The Beatles Top TV Moments: 2. ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’

The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show
The Everett Collection

Hey there, The Beatles fans! Join us in our 10-day countdown to the premiere of The Beatles: Get Back on Disney+, sizing up the 10 greatest TV moments in the long and winding history of the lads from Liverpool.

This is an excerpt from TV Guide Magazine’s The Beatles on TV Special Collector’s Edition, available for order online now at BeatlesonTV.com and for purchase on newsstands nationwide.

2. The Ed Sullivan Show

CBS-TV Studio 50, New York City

Broadcast on CBS, Feb. 9, 1964

The Big Picture

The Beatles land in America and then take off big-time thanks to one “really good show.”

Behind the Scenes

Ruling Britannia’s rock scene was fab, but for the Beatles in early 1964, hitting it big in the USA — land of Little Richard, Elvis, and Jerry Lee Lewis — was the Holy Grail. And they’d soon have it.

Flying into New York’s Kennedy Airport on February 7, the Liverpool lads were greeted by 3,000 screaming fans. Two days later, they played The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the country’s most popular variety series. It would be the first of three-straight appearances, for which they were paid $10,000 (about $84,000 today).

The Ed Sullivan Show The Beatles

(Credit: The Everett Collection)

First taping an afternoon show to be broadcast two weeks later, the Beatles left and then returned that night under police escort, using a special entrance to avoid a mob scene. “Now, yesterday and today, our theater’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that this city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves the Beatles,” Sullivan began before introducing the band — as screams immediately ensued.

Everybody watching at home — all 73 million of them, a new record for American television — heard the group run through “All My Loving,” “Till There Was You,” and “She Loves You” with sass and confidence, as adoring teen girls shrieked, cried, hugged and swooned in the studio audience. The camera ID’d each as they played, and the sign under John’s name broke hearts across the nation with the words: “Sorry girls, he’s married.”

Also on the show that night: a young Davy Jones, who watched the Beatles from the side of the stage two years before going on to star in The Monkees. “I saw the girls going crazy, and I said to myself, ‘This is it. I want a piece of that,’” he later said. He wasn’t alone: This first performance inspired the start of many a rock band across America.

The Beatles came back later in the show to play two more hits, “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” before leaving for their first Stateside live show, in Washington, D.C. By then, their reputation was made in America.

The Beatles Top TV Moments: 1. Royal Variety PerformanceSee Also

The Beatles Top TV Moments: 1. Royal Variety Performance

We're sizing up the 10 greatest TV moments in the long and winding history of the lads from Liverpool.

Fun Fact

Afraid the audience would shriek during other acts that night, Sullivan warned, “If you don’t keep quiet, I’m going to send for a barber.”

Why It Ranks

That evening, 23 million homes tuned in to what many people still call the most important night in rock ’n’ roll.

See It Today

The Beatles: Get Back, Documentary Premiere, November 25–27, Disney+