Considering that Ed Sullivan looks like the doorman at the monster's ball, is stiff as a board and has a rather introverted personality it's a wonder that he had one of the most significant variety shows in the history of television.
Sullivan had a show from 1948 to 1971, which was a stopover for every major entertainment act of the period. The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show: Unforgettable Performances DVD (which is volume 1 of many more) is basically a highlight reel of those years. It features music, comedy acts, musical numbers, novelty acts and some children's variety performances.
Unfortunately, the structure of the documentary is rather poor. Each of the highlighted acts is presented in a scattershot manner and the entire DVD begins to feel like one long trailer. The film's first few moments show us a young Carol Burnett (1957) followed by The Rolling Stones (1966) followed by Jackie Gleason (1952) and then - a novely act - Chong and Mana (1966) and pretty much keeps this diverse selection all the way to the end.
Among the popular music acts are, to name a few, Elvis, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Mamas and the Papas, Janis Joplin, Ella Fitzgerald and Sammy Davis Jr, Louis Armstrong, Smokey Robinson and The Jackson Five. There are short comedy pieces by many including Flip Wilson, George Carlin, Joan Rivers and Alan King. The other selections are made up of musical numbers and novelty acts, many of which just fly on by without any lead in, introduction or afterward.
Every so often there are interviews interspersed throughout with some of the stars who appeared on the show including Joan Rivers, Ella Fitzgerald and Alan King. And the whole 90 minutes is hosted by Carol Burnett who shows up every so often to, sort of, give us guidance through the history of The Ed Sullivan Show.
One of the more interesting section is on censorship. There we learn about Sullivan's control over everything on the show and some of the incidents that went astray. Such as Jackie Mason improvising and being accused of flipping off Sullivan, Jim Morrison using the word 'higher' in 'Light my Fire', which he was implicitly told not to use, The Rolling Stones told to change, 'let's spend the night together' to 'let's spend some time together' and Bob Dylan being entirely censored by the executives for singing 'Talking About John Bircher Blues'.
The DVD would be much better if they split up the various acts onto each disc. On disc one could be rock and roll and jazz, on another could be standup comedy acts, and another could have novelty acts. (Some of these do in fact exist in other forms on VHS and DVD).
The quality of the images vary according to the year of the program. Most of the black and white images look poor. But it is mainly because a lot of the original tapes are lost or destroyed so archivists have had to use versions that were filmed off of the TV. The color episodes look good. The colors come across well even although it has a video quality. I'm guessing the original VHS of this (done in the early 1990's) was transferred to DVD.
Audio is okay at best. There is no range for the musical numbers. The spoken comedy stand-up routines sound fine. Overall the sound is possibly as good if not better than they were when they were live.
The only extra worth anything is an interview with Ed Sullivan and his wife that was done in the 1960's. It's a polite interview that doesn't reveal much except that Ed doesn't look that comfortable taking questions.
The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show: Unforgettable Performances is...well forgettable. it is really just a representation of Ed's show and only features a few highlights. If anything it is frustrating because one can see that the show must have been pretty good. This DVD instead shackles the viewer into mere highlights of his 23 year show – and I say 'shackles' because it is too cuts many of the performances short and never lets us see if the show had any life outside of the performances. There are better DVD's with Ed Sullivan available. I'd skip this one unless you are curious enough to rent it.