The Ed Sullivan Show

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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 o'clock. Virtually every type of entertainment appeared on the show; opera singers, rock stars, comedians, ballet dancers, and circus acts were regularly featured.

The show was originally entitled Toast of the Town and on its debut, comedians Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed along with Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1955 the name was changed to The Ed Sullivan Show.

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.



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 the ventriloquist Seor 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, Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Diahann Carroll and The Fifth Dimension. Many of the higher-ups at CBS tried to discourage Sullivan from this practice but he was not deterred.

While the show enjoyed a high level of popularity in the 1950s and early 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. Actor Charles Laughton (star of Mutiny on the Bounty) 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 adolescent children. Later performers would use this bridge to introduce themselves to millions of American households. Among them were The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Supremes, The Temptations and The Beatles.

The July 1, 1962 show was taped at the famous Moulin Rouge nightclub in Paris, France and featured American singing star 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 pop music.


  • 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

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