From 1948 until its cancellation in 1971, the show ran on CBS every Sunday night from 8–9 p.m. E.T., and is one of the few entertainment shows to have run in the same weekly time slot on the same network for more than two decades (during its first season, it ran from 9 to 10 p.m. E.T.). Virtually every type of entertainment appeared on the show; classical musicians, opera singers, popular recording artists, songwriters, comedians, ballet dancers, dramatic actors performing monologues from plays, and circus acts were regularly featured. The format was essentially the same as vaudeville and, although vaudeville had undergone a slow demise for a generation, Sullivan presented many ex-vaudevillians on his show.
Originally co-created and produced by Marlo Lewis, the show was first titled Toast of the Town, but was widely referred to as The Ed Sullivan Show for years before September 25, 1955, when that became its official name. In the show's June 20, 1948 debut, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performed along with singer Monica Lewis and Broadway composers Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II previewing the score to their then-new show South Pacific, which opened on Broadway in 1949.
From 1948 through 1962, the program's primary sponsor was the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company; Sullivan read many commercials for Mercury vehicles live on the air during this period.
The Ed Sullivan Show was originally broadcast via live television from CBS-TV studio 51, the Maxine Elliott Theatre, at Broadway and 39th St. before moving to its permanent home at CBS-TV Studio 50 in New York City (1697 Broadway, at 53rd Street), which was renamed the Ed Sullivan Theater on the occasion of the program's 20th anniversary in June 1968. The last original Sullivan show telecast (#1068) was on March 28, 1971, with guests Melanie, Joanna Simon, Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass and Sandler and Young. Repeats were scheduled through June 6, 1971.