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Series / The Ed Sullivan Show

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"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a really big shew for you tonight!"

A television Variety Show, hosted by New York Daily News theater columnist Ed Sullivan, that was Sunday night appointment viewing in American homes for more than two decades. It aired on CBS as Toast of the Town from June 1948 to September 1955, and then as The Ed Sullivan Show until June 1971, when it fell victim to The Rural Purge.

The show is probably best remembered today for the numerous rock music acts it showcased, particularly Elvis Presley and The Beatles, as well as its comedy and novelty acts such as Wayne and Shuster. And it played a key role in the early history of The Muppets, as one of a number of variety series to feature Jim Henson's creations prior to Sesame Street and The Muppet Show.

CBS aired several retrospective clip show specials in the '90s, and in 1998 UPN offered The Virtual Ed Sullivan Show, with impressionist John Byner voicing a motion-captured CGI recreation of the host a la Max Headroom and introducing various contemporary acts.

The show's legacy continues in another way: Studio 50, the converted Manhattan theater from which most of its episodes emanated, was officially rechristened the Ed Sullivan Theater in 1967, and it has since gone on to serve as a home for such later CBS series as The Late Show with David Letterman and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

"We've got some really big tropes":

  • Berserk Button: Ed did not take kindly to any inappropriate behavior on air or guests doing anything they were strictly told not to do. The Doors were never asked back after Jim Morrison sang a lyric in "Light My Fire" he was asked to change but claimed to forget about, while Sullivan had a famous feud with Jackie Mason after a miscommunication which led him to believe that Mason was giving him the finger on air, with Mason even suing Sullivan over the issue.
  • Bowdlerise: The Rolling Stones were infamously forced to change the chorus of "Let's Spend the Night Together" to "Let's Spend Some Time Together".note  As mentioned above, The Doors were also asked to changed the lyrics of "Light My Fire", but didn't.
  • Broadcast Live: With the exception of the occasional film clip or short subject, it was all live every Sunday at 8 pm Eastern for most of the run, though toward the end he relied more on pre-recorded segments. The introductions of celebrities in the audience were often pre-taped as well.
  • Catchphrase: Ed had a few phrases he would commonly use, such as "For all you youngsters out there...", "And now, right here on our stage...", and of course "a really big show", with "show" pronounced as "shew".
  • Cool Old Guy: Ed Sullivan himself. He was already in his sixties when The Beatles first appeared on his show in February 1964 (and he'd booked them even before they hit it big in America, after seeing how huge Beatlemania was in Britain when he made a visit there in late '63). He also gave national exposure to the likes of Richard Pryor and George Carlin and featured other youth-friendly musical artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Mamas & the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, and The Doors (even if the latter were never invited back after Jim Morrison defied the censors' request not to sing "Girl, we couldn't get much higher" while performing "Light My Fire"). And even though Joan Rivers and Barbra Streisand aren't exactly considered "youthful" these days, they got a big career boost from appearing on Sullivan's show as young (or younger, in Rivers's case) showbiz upstarts in The '60s.
  • The Eponymous Show: The show was commonly referred to as "The Ed Sullivan Show" even back when it was officially titled Toast of the Town.
  • Flipping the Bird: Comedian Jackie Mason nearly saw his career destroyed after being accused of having done this during a 1964 appearance. Sullivan banned him from appearing on the show again for nearly two years, and only relented after Mason (who vociferously denied having made the gesture, or even being aware of its meaning) initiated a libel suit.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: While a kind man, Ed was also known for having a fiery temper and could hold a grudge for a long time when he felt he'd been slighted or betrayed (a fact he owned up to), and a few acts were never invited back if they got on his bad side. One biographer described him as having "an Irish temper and thin skin".
  • It Will Never Catch On: When Sullivan and producer Marlo Lewis first pitched the show to CBS in 1948, the network's reaction was rather lukewarm. They only picked up the show as a temporary stopgap (there were a lot of scheduling holes to fill in those early days of network TV and CBS wanted something to compete against the Texaco Star Theater with Milton Berle on NBC), on a minuscule budget and with the provision that Sullivan could be replaced as host at any point, which is why the show was called Toast of the Town for its first few years. In fact, after negative criticisms of Sullivan's stiff hosting scared off their first sponsor, Emerson Radio, CBS tried to sell the show to sponsors "with or without Sullivan", although they relented after being confronted by a very angry Sullivan.
  • Long-Runners: The show itself lasted for 23 years (194871), and among its regular guests the Canadian comedy duo Wayne and Shuster appeared 67 times.
  • Malaproper: Particularly with first time guests, Ed was known to mangle the introductions. For example, the first time the Muppets appeared, he introduced them as "Jim Newsom's Puppets".note 
  • Muppet: Jim Henson and company made several appearances in the show's later years, and one of Henson's first full-length Muppet productions, The Great Santa Claus Switch, was produced as a Formula-Breaking Episode of the Sullivan show in 1970.
    • Early-Installment Weirdness: The puppets that were to evolve into Cookie Monster and Grover made their earliest appearances in these skits; the former as a generic monster who devours an advanced computer piece-by-piece, and the latter as a minor villain in a Christmas sketch. The Great Santa Claus Switch debuts The Great Gonzo also as a minor villain. Grover and Kermit made an appearance shortly after the first season of Sesame Street ended where they debuted the Running Gag of Grover shouting "HEEYYY FROGGGIEEE!" at Kermit, giving him a Smack on the Back, then pestering him in a well-meaning way.
  • New Season, New Name: From Toast of the Town to The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1955.
  • Nice Guy: Ed was known as a very kind person who was known among friends and co-workers for his many acts of generosity such as paying for the funeral of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson when he died penniless.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: It's been heavily speculated (and was outright claimed by Joan Rivers) that Ed suffered from dementia in the final years of his life, struggling to remember names and failing to recognize Paul McCartney when the two met again in the early 1970s.
  • Self-Deprecation: Ed Sullivan encouraged comedians who appeared on his show to imitate his stiff posture, nasal voice and catch phrases.
  • Variety Show: Arguably the most successful one ever.
  • Wham Episode: Possibly the biggest ever when The Beatles were on.