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THE BEST OF THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Various musical, comedy, novelty and animal acts
Host: Ed Sullivan (with Carol Burnett and The Smothers Brothers)
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio: StarVista Entertainment/Time Life
Features: Bonus Interviews
Length: Approx. 264 Minutes
Release Date: May 12, 2015

Ed Sullivan can’t sing, can’t dance, and can’t tell a joke…but he does it better than anyone else.” Alan King

Shows ***

As Alan King said, Ed Sullivan was no performer…but he was gifted. His talent was bringing together the best and most cutting-edge mixes of music, theatre, comedy and strange sights into America’s living room week after week, resulting in an indelible library of over 1,000 hours of some of the country’s most legendary stars, doing what they did best.

The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show collects 6 discs of mostly previously-released home video collections into one terrific set. Whether you grew up with the names, or are young and culturally curious, this is one stop shopping for the best the nation had to offer in the late 50s and 60s. Acts like The Beatles, Elvis Presley, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, Rich Little, Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, The Jackson Five and others live forever, thanks to the one true talent of Ed Sullivan.

There’s plenty of vintage material here, and if you’re a fan, you’ve seen many of these discs before. Carol Burnett hosts the retrospective look back at the show, which shows not only performances, but gives behind-the-scenes information as to how Ed got his start, all the way to when his theatre started bearing his name (and still does).

It’s good stuff, but my complaint is twofold: one, as mentioned, I’ve seen a lot of this material before, and two, I wish there were more complete performances here. Most of what is here is just clips; maybe owing to time constraints, but still…if you want to hear The Miracles sing a full song, no such luck. The many true legendary moments, such as the appearances of Elvis or The Beatles, are more talked about than shown.

The disc also includes the 50th Anniversary special, hosted by The Smothers Brothers, but still in the same style. Many performers are present to reflect back on their experience on the show, and most of them have good stories about Ed. My favorites are the impressionists. If you don’t know the name Jon Byner, you should definitely check out his work on the show and his thoughts about it in a modern setting.

Ed also was unique in bringing contemporary stage stars to the small screen so that most of America got their only glimpses of what was happening on Broadway at the time. Today, our only taste of Richard Burton and Julie Andrews in Camelot can be seen thanks to Ed…but again, I wish we could have seen more of the actual performances.

The final two discs bring together some of the show’s most famous novelty and animal acts. Good stuff, but not quite my cup of tea…I’d rather peruse more of my musical and comedy heroes, but again…there was always something for everyone on Ed’s stage.

The narrative is good, but some history speaks for itself, and with a little more attention to the performances and less to the context, this could have been a truly invaluable collection. As it is, it’s certainly a good and entertaining program, and will likely give a new generation a glimpse of some classic stars in their glory. It truly was a really big show.

Video **

These programs are old…and in fact, the discs themselves represent special home videos dating back to the early 90s, so you can’t expect a lot. The TV footage is often soft and grainy, but fairly clean…the overly-saturated colors are a bit muted, but lend to the feel of true classic television.

Audio *

Likewise, the audio doesn’t deliver much more than necessary. I noticed some unavoidable effects of aging here, like occasional pops or noise, but nothing that takes away from the performances.

Features ***

The sixth disc in the set is all bonus interviews, including many greats who are no longer with us, such as Ray Manzarek, Flip Wilson, Joan Rivers and more. There is also the only surviving on-camera interview with Ed and Sylvia Sullivan, plus more, such as Milton Berle, Phullis Diller, Johnny Mathis, Michelle Phillips, Jon Byner and others.

Summary:

The Best of the Ed Sullivan Show brings hours of vintage television right into your living room. It’s a fun way to celebrate the lives of some great stars, as well as the man who made it all possible.

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