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The Ed Sullivan Show

Ed Sullivan
Ed Sullivan

The Ed Sullivan Show was an American television variety show that ran from June 20, 1948, to June 6, 1971, and was hosted by Ed Sullivan. It ran on CBS every Sunday night at 8:00. Virtually every type of entertainment appeared on the show; opera singers, rock stars, comedians, ballet dancers, and circus acts were regularly featured.

The format was essentially the same as vaudeville, and Sullivan presented many vaudevillians on his show. Vaudevillians in theatres were accustomed to presenting a single, highly polished, unchanging act for decades. A single performance on television reached an audience of millions—but almost eliminated any demand for any repeat performances. Thus, ironically, the Ed Sullivan show (along with other television shows) became a cause of the decline of vaudeville.

The show was originally entitled Toast of the Town, but was universally referred to as The Ed Sullivan Show for years before 1955, when that became its official name. In its debut, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed along with Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II previewing the score to South Pacific.

The show was broadcast from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, which is now the home of The Late Show with David Letterman.

    * 1 Background
    * 2 Famous performances
    * 3 Reference
    * 4 External link



Along with the talent he booked each week, he also had recurring characters appear many times a season, such as his puppet sidekick Topo Gigio, and ventriloquist Se鐃�r Wences.

While most of the episodes aired live from New York City, the show also aired live on occasion from other nations, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan. For many years, Ed Sullivan was a national event each Sunday evening, and was the first exposure for foreign performers to the American public.

The program did not shy away from airing performances from many black entertainers, such as Nat King Cole, The Supremes, Mahalia Jackson, The Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Diahann Carroll, Bo Diddley (he became the first on November 20, 1955) and The Fifth Dimension. Many of the higher-ups at CBS tried to discourage Sullivan from this practice but he was not deterred.

The show enjoyed phenomenal popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. As had occurred with Amos 'n Andy on the radio a decade earlier, the family ritual of gathering around the television set to watch Ed Sullivan became almost a U.S. cultural universal. Ed Sullivan was regarded as a kingmaker, and performers considered an appearance on his program as a guarantee of stardom. The show's iconic status is illustrated by a song from 1963 musical, Bye Bye Birdie. In the song, "Hymn for a Sunday Evening," a family of viewers expresses their regard for the program in worshipful tones.

In the late 1960s, Sullivan remarked that his program was waning as the decade went on. He realized that to keep viewers, the best and brightest in entertainment had to be seen, or else the viewers were going to keep on changing the channel. Along with declining viewership, Ed Sullivan attracted a higher median age for the average viewer as the seasons went on. These two reasons were evidence for its cancellation in 1971. Sullivan would produce one-off specials for CBS until his death in 1974.

Famous performances

The Ed Sullivan Show is especially known for airing breakthrough performances by Elvis Presley and The Beatles.

On September 9, 1956, Presley made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show even though Sullivan had previously vowed never to allow the performer on his show. At the time Presley was filming Love Me Tender so Sullivan's producer Marlo Lewis flew to Los Angeles, California to supervise the Hollywood side of the show taping. Sullivan, however, was not able to host his show in New York City because he was recovering from a near fatal automobile accident. Oscar-winner Charles Laughton guest-hosted in Sullivan's place introducing Presley with "And now away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley" to which Presley eventually responded "This is probably the greatest honor that I've ever had in my life."

The show was viewed by a record 60 million people which at the time was 82.6% of the television audience and the largest single audience in television history. Sullivan was able to host other appearances by Presley starting on October 28 later the same year. But for this appearance Presley dyed his naturally sandy blond hair to his soon to be trademark "bad boy" jet black. Presley's third and final appearance on the show occurred on January 6, 1957 but by that time controversy over Presley's provocative hip and pelvis movements prompted Sullivan to order the show's cameras to only shoot the rock star from the waist up. In spite of that Sullivan thanked Presley after his last number saying, "This is a real decent, fine boy. We've never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we've had with you.... You're thoroughly all right."

Many television historians consider Elvis Presley's appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show as helping to bridge a large generation gap between Great Depression and World War II era parents and their Baby Boomer children. Later performers would use this bridge to introduce themselves to millions of American households. Among them were The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Who, and The Beatles.

The July 1, 1962 show was taped at the famed Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris, France and featured Connie Francis and French rocker Johnny Hallyday.

The Beatles appeared live on the show four times on February 9, 16, 23 1964 and September 12 1965 and earned Sullivan a 60% share of the night time audience for one of the appearances. Their first appearance on February 9, in particular, is considered a turning point in American pop-culture and the start of the British invasion in music itself.


    * Joe Garner, Stay Tuned: Television's Unforgettable Moments (Andrews McMeel Publishing; 2002) ISBN 0-7407-2693-5
    * Slate article about the Beatles' appearances on the Ed Sullivan show


External link

    * Episode Guide from TV Tome detailing the guest appearances.




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