This long-running variety series premiered on June 20, 1948 with the title Toast of the Town. (The Toast of the Town link covers the first 8 seasons of Ed Sullivan.) The series was re-titled The Ed Sullivan Show on September 25, 1955 (the beginning of the 9th season). Although the name had changed, it remained the same variety show with "something for everyone." There continued to be a diverse guest line-up which included singers, musicians, actors, dancers, comedians, circus acts, plate spinners and acrobats. But now there was now a new type of guest: the rock 'n' roll performer. While Ed booked a few rock 'n' roll acts on "Toast of the Town," these performers became even more prominent on "The Ed Sullivan Show." One of the most famous rock 'n' roll acts was, of course, Elvis Presley. Ed had at first scoffed at the idea of booking Elvis, who had already appeared on "Stage Show," "The Milton Berle Show" and "The Steve Allen Show" amid much controversy. But as Elvis' popularity grew, Ed relented and booked him for three appearances. Then there were the famous Beatles appearances. Legend has it that Ed booked the Beatles without hearing even a note of their music. While visiting England, Sullivan happened to be at Heathrow Airport on October 31, 1963 when the Beatles' plane arrived. The British press and hundreds of fans were there to greet them. Upon seeing all the frenzy, Ed signed the band to appear on his show.
Beatlemania was already in full swing when the Beatles arrived at New York's JFK airport on February 7, 1964. On February 9, the Beatles made their "Ed Sullivan" debut. The Beatles' three 1964 Sullivan appearances were among the highest rated TV programs of the 1960's. In 1967, Ed's NYC studio, Studio 50, was officially re-titled "The Ed Sullivan Theater."
The ratings of The Ed Sullivan Show began to drop in 1968. CBS cancelled the series in 1971. The final new show aired on March 28, 1971 which was followed by several weeks of reruns. The series' network run ended on June 6, 1971 (which was a repeat of the February 7, 1971 show).
At the time of the cancellation, CBS did not give The Ed Sullivan Show the sendoff that it deserved. Instead of ending with a tribute show focusing on all the great moments of the past 23 years, the show quietly went off the air. But in the 33 years since the series was cancelled, CBS has aired numerous tribute shows giving the series the recognition it deserves. Syndicated, cable TV and PBS repeats:In...