Let’s have a look back at The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the most highly-watched variety programs during the 50s and 60s. Some of the artists such as The Beatles and Elvis Presley provided breakthrough performances on that show, and immediately gained widespread national exposure after their appearances there.
History of The Ed Sullivan Show
The program aired on CBS every Sunday from 8 to 9 p.m. from 1948 until it was canceled in 1971. It ran from 9 to 10 p.m. Eastern Time during its initial season, making it one of the few entertainment programs to have aired for more than 20 years in the same weekly time slot on the same network. ET.
The show had a wide variety of performers; they included classical musicians, opera singers, well-known recording artists, songwriters, comedians, ballet dancers, dramatic actors reciting monologues from plays, and circus acts.
Although vaudeville had been slowly dying for a generation, the format was fundamentally the same, and Sullivan featured many ex-vaudevillians on his show. The program, which Marlo Lewis co-created and produced, was first known as Toast of the Town but was frequently called The Ed Sullivan Show for years prior to September 25, 1955, when it became its official name.
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis participated in the show’s premiere on June 20, 1948, alongside vocalist Monica Lewis and Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who previewed the music for their then-new production of South Pacific, which debuted on Broadway in 1949.
The Ford Motor Company’s Lincoln-Mercury Division served as the program’s main sponsor from 1948 until 1962, and during that time, Sullivan read a lot of Mercury vehicle advertising live on air.
Before moving to its permanent location at CBS-TV Studio 50 in New York City (1697 Broadway, at 53rd Street), which was renamed the Ed Sullivan Theater in honor of the program’s 20th anniversary in June 1968, The Ed Sullivan Show was first broadcast live on television from CBS-TV Studio 51, the Maxine Elliott Theatre, at Broadway and 39th Street.
On March 28, 1971, the final broadcast of the original Sullivan shows featured guests Melanie, Joanna Simon, Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass, as well as Sandler and Young.
More about The Ed Sullivan Show
Along with the new performers Sullivan signed up every week, he also had recurrent characters, such his “Little Italian Mouse” puppet sidekick Topo Gigio, who made his debut on December 9, 1962, and ventriloquist Seor Wences, who made his debut on December 31, 1950, appear frequently.
The show occasionally broadcast live from other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan, while the majority of the episodes were broadcast from New York City. Every Sunday night for many years, Ed Sullivan was a big national event, and it gave foreign performers their first American audience.
In the 1950s and the first few years of the 1960s, the show was incredibly popular. As had happened with The Wizard of Oz’s annual broadcasts in the 1960s and 1970s, the family tradition of huddling in front of the television to watch Ed Sullivan virtually became a cultural universal in the United States. He was seen as a kingmaker, and performers thought that appearing on his program would ensure the success, even though this was not always the case.
The song “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” from the 1960 musical Bye Bye Birdie serves as an example of the show’s current state. In the song, a family of listeners sings reverently about how much they value the show. As all three major networks started to transition to 100% color prime time programming in September 1965, CBS began airing the show in suitable color.
On August 22, 1954, One Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast from the new studio, but it was largely utilized for one-time-only specials like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella on March 31, 1957. In 1986, an apartment building took the location of CBS Studio 72. In 1965, CBS Studio 50 had its last modernization for color broadcasts. The Beatles appeared in the season opener of 1965–1966, the final episode to air in black and white, which aired on September 12.
In the late 1960s
Sullivan observed that his program was losing popularity as the 1960s wore on in the late 1960s. He understood that in order to keep viewers, the very best in entertainment had to be presented; otherwise, they would keep switching channels.
Along with a drop in audience, Ed Sullivan also attracted viewers who were, on average, older, which most advertisers found unattractive as the seasons went on. The show was canceled by CBS on March 16, 1971, as part of a widespread cancellation of advertiser-averse content, for these two reasons.
Although Sullivan’s iconic show ended without a formal conclusion, Sullivan continued to produce one-off specials for CBS until his death in 1974, including an anniversary special for the 25th anniversary of The Ed Sullivan Show in 1973.
In 1990, television documentary producer Andrew Solt established SOFA Entertainment, Inc. and bought the exclusive rights from Ed Sullivan’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Bob Precht to the entire collection of The Ed Sullivan Show. From 1948 until 1971, CBS transmitted 1,087 hours of kinescopes and videotapes on Sunday nights, making up the collection.
SOFA Entertainment has cataloged, arranged, and cleared performance rights for the original shows since purchasing the rights to The Ed Sullivan Show library. By creating a number of network specials, syndicating a half-hour series, and releasing home video compilations, SOFA Entertainment has been reintroducing The Ed Sullivan Show to the American public since 1991.
Here are some few facts about the longest-running variety show in history:
The Ed Sullivan Show ran on 24 seasons, from its debut broadcast on June 20, 1948 to its last broadcast on June 6, 1971.
In late 1963, Sullivan and his wife happened to be at the London’s Heathrow Airport when he first witnessed Beatlemania. Sullivan began to take notice at the pandemonium as the Beatles had just arrived from their tour in Stockholm, Sweden. By then, the Fab Four had already become superstars not only in England, but also the rest of Europe.
Sullivan became instantly curious about the commotion, and asked what the fuss was all about. When he was told that it was for the Beatles, he asked again, “Who the hell are the Beatles?” In less than a year, he’d be making sure that virtually all Americans would have the answer to that.
The Beatles’ lead guitarist George Harrison had been forced to skip the rehearsals as he was coming down with a bout of tonsillitis. He would have been a no-show to their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, but he was determined not to miss it. Harrison mustered himself enough to perform on their first Ed Sullivan stint, with a fever of 102. Little wonder he remained tight-lipped throughout the presscon (which followed after the show).
The name was Topo Gigio, who had been popular especially in Italy and Spain. The foamy rodent became Ed Sullivan’s sidekick and captured the hearts of many American viewers.
The Ed Sullivan Show‘s original name was The Toast of the Town. It initially brought vaudeville to the small screen in many homes across America.
It was entertainer Charles Laughton who took Ed Sullivan’s place temporarily as the latter was recovering from a near-fatal car accident. The vehicular mishap left Sullivan with broken teeth and ribs.
Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show thrice. Initially, Sullivan had reservations of having Presley on the show, saying he was “too vulgar.” But after seeing his rival Steve Allen beat him in the ratings for guesting “The King,” Sullivan changed his mind and made a deal with Presley’s manager, Colonel Parker.
Presley had already cemented his “scandalous” reputation as “Elvis the Pelvis” because of his suggestive gyrations. But due to public outcry, he was shown only from the waist up on his third and final appearance on January 6, 1957.
That historic first appearance of The Beatles on the show drew an approximately 73 million viewers!
Sullivan wasn’t exactly gracious towards many of his guests. He was known to have an ill temper, and if that certain guest didn’t follow his way, most likely he would never invite him or her back to his show. Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, Jackie Mason and Jim Morrison were some of the guests who experienced some conflict with him.
Sometimes, Sullivan would become forgetful on the show — when The Supremes appeared one time, he affectionately referred to them as “the girls.”
After their historic first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, the Fab Four went on to appear eight more times.
The original variety show was The Ed Sullivan Show. The Ed Sullivan Show was unique from 1948 through 1971. The show united people and families every Sunday night. The show provided something for everyone, whether it was Broadway for the parents, rock ‘n’ roll for the teenagers, or Topo Gigio for the youngsters. Since the show has a lot to offer, many people did watch and appreciate it.