont Television Network broadcasts
In his book The Forgotten Network, author David Weinstein mentions an unusual aspect of the DuMont version. He notes that while Drug Store Productions was technically the sponsor, they in turn sold the commercial air time to various companies and products. Weinstein notes this as an early example of U.S. network television moving away from the single-sponsor system typical of the early 1950s. He quoted former DuMont executive Ted Bergmann as saying the DuMont version as featuring six commercial breaks during the hour, with each break consisting of a single one-minute commercial.