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TV History: Elvis on Ed Sullivan

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Prof. Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame in Spring 2017. Check the commentary dropdown menu for a student's analysis of the clip.

Clip Commentary

by Tyler Luatua

The “King of Rock and Roll”, Elvis Presley, impacted the lives of the 20th century. He began to change the way people, back then, listened to music along with the way it was viewed. Leading into the 50’s there were only three networks available: NBC, CBS, and ABC. Elvis was able to perform live, on October 28, 1956 and invited back on January 6, 1957. From the Elvis’ first performance, in 1956, to his second performance, in 1957, a lot took place. The role of music back then is significantly different than how it is, today. This clip shows how much television screening was important to those with TV sets, back then. Censoring, in the 1950s, looks a lot different than the type of censoring used, today. CBS censored Elvis, in 1957, by filming him from the waist up as opposed to a full view of his performance in 1956.

The audience in the clip are excited to see Elvis, live on October of 1956, and the excitement level changes as he shows his dance moves to one of his many famous songs, “Hound Dog.” As big of a name as Elvis is, his performance portrayed moves that other viewers looked down upon, as it seemed inappropriate, at the time, for children to see. Transitioning into January of 1957, the performance seems less interesting as viewers from home are only able to see Elvis’ chest and face, swaying from side to side singing “Don’t Be Cruel.” This happened to be Elvis’ last appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and the viewers grew sad as he took his last bow after Ed Sullivan’s heart-warming remarks and farewell to the “King of Rock and Roll” before eventually being drafted into the military in 1958. Elvis attracted music fans of different genres and helped them gain interest into rock and roll. Much like the role of Amos ‘n’ Andy in television, Elvis helped make black music easier to listen to as he performed covers of songs written by blacks. Elvis made it possible for people of different color to be interested in the same things like music, TV, movies, etc.

Although the clips only contain live performances from the 1950s, I can get a sense of how producers went on about live broadcasting performances and how much one performance can change the way a set is filmed. For example, Elvis’ performance of “Hound Dog” looks very entertaining and fun, based off of the reactions of the crowd as opposed to a more calm performance and censored performance of “Don’t Be Cruel”, a few months later. According to CHAT, page 178 and more, the postwar baby boom played a role in the 1950s television, where programs are made for young children and approved by parents. I can imagine the concerns that parents had when watching Elvis Presley’s performance in 1956, with their children viewing as well as the reactions after that which led to his censoring in 1957. Edgerton writes about the development of children programs in the 1950s and how TV scheduling became more compact as more programs began to take air. Looking back at this historical moment, the combination of the addition of television in households of an era of newborn babies could create tensions and conflicts as television programs were being created for an audience of all ages.

The clip provides a stance of which, musical performances were under restrictions during live broadcasting. It gives viewers a chance to see history through a live performance that changed the role of television and music. Elvis played as a role model to fans of different types, back then. How can TV/music change in today’s society? What can play an important role to society as Elvis did? There have been performances today that create controversy in society, much like the tension created after Ciara’s national anthem performance before the 2016 National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson. Everyone had things to say about her dress that she wore during the performance and the amount of cleavage shown on national television. There are other examples that relate to this incident and many more that will certainly come up in the future that could change the way things are handled in any way.

Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show

This contains two clips of Elvis Presley performances on the Ed Sullivan Show, one from October 28, 1956, and one from January 6, 1957, on CBS.

from The Ed Sullivan Show (1956)
Creator: CBS
Distributor: Vimeo & YouTube
Posted by Christine Becker
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