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1970s / Final Ed Sullivan Show - 1971
The Ed Sullivan Show (called The Toast of the Town until 1955) debuted on CBS on June 20, 1948. The first season it aired live on Sundays from 9 to 10 p.m. For the next 22 years it aired on Sundays from 8 to 9 p.m. and became a television staple and a cultural institution. Fondly remembered, The Ed Sullivan Show is arguably the most important entertainment program in television history as it showcased the world's best singers, dancers, actors, musicians, magicians, circus acts, and comedians. (Many classic Broadway performances exist today solely because they were preserved on The Ed Sullivan Show.) Despite Ed's obvious shortcomings as a television host--he was extremely "wooden" as an emcee--the appeal of the show was that it provided something for everybody. One critic aptly declared, "Ed Sullivan can't sing, dance or tell jokes--but he knows who can!" By 1971 The Ed Sullivan Show was in decline, however. Ratings were still generally good, but the all-important demographics showed that younger viewers were no longer watching in sizable numbers. Accordingly CBS unceremoniously applied the ax. The last live show aired on Sunday, March 28, 1971. The performers on that final Sunday were folk singer Melanie; singing duo Tony Sandler & Ralph Young; Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass; mezzo-soprano Joanna Simon; impressionist David Frye; comedian Joey Adams; comedy duo Norman Wisdom and Tony Fane; comedian Lennie Schultz; and sleight-of-hand artist Vic Perry. Sullivan, who hoped to extend his show to at least 25 seasons, had no inkling the March 28, 1971 broadcast would be the last show, so there was no grand finale or tearful farewell. Reruns continued through June 6, 1971. The Ed Sullivan Show was replaced by the CBS Sunday Evening Movie--which lasted just one season. From all accounts, the cancellation of the show deeply affected Sullivan's health and well being. He began exhibiting signs of senility. Paul McCartney recalled encountering Sullivan about a year after the show's cancellation and Sullivan had no idea who McCartney was. Joan Rivers had a similar experience. Sullivan died on October 13, 1974--which was a Sunday--just a few months after being diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer. He was 73 years old.