How We Saw It: A Look Back at TV Guide Magazine’s Coverage of The Beatles

The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show
Courtesy of Everett Collection

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.

It seems we are forever looking back at the Beatles (Disney+ is doing just that this month with the upcoming docuseries, The Beatles: Get Back). Their music still feels relevant and their influence is obvious, yet they remain a fixture of our past, starting with that explosive first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964, when tens of millions of viewers were shocked and awed by the songs and the screams. But TV Guide Magazine has always maintained an advantage: We were there, watching the action as it took place.

Later on, as the many stories on these pages prove, we celebrated the band’s ability to electrify. But it was the first encounter that really sold us. As our overseas reporter Robert Musel enthused in the April 18, 1964, issue, “I write this dispatch from the front lines, having just been buffetted, battered, trampled, clutched at, manhandled and deafened by a horde of ecstatic girls who treated me like a fifth Beatle in their efforts to get at the originals.” He went on to write that the British called the Beatles’ first Stateside visit “the 12 days that shook the world,” adding, “They are possibly the most valuable property in the history of pop music.” Prophetic words indeed.

Hitting All the Right Notes

Even before the Fab Four’s landmark first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, their sounds thrilled America’s kids. “Since Sullivan struck a deal with the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, late in ’63 to bring the sensations Stateside, the Beatles had infiltrated every avenue of American pop culture,” James Ellis wrote in our pages. He went on to say the band exceeded even sky-high expectations on the variety show. “By the time John, Paul, George and Ringo went on their 1964 tour of North America, there was no denying their power. The British Invasion had begun, not by land or by sea, but by television.”

The Beatles on TV Guide Magazine

TV Guide/courtesy Everett Collection

Speaking Words of Wisdom

In both 2000 and 2001, Paul McCartney reflected in our pages on the heady days when the Beatles redefined the way we looked at popular music. With the 2000 release of 1, the collection of Beatles No. 1 hits that itself topped the charts, Paul told us, “I was really pleased with it. The main thing I thought as a craftsman was how well structured the songs were, that there was nothing that shouldn’t have been on them…. Emotionally, it just brought back really great memories of these lovely friends of mine and all the great times we had recording.” Noting the death, more than 20 years prior, of his famed songwriting partner, Paul added, “It was really sad to hear John singing.”

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Laugh-In Gets Starr Power

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In sat atop the nation’s television ratings in 1970 with its frothy mix of on-target off-color jokes, but it took a guest slot from Ringo Starr to bring “mania” to the set. As TV Guide Magazine reported that year in its March 28 issue, the famed Beatles drummer—coming to the show to promote his new film The Magic Christian—had been told to use an obscure on-set entrance in order to keep him away from fans. Unfortunately, someone didn’t get the memo, and he snuck in just as a group of tourists were being guided backstage. “Result: chaos,” as we wrote back then. “The taping itself produced its own mad moments. Ringo’s first appearance onstage brought down the house without a joke being cracked.” Of course, he cracked plenty alongside Carol Channing, Tiny Tim and the series regulars.

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