The show was originally entitled The Talk of the Town and on its debut, comedians Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed along with Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1955 the name was changed to The Ed Sullivan Show.
On September 9, 1956, rock star Elvis Presley made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show even though Sullivan had previously vowed never to allow the performer on his show. At the time Presley was filming Love Me Tender so Sullivan's producer Marlo Lewis flew to Los Angeles, California to supervise the Hollywood side of the show taping. Sullivan, however, was not able to host his show in New York City because he was recovering from a near fatal automobile accident. Actor Charles Laughton (star of Mutiny on the Bounty) hosted in Sullivan's place introducing Presley with "And now away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley" to which Presley eventually responded "This is probably the greatest honor that I've ever had in my life."
The show was viewed by a record 60 million people which at the time was 82.6% of the television audience and the largest single audience in television history. Sullivan was able to host other appearances by Presley starting on October 28 later the same year. But for this appearance Presley dyed his naturally sandy blond hair to his soon to be trademark "bad boy" jet black. Presley's third and final appearance on the show occurred on January 6, 1957 but by that time controversy over Presley's provocative hip and pelvis movements prompted Sullivan to order the show's cameras to only shoot the rock star from the waist up. In spite of that Sullivan thanked Presley after his last number saying, "This is a real decent, fine boy. We've never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we've had with you.... You're thoroughly all right."
Many television historians consider Elvis Presley's appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show as helping to bridge a large generation gap between Great Depression and World War II era parents and their adolescent children. Later performers would use this bridge to introduce themselves to millions of American households. Among them were The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and The Beatles. The Beatles appeared on the show nine times earning Sullivan a 60% share of the night time audience for one of the appearances.