The DVD presents the programs exactly as they appeared that night — complete with hapless magicians and comedians, commercials that would shame the advertising mavens of today’s hit TV show “Mad Men” and illustrations of how the pace of television has changed.
The first night, Feb. 9, 1964, is a landmark in television. An estimated 73 million Americans tuned in, the largest ever for a TV show at the time, or three times the amount of people who watched the latest “American Idol” finale, according to the Nielsen Co.
A generation of musicians can trace their career choices to that night. One was Dennis DeYoung, former Styx lead singer, who told the Montreal Gazette that he watched it while at a high school dance.
“I looked at that and I went, ‘Oh, my God! What is that? And how do I apply for that job?’” he recalled. “That was it. There was never any doubt in my mind what I wanted in my life.”
Film clips of The Beatles on the Sullivan show have been available, but never the whole event until the new release of “The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Beatles.” SOFA Entertainment, which owns the archive of Sullivan shows — a staple on CBS’ Sunday night schedule from 1948 to 1971 — put it out after getting the OK from the Beatles’ Apple Corps Ltd.
Sullivan, a competitive former newspaper columnist, clearly knew the high stakes involved that night and gave the Beatles two showcases on the first show.
While the Beatles’ appearance stands in memory like a thunderclap, their power seemed muted the first time they hit the stage. Their first two songs, “All My Loving” and “ ’Til There Was You,” were both Paul McCartney showcases and the band didn’t really hit its stride until the powerful “She Loves You.” Even then, the cameras seemed to shortchange John Lennon in favor of McCartney.
Their performances on the following week’s show from Miami are much better. They had repeats: “She Loves You” was played both weeks.
Cutaways to the audience show young girls who can barely stay in their seats from the excitement of it all. Older people look bored, annoyed and clueless to the generational change staring back at them. The Beatles’ cheekiness, enthusiasm and talent was bracing.
“It’s like they were in color and everybody else was in black and white,” said Andrew Solt, CEO of SOFA Entertainment. Watching the magician with the hard luck of following the Beatles to the stage that first night is painful. Fred Kaps’ show biz career never really recovered from that moment, Solt said.
With a running time of more than 250 minutes, “The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles” presents those shows uncut, including not only all of the other performances but also all of the original commercials. The audio is available in both mono and a 5.1 remix. Also included on the two-DVD set will be material from other “Sullivan” shows, notably a short interview with The Beatles which has not been seen since its original television airing in 1964.
Beatles buffs will appreciate the efforts made to preserve the footage.
“The quality is better than it ever was, in fact, better than when the shows aired, especially visually,” Solt said. “For example, the February 16 performance was from Miami’s Deauville Hotel, not from a studio. The quality of the tape image was very fragile. We went back and improved it frame by frame.”
Other extras include a brief London interview with The Beatles by Sullivan which has not been seen since the day it aired (May 24, 1964); a 1966 black-and-white commercial for Beatles dolls introduced by Sullivan in color; and the host reading a 1967 telegram from The Beatles congratulating him on the renaming of the studio to “The Ed Sullivan Theater.”
The sense that television moves much more quickly today is one of the most interesting finds in the DVD. Mitzi Gaynor, who was once the princess of musical comedy, gave a sweaty performance from Miami.
Comic Frank Gorshin’s routine with movie star impersonations was interminable. The comic team of McCall & Brill, with a punch line about an “ugly girl,” would not have made it past today’s taste police. Producers believed people had an attention span then.
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