The Ed Sullivan Show
Since the late 1940s, television has been a staple in American culture. A show that was very important in American television history is The Ed Sullivan Show, created by Ed Sullivan and Marlo Lewis in 1948. The show lasted until 1971, making it the longest-running variety show in history and the twenty-fourth longest-running show in primetime history. The show aired on CBS from 8:00-9:00 pm after being filmed in what was eventually named, The Ed Sullivan Theater. The Ed Sullivan Show lasted as long as it did because it was able to target all audiences in the hour show, which was one of the first television programs truly to do so. It was canceled in 1971 because of the technological advances of television which made any television program available to anyone, at any time. Although other variety shows have been incredibly popular, The Ed Sullivan Show is the most important variety show to date because of its appeal to all ages. An agreeable argument is that both the Milton Berle Show and The Steve Allen show had great talents and success as variety shows. The Milton Berle Show was started in 1948 by host Milton Berle, who became one of the most famous television show hosts ever.
His nickname developed into “Mr. Television” because of how great a host he was. The show aired originally on the radio and then the idea of the public use of television sparked its television debut. Milton Berle was so successful as host, which is evident in the fact that while on the radio, the show went through four different hosts before it reached him, and then did not change after that point1-6. Another variety show that showed great success on television was The Steve Allen Show. The show debuted many impressive new acts of all kinds. Steve Allen himself was “innovative, funny, and whimsical”2-15, which made him a part of the show with jokes and comedy skits. His talents helped the show tremendously. The show’s comedy talents were so famous that a few years after the show was canceled The Steve Allen Comedy Hour was aired on CBS to pay tribute to the original show. While The Milton Berle Show, and The Steve Allen Show can be viewed as very important variety shows, they were not as appealing to all age groups and were not well-rounded shows.
The Ed Sullivan Show was so successful as a variety show for so many reasons. One of the most important parts of the success was Ed Sullivan himself. Before becoming a television host, Ed worked behind the scenes as a writer for newspapers and a producer of many television programs. He began writing as a sports columnist and continued writing sports with many different papers all over the country until 1929 when he became a Broadway columnist3-17. Ed began to learn about show business through Broadway writing and shortly after began producing one time shows on television. During World War II Ed worked as the master of ceremonies at many relief efforts shows, where people began knowing him as a host. Ed Sullivan made a great host because he was not the classic host with a “sparkly” personality. He put the focus on the acts by introducing them and then stepping off to let the performer(s) do what he hired them to do. “Ed nothing, but he better than anyone else on television”-Alan King4-9. Ed helped give the show its glory. He was named #50 of TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time” which demonstrates the value Ed gave to the show5-9.
He was also a brilliant businessman. Ed exceedingly wanted to be a household name because the more he was nationally recognized, the more money and sponsors he could bring to the show. Mr. Sullivan was paid $164,000 a year, and for that time, that amount of money was incredible even for a television personality, but Ed turned a simple variety show into a phenomena6-19. Another piece of the show’s success was the new talent scouted by Ed and the producers. The baby boomers were becoming the new market in pop culture, and The Ed Sullivan Show captured the attention of the baby boomers with all the talent. Ed Sullivan caught the young’s notice and then kept it and influenced it with bringing in new talent. Ed brought the love of English rock to America. On February 9th, 1964 the Beatles appeared to live on television for the first time in America. Ed Sullivan noticed the obsession with the Beatles while in England with his wife and made a deal with Brian Epstein that the Beatles would perform three Sunday’s in a row on the show for $10,0007-4. About 73 million people tuned in to watch the Beatles perform, which equates to nearly 60% of all TVs in America watching8-4.
That was one of the biggest TV viewings in television history. After bringing in The Beatles and really launching “Beatle mania” in the United States, Ed starting focusing on other English rock bands and discovered talents such as The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Peter and Gordon, etc. 9-4 With all the new talents, Ed brought in many new comedians too. Ed founded the careers of many famous comedians, and shortly after starting the show, any new up-and-coming comedian wanted to be on the Ed Sullivan Show because it meant a start of a career for them. If Ed held that they were funny enough to be on his show than America would soon agree with that. The Ed Sullivan Show was so successful as a variety show because of the sheer number of types of performers that starred on the show. First and foremost, theatrical and musical acts shaped the Ed Sullivan Show. Everything from Broadway music to classical, to rock and roll, was played on the show. Ed also enjoyed different dancers a lot so there was everything from ballet to jazz. He also loved showing movie clips and parts of Broadway plays.
A Second key genre of acts was a comedy. It was one act that the “whole family” watched and enjoyed together; no matter what comedian or the type of comedy. Ed also focused on just kids with comedy. There was a ten-inch tall puppet named Topo Gigio that was apart of the show for eleven years. 10-8 Topo Gigio along with other kid directed comedy gave the show a softer side, which helped it compete with a show such as “The Wonderful World of Disney”. The Ed Sullivan Show had so many other acts that kept it shuffled. Sometimes there would be episodes dedicated to one theme, which broke up the usual shows and would be an hour-long episode to pay tribute to somebody or something. Sometimes athletes would appear to give advice about how to play their sport or just to talk to Ed. Some of those athletes include Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. 11-2 Another very interesting type of performance would be a random celebrity in the audience coming up on stage to talk to Ed or to give an impromptu performance, which kept the show and audience members on edge. Ed Sullivan produced one of the most important television shows in history because of its impact on the careers of many and the world of television.
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