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The Ed Sullivan Show

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The Ed Sullivan Show
Premiere June 20, 1948
Finale June 6, 1971
Host Ed Sullivan
Network/Provider CBS
Style 60-minute variety
Company CBS Television,
SOFA Entertainment, Inc.,
Sullivan Productions (seasons 9-24)
Seasons 24
Episodes 1068
Origin USA

The Ed Sullivan Show (or Toast of the Town in its first eight seasons) was a long running primetime comedic variety show hosted by Ed Sullivan. It was a landmark in television and one of the most influential television shows of all time. This was all the more remarkable because it was quite unlike both its contemporaries and its successors and imitators.

What set it apart was its format and its host. Unlike such contemporaries as Jackie Gleason and Milton Berle, or his successors Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Conan O'Brien, Sullivan was not a comedian. He was not a singer or actor, unlike Frank Sinatra or Nat "King" Cole. He was not even a performer prior to hosting the show. He was, in fact, a newspaper columnist. He had no comic monologue to open the show, and he rarely performed in skits or scenes. Also unlike most successors, Sullivan spent very little time talking with the majority of his guests. He did not sit at a desk, and he did not interview most performers; in a sense, he was nothing more than an emcee.

In every sense of the word, The Ed Sullivan Show was a true variety show. The typical episode ran the entire gamut of entertainment and entertainers—musicians, comedians, dancers, "variety acts" (plate spinners, trick-shot artists, ventriloquists, figure skaters, et al.), movie stars and casts of current Broadway shows performing scenes from their productions. Even non-entertainers, such as the great humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, might be seen standing on the stage next to Sullivan. Berle and his ilk had brought the vast scope of Vaudeville to television, but Sullivan moved past even Vaudeville's far reach to bring the entire world to television audiences.

For all its broad reach of entertainment, The Ed Sullivan Show is most famous for his musical performances, and two in particular: Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Elvis had appeared on national American television prior to his September 9, 1956 Ed Sullivan Show performance of "Hound Dog," "Love Me Tender" and "Don't Be Cruel" which rocketed him to musical superstardom. The Beatles, on the other hand, made their American debut on Sullivan's stage. But even beyond those two icons, Sullivan was arguably the most significant non-musician or non-producer in American music during the 1950s and 60s. The Doors and The Rolling Stones, among dozens of others, also had legendary Ed Sullivan Show appearances, and at a time when Black faces were almost never seen on television Sullivan routinely hosted African-American artists such as Cole, Ray Charles, Diana Ross and the Supremes and Louis Armstrong.

In 1971, after a title change, a switch to color and nearly a quarter-century's dominance of American primetime, Sullivan bowed out without fanfare or farewell. He was not aware that his March 28, 1971 broadcast would be the final one, and thus it was a show like every other, featuring a handful of musicians, comedians Tony Faye and Lennie Schultz, an impressionist and a sleight-of-hand artist. Reruns and pre-emptions aired in that time slot throughout the following April and May, and in June, CBS announced that The Ed Sullivan Show had been cancelled.


Season Premiere Finale #
Season One June 20, 1948 August 15, 1948 9
Season Two September 26, 1948 September 11, 1949 53
Season Three September 18, 1949 September 10, 1950 52
Season Four September 17, 1950 September 2, 1951 51
Season Five September 9, 1951 September 7, 1952 53
Season Six September 14, 1952 September 6, 1953 52
Season Seven September 13, 1953 September 5, 1954 51
Season Eight September 12, 1954 September 18, 1955 54
Season Nine September 25, 1955 September 16, 1956 52
Season Ten September 23, 1956 September 15, 1957 51
Season Eleven September 22, 1957 September 7, 1958 50
Season Twelve September 14, 1958 September 13, 1959 52
Season Thirteen September 20, 1959 September 11, 1960 49
Season Fourteen September 25, 1960 July 30, 1961 40
Season Fifteen September 17, 1961 August 19, 1962 46
Season Sixteen September 30, 1962 August 18, 1963 42
Season Seventeen September 29, 1963 September 6, 1964 42
Season Eighteen September 27, 1964 August 29, 1965 40
Season Nineteen September 12, 1965 August 14, 1966 43
Season Twenty September 11, 1966 June 25, 1967 42
Season Twenty-One September 11, 1967 June 9, 1968 39
Season Twenty-Two September 29, 1968 August 31, 1969 40
Season Twenty-Three September 28, 1969 June 14, 1970 36
Season Twenty-Four September 20, 1970 March 28, 1971 25


DVD Releases

Title Release Date #
'Best Of' Collections
Great Moments in Opera from The Ed Sullivan Show May 1, 2001 1
Ed Sullivan's Rock 'N' Roll Classics, Volume 1: Top Hits of 1965-1967 September 24, 2002 1
Ed Sullivan's Rock 'N' Roll Classics, Volume 2: Top Hits of 1968-1970 September 24, 2002 1
Ed Sullivan's Rock 'N' Roll Classics Boxed Set September 24, 2002 9
Ed Sullivan's Rock 'N' Roll Classics, Volume 3: The Soul of the Motor City July 22, 2003 1
Ed Sullivan's Rock 'N' Roll Classics, Volume 4: Elvis and Other Rock Greats July 22, 2003 1
The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show, Volume 1: Unforgettable Performances July 22, 2003 1
Ed Sullivan Presents the Beatles October 28, 2003 1
The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show, Volume 2: The Greatest Entertainers January 6, 2004 1
Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows November 21, 2006 3
Episode Collections
The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles September 7, 2010 2