For the first seven years, the show was not called “The Ed Sullivan Show”. Instead, it was called “Toast of the Town”. However, as Ed Sullivan gained more popularity, the show finally changed its name into “The Sullivan Show” in 1955.
The Ed Sullivan Show was the place where The Beatles started their amazing musical adventure in the USA. On February 9, 1964, The Beatles played the hit song “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the Ed Sullivan show, which was the first time that The Beatles performed on a U.S television show. More than 73 million people watched the performance, which was almost half of the population of the U.S in 1964!
The Beatles were not the only Rock & Roll Hall of Fame band to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. In fact, it seems that Ed Sullivan had the ability to predict the stars that would hit the big time. The Ed Sullivan Show aired breakout performances for a number of famous musicians, including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and The Doors, among others.
In October 1956, Elvis Presley came to the Ed Sullivan Show and played “Hound Dog”. That night, more than 60 million Americans watched that show and that turned out to be 86.2% of entire TV watching audience!
The Ed Sullivan Show has run from June 1948 to June 1971, for 1,068 episodes. When you think about the longevity of TV shows, you may think of The Simpsons. But The Simpsons actually only ran for around 600 episodes!
On May 12, 1963, Bob Dylan was invited to the Ed Sullivan Show to make his first nationwide television appearance. He intended to sing “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”, but CBS requested that he perform another song during rehearsal. Bob Dylan simply walked out and quit the show.
Even if Ed Sullivan often brought new talented artists onto the stage, it is also true that there were artists who regularly appeared on the show. Two of the most famous individuals that appeared on a regular basis were his puppet sidekick Topo Gigio and a ventriloquist named Señor Wences. Another example was the Canadian comic duo, Wayne and Shuster, who made 58 appearances!
The Ed Sullivan Show was not just a show just for musicians. In fact, Sullivan invited almost every kind of entertainer you could think of, from writers to comedians, to circus acts and dancers. It was truly a show for all entertainers, not just musicians.
Back in the mid 20th century, television producers were quite reluctant to invite African Americans to showcase their talents. However, Ed Sullivan didn’t think this way and he gave a chance to many great African American artists, such as Louis Armstrong, the Supremes and James Brown.
Ed Sullivan did not like all the artists and he refused to invite some. One of the most infamous grudges was between Ed Sullivan and Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets. Ed Sullivan thought the lyrics in “Oh Boy” were too suggestive and asked them to perform a different song. Buddy Holly refused however and Sullivan went on to mispronounce Holly’s name when introducing him and even turned off his guitar amplifier mid performance.
On September 17, 1967, The Doors were invited to the Ed Sullivan Show to perform their hit song “Light My Fire”. One line of the lyrics in that song was “Girls, we couldn’t get much higher.” After rehearsal, Ed Sullivan requested Jim Morrison, the lead vocalist of the Doors to change the line into “Girls, we couldn’t get much better.” We don’t know whether the band members agreed but apparently, Jim Morrison still sang the original lyrics. After that, the Doors were banned from the Ed Sullivan Show.
When you think of TV hosts, people generally imagine them to be confident, extravagant and people who can react to things quickly and seamlessly. However, Ed Sullivan was definitely not one of them. Ed Sullivan was actually shy and socially awkward and he sometimes even messed up his own lines whilst shooting the show.
After decades of success, the ratings of Ed Sullivan Show started to fall and eventually the show was canceled in 1971. Television producers made great efforts with a few different shows to replace it. However, not a single one of the replacement shows ever matched the success and popularity of the Ed Sullivan Show.
The legendary guitarist Bo Diddley was another artist that had a beef with Ed Sullivan on the show. Ed asked him to perform only one song - “Sixteen Tons” and Bo Diddley accepted. However, backstage, Bo saw a note saying “Bo Diddley, Sixteen Tons” on the setlist. As “Bo Diddley” was the name of one of this other songs, Bo thought he had been asked to play two songs and Ed Sullivan was quite angry about it.
Ed Sullivan insisted that all the music played in his show must be live, instead of lip-synced like many other shows did at that time. Nowadays, more and more TV shows use live music when musicians are invited. This is one of the small ways that The Ed Sullivan Show has influenced the television industry.