The Ed Sullivan Show aired from 1948 to 1971, making it one of the longest lasting variety shows ever on television. But Ed Sullivan had his critics, especially in the early days.
When Ed Sullivan started appearing on television, Time Magazine said:
“He moves like a sleepwalker; his smile is that of a man sucking a lemon; his speech is frequently lost in a thicket of syntax; his eyes pop from their sockets or sink so deep in their bags that they seem to be peering up at the camera from the bottom of twin wells…”
Sullivan had been a boxer, so some of those unflattering physical descriptions could be explained by the time he spent in the boxing ring.
But some criticism was personal. Television critic, Harriet Van Horne, once wrote:
“[Ed Sullivan] got where he is not by having a personality, but by having no personality.”
So how did Sullivan endure such criticism to go on to produce such a popular show for 23 years?
First, he didn’t let the criticism get to him. Even when criticism became personal, he didn’t allow himself to obsess over it. He didn’t permit himself to believe the critics or to change his style. So to Harriet Van Horne, Ed Sullivan wrote a simple, eloquent letter:
Dear Miss Van Horne:
Second, Sullivan laughed at himself. He invited the top celebrity impressionists of the day to parody him on his own show. Rich Little and Will Jordan mimicked and exaggerated Sullivan’s stiff, unnatural style to the delight of the host. By not taking himself so seriously, Sullivan made himself immune from attacks.
Finally, Sullivan understood his niche, his talent, and he chose to be the best in that arena. Comedian Fred Allen said of Sullivan: “Ed Sullivan will last as long as someone else has talent.” Sullivan didn’t try to be the celebrity. He never tried to upstage his talented guest. Rather, he made a name for himself by spotlighting the talent of others. And as a result, Americans became familiar with relatively unknown stars who were showcased on his program each week. Additionally, Sullivan was the first mainstream TV host to embrace the Nashville sound, paving the way for such acts as Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash.
This complex man demonstrated simple yet brilliant keys to enduring success. What’s your secret?