As a Beatles writer and historian I was very familiar with the name of Ed Sullivan and have read numerous stories of how the Fab Four ended up appearing on his show and the impact of that appearance. But growing up in the UK I never actually saw the show itself (except through modern DVD releases) and had no first hand experience of its impact on the entertainment landscape. I was hoping that this book would provide me with more information and understanding of the show itself and its somewhat enigmatic host. Unfortunately that was not the case.
The book is derived from the author's PhD thesis, and at times reads like that, with lengthy interview extracts that should have been edited to make them more pertinent to the story being told. And perhaps that's where the main problem with the book lies, author Bernie Ilson may have been Ed Sullivan's top public relations guru, but, based on this book, he is not a natural story teller. The narrative is very disjointed and makes sudden jumps without explanation. In fact big chunks of the story are missing. Most of the book's interest hinges on Ilson's own personal anecdotes of encounters with various guests and celebrities rather than any explanation or real examination of the show's growth and ultimate demise as the networks and advertisers shifted towards a younger target demographic ( a point raised and discussed by a TV network executive in one of the tacked on interviews rather than by the author himself in the main body of the text.)
By the end of the book I didn't really know much more about Sullivan himself that I hadn't gleaned from other sources. I would have expected a more in depth examination of his drives and methodology from someone who worked alongside him for so long. The one part of Sullivan's aims for the show that does get a spotlight in the book is his aim to bring what he termed 'culture' (classical music, ballet and opera) into the living rooms of America. Unfortunately this aspect is repeated over and over again almost relentlessly. The repeating of facts and concepts about the show is constant throughout, almost as if each chapter had been written to be read independently.
In the introduction the author cites that the book was the result of over a dozen years of research, it's therefore surprising that the main narrative is only 112 pages, with the rest of the book being filled with insights and observations from various interview subjects.
In short I found the book to be somewhat disappointing and superficial; but maybe my expectations were too high.