EdSullivancoverGrade: C+
Entire family: Yes, but….
1948-71, 444 min., B&W and Color
Not rated (would be G)
StarVista
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: C+/B-
Amazon link

Baby Boomers grew up with The Ed Sullivan Show, the last great variety series that TV produced. From 1948 to 1971, families tuned in every Sunday night to watch Sullivan’s TV version of the old vaudeville shows: an odd and often surprising mixture of novelty acts, animal acts, musical acts, and comedy acts. But he also introduced cutting-edge rock ‘n’ roll, soul, and pop bands, and it was such an American tradition that The Ed Sullivan Show was immortalized in the Broadway play Bye Bye Birdie and ranked #15 on TV Guide’s list of 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

Most people who buy this set will do so because of nostalgia. Like me, they grew up watching Sullivan and, like so many comedians, probably even tried their hand at imitating him. Many Americans first saw Elvis Presley and The Beatles on Sullivan’s show, and this 6-DVD Collector’s Set celebrates those milestones and others.

But there are two things that you should know about this set. First, five of the discs have been previously available as single DVDs. The Very Best of The Ed Sullivan Show, Vol. 1: Unforgettable Performances is the same disc we get here—a clip show hosted by Carol Burnett. Same with The Ed Sullivan Show: 50th Anniversary Special (a clip show hosted by The Smothers Brothers), The Ed Sullivan Show: The All-Star Comedy Special (another clip show hosted by Mary Tyler Moore), The Ed Sullivan Show: World’s Greatest Novelty Acts, and The Ed Sullivan Show: Amazing Animal Acts. The sixth disc of bonus interviews included in this set seems culled from the two main clip shows.

The other thing you should know is that there isn’t a single complete show included in this collection, and the clips are REALLY clipped. My family isn’t a fan of clip shows, because you don’t get the full context or, in this case, even the full performance most of the time. Everything is just a snippet here and a snippet there, and with so many different clip DVDs there’s a lot of repetition, too.

The only disc where you are really okay with the length of the clips is the Amazing Animal Acts disc. That’s because the idea of animals performing tricks is enough of a unifying theme that you don’t mind seeing only snippets . . . plus, the clips vary in length, with some of the performances longer than others, and some close to complete appearances. There are trained birds that count, a dog that counts, chimps that do acrobatic routines and walk on stilts, trained sea lions, elephants, a bear that grabs an ice cream cone right out of Sullivan’s mouth, and a historic moment when lion tamer Clyde Beatty assembled his act on a smaller-than-usual stage against his better judgment and lost control of a lion. Rather than focus on the problem on center stage, Sullivan walks into the audience to introduce celebrities. You can hear Beatty firing blanks in the background as he tries to scare the big cat back into submission. There are a number of moments like that on this five-disc clip compilation, but few that run as long or feel as complete. If you remove nostalgia from the equation, the “Amazing Animal Acts” disc is probably the only disc that my family enjoyed, and you can pick up the Amazing Animal Acts DVD separately for $14.95.

Don’t get me wrong. We liked seeing Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, Sonny & Cher, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, and The Beatles, but with each of those acts we wanted more. The clips felt like a tease, and I frankly would have preferred a set that offered the two main clip shows plus discs that featured complete installments of The Ed Sullivan Show so that today’s families could really get a taste of what their counterparts 50 years ago watched. And it’s surprising how much of the comedy in that clip show seems dated or is no longer funny. Were they really the best of the show’s long run? It didn’t seem so to us.

Bottom line: The Ed Sullivan Show is an American classic, but chopping it into itty bitty pieces isn’t the best way to experience it.

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