Throughout the mid 20th century, “The Ed Sullivan Show” was one of the most popular programs on TV. It was loved by fans and its consistently high ratings and success allowed it to appear every Sunday night in a prime-time spot. The show has been off the air for decades, so let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at some great things about the show, some of which you may not have known.
The Show Was Originally Titled “Toast of the Town”
(Source: Behind The Hidden Mask)
The show debuted in 1948 and its official title for the first few years on the air was “Toast of the Town.” However, soon people had realized Ed Sullivan was the star here and began calling it the Ed Sullivan show, and that became the official title of the show in 1955.
Ed Sullivan Was as Awkward as They Come
While most television hosts exude a sense of confidence and are charming in nature, Ed Sullivan was the complete opposite. He was awkward, kind of shifty, and was famous for messing up his lines throughout the program on some occasions. Although it was this type of fun and free style that made watching Ed Sullivan so entertaining.
The List of Bands He Aired Breakout Performances For is Staggering
He became famous in North America for his ability to seemingly predict what kind of stars would be big. Many now famous acts first got their big break on his show. He aired breakout performances for a number of acts like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, the Doors, and more.
The Show Aired in Four Different Decades
(Source: Online TV Cast)
While most TV shows are lucky to get a few seasons of airtime, the Ed Sullivan Show experienced a 22-year run, but actually appeared in four different decades. The show aired in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70’s before finally being canceled, making it one of the longest running shows ever.
Beatles Debut on His Show Was Watched by Nearly Half the Population of the USA
In their debut performance on the show, the Beatles played their rock and roll music to a massive audience of nearly 74 million people who watched the program. Now, this performance took place in 1964, when the population of the USA was only 191 million people, which shows just how big the show was at this point.
It Aired More than 1,000 Episodes
Now that you know the show aired for over 20 years, this is probably no surprise, but the fact that a single show was able to hit 1,000 episodes is crazy. When most people think of show longevity, they go to shows like “The Simpsons.” But in fact, “The Simpsons” has only aired around 600 episodes, falling far behind the Ed Sullivan Show’s 1,068.
An Aggressive Form of Cancer Took His Life Quickly
Unfortunately, Ed Sullivan passed away due to cancer. But it wasn’t a long battle as his family actually only found out about his esophageal cancer in early September 1974 and by mid-October of the same year, he had already passed away. He was 73 years old.
He Had a Few Recurring Acts
While Sullivan often booked completely new, world-famous acts in entertainment all the time, there were a few acts and individuals that appeared on a recurring basis. Two of the most famous examples of this were his puppet sidekick Topo Gigio and a ventriloquist named Señor Wences, who both appeared frequently on the show.
Ed Sullivan Helped To Raise Public Awareness About Mental Illness
On one of his shows, Ed and his guest spoke about the guest’s time in a mental institution. This episode and conversation were believed to be a big help in the fight for America to become more aware of mental illness. Out of all he has accomplished, Sullivan was extremely proud of this fact.
Elvis’s Debut on the Show Still Holds TV Records
(Source: Elvis Presley Music AU)
The night that rock and roll took over the American culture took place on September 9th, 1956. This was the first time that superstar Elvis Presley appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, and the ratings that he received have never been matched. 60 million people watched it and it received an 86.2 percentage share, which means that 86.2% of people who watched TV in the USA that night were watching that show.
Every Type of Entertainment Appeared on his Show
And it wasn’t just musical acts that appeared on the show — far from it. In fact, Sullivan basically played host to almost every type of entertainers you could ever think of. Writers, comedians, dancers, circus acts, actors, and more were frequently featured on his show.
Ed Sullivan Could Read an Audience Unlike Anyone
(Source: CBS News)
In any kind of media (TV, radio or anything else) the biggest key is delivering to your audience. And there was no one who knew what would and wouldn’t work for an audience quite like Sullivan did. He seemingly knew what acts would take off and which ones American would adore.
A Spot on His Show Was a Guarantee of Superstardom
(Source: All Things Music Plus)
With the massive audience his show generated every time it was aired (along with Sullivan’s aforementioned ability to find talent), anyone who appeared on the show got a huge boost. “The Ed Sullivan Show” was the biggest ticket in town and could literally turn someone into a star from a nobody in one night.
Wayne and Shuster Appeared on the Show the Most
(Source: Toro Magazine)
With the show having well over 1,000 episodes, as we mentioned, it was bound to have a few repeat guests. Numerous big acts had multiple appearances, but no one appeared more than the Canadian comedy duo Wayne and Shuster. They appeared on the show an amazing 58 times.
Ed Sullivan Could Hold a Grudge Like No Other
(Source: The Strut)
While Sullivan’s show was the biggest ticket in town, certain people never got an invite or didn’t get invited back. Sullivan had some big controversies with various artists and even years after the disagreements took place, he still wouldn’t allow them back or forget about the grudge.
Beef With Buddy Holly
(Source: Buddy Holly Lives)
One of the most infamous of these grudges was against Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets. Sullivan thought the lyrics to their song “Oh Boy” were too suggestive for his audience, and asked (or demanded) that they perform a different song. Holly refused though and, as retribution, Sullivan mispronounced Holly’s name when introducing the band and made sure that his guitar amplifier was turned off. Now that’s what we call petty!
It is Consistently Ranked One of the Best Shows of All Time
(Source: Tumb Nation)
The show was not only extremely popular and one of the longest-running ever, it has also stood the test of time. “The Ed Sullivan Show” has been named one of the best shows from a number of different sites and magazines for its variety as a program and for launching so many amazing careers.
He Provided Huge Opportunities for African American Entertainers
(Source: The Current)
In a time when African American entertainers had little or no outlet to show their skills to the world, Ed Sullivan and his show helped tremendously. He helped launch dozens of careers such as The Supremes, James Brown and Louis Armstrong. Sullivan got criticism from some, but just ignored it and continued to support everyone equally.
CBS Butted Heads With a Few World-Famous Acts
In addition to Ed himself having some issues with guests, so did the network. There were numerous times where certain acts were censored and asked to change their songs or acts in some way. Some of the acts obeyed, while others disregarded the rules. Jim Morrison of The Doors was basically banned from the show after his first appearance.
It Was the Longest-Running Variety Show in U.S. History
(Source: TV Guide Gal CA)
Variety shows were and are some of the most popular out there, but this show was the king. It ran from 1948 to 1971, making it the longest-running variety show in history. Sullivan’s show also inspired numerous other individuals and shows to pop up, and his impact on the show business industry is still felt today.
They Brought in Shows to Replace it, But they Didn’t Work
After decades of success, the show eventually started to fall in the ratings and was soon canceled. Show producers tried numerous times with a bunch of different programs to catch the magic again, but the magic and success of “The Ed Sullivan Show” in its prime could not be matched, no matter what they tried.