DVD Review: The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show

As David Letterman bids farewell to Late Night, many fans will wonder the significance of the Ed Sullivan Theater. Ed Sullivan’s variety show was a fixture on TV from 1948 to 1971. For 23 seasons Sullivan booked all the hottest acts. Sure Elvis Presley had played another TV show, but pop culture fixates on his arrival on Sullivan’s stage. The same is true for the Beatles, Rolling Stones and The Doors. Not to mention comics, Broadway casts and plate spinning. What made Sullivan stand out from the competition was his lack of personal talent. He wasn’t a song and dance comic that had escaped Vaudeville. Sullivan was a newspaper columnist at the New York Daily News that merely hosted the show. He wasn’t there to do stand up, duet with his guests or act in dumb sketches. He just knew how to introduce his reaaaaally big show. The Best of the Ed Sullivan collects the seminal moments from a vital show.

Instead of complete episodes, the boxset contains five TV specials that sum up what’s essential to know and experience about the acts that graced the Ed Sullivan stage. Unforgettable Performances is hosted by Carol Burnett who shares her favorite performance. Among the hundreds of clips are performances from Elvis Presley,
The Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Barbra Streisand, Bobby Darin, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. There’s even footage of Ed when he was merely a popular columnist in New York City. 50th Anniversary Special is hosted by The Smothers Brothers who had a rival variety show in the ’60s. The lineup of revisited superstars includes Richard Pryor, The Jackson 5, Flip Wilson, George Carlin, Humphrey Bogart, The Beatles, Marlon Brando, Elvis Presley, Fred Astaire, Janis Joplin and Sonny and Cher. The All-Star Comedy Special reminds viewers that Sullivan broke major comics long before Johnny Carson invited them over to the desk. He allowed quite a few people to break out including Milton Berle, Carol Burnett, George Carlin, Phyllis Diller, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Joan Rivers and The Smothers Brothers. Sure some of them toned down their routines to appease Sullivan’s producers. But the experience made them legendary.

World’s Greatest Novelty Acts sums up what so many viewers remember about the show after Elvis and The Beatles. The weird acts that made you wonder, why does grandma keep telling me about plate spinning. Is plate spinning real? Was this like the robot battles of the ’00s? Plate spinning was real and Ed only had the best on his show. There’s also that guy who talks using his hand covered in lipstick. Amazing Animal Acts will stun, confuse and make you chuckle. The critters include a Roller-skating chimp named Zippy, Heidi the Talking Dog, Smokey the Horse, sea lions, ballerina poodles and Lipizzaner Stallions. This was where America went for it’s stupid pet and human tricks before David Letterman moved into the theater.

The Best of the Ed Sullivan is perfect for those who remember the show and others that want to discover the significance of Ed Sullivan. What made the show work was that performers were allowed to step upon the stage and perform at their best. They weren’t forced to participate in second rate sketches or sing a medley of someone else’s favorite songs. Ed knew people tuned in because he wasn’t going to mess things up. He was establishing a legacy that would continue with David Letterman.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The transfers look rather good from their kinescope and video sources. The quality of the performances shine. The audio is mono. The levels are fine for a live show. The episodes are Closed Captioned.

Bonus DVD of Interviews includes chats with Alan King, Jack Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, John Byner, Dick Martin, Milton Berle, Rich Little, Joan Rivers, Flip Wilson and Steve Allen. They all have fond memories of Ed and his show that made them memorable.

Interview with Ed Sullivan (4:57) is from a telephone interview show. Ed and his wife Sylvia are all smiles. This is one of the last remaining camera interview with Sullivan.

Time Life and StarVista present The Best of The Ed Sullivan Show. Starring: Ed Sullivan. Boxset contents: 6 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: May 12, 2015.