How Many People Tuned in to Watch The Beatles Perform on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1964?

The Beatles first performed on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964. The performance was the crowning moment in the group’s first tour of the U.S. It helped open the flood gates for the British Invasion and brought Beatlemania to its peak.

Now, Feb. 9 is like a holiday to some Beatle fans. They celebrate it by watching that record-smashing, historical performance each year. It became one of the most famous TV performances in the U.S. But how big of an impact did it have, at least in numbers? How many people tuned in to watch The Beatles that night in 1964?

The Beatles in suits while performing on 'The Ed Sullivan Show' on Feb. 9, 1964.
The Beatles performing on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Millions of people tuned in to watch The Beatles perform on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’

Getting to play on The Ed Sullivan Show was a massive honor, especially for up-and-coming artists. However, The Beatles, who already had a No. 1 hit in America, didn’t come cheap.

According to Mental Floss, The Beatles “would only agree to appear if the show covered their travel expenses and paid them a $10,000 fee (which would be just under $90,000 in 2022 dollars). Sullivan and his producers agreed, but only if The Beatles would commit to making three appearances. They had a deal.”

The performance turned out to be mutually beneficial. The Beatles got immense exposure that catapulted them into superstardom, and The Ed Sullivan Show got more viewers than ever before.

According to The Ed Sullivan Show‘s website, a record-setting 73 million people tuned in to watch The Beatles perform that night on Feb. 9. That was about 40 percent of the country’s population at that time.

A crowd of 700 people, mostly screaming girls, erupted after Sullivan gave his now-famous intro to The Beatles, “Ladies and gentlemen… The Beatles!” The next second, the band kicked into “All My Loving.”

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The crime rate did not drop during The Beatles’ performance

There’s a myth in Beatles history that the crime rate in the U.S. dropped drastically during The Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Even crooks didn’t want to miss it. Paul McCartney even touched on it during The Beatles’ Anthology documentary.

It would be great if The Beatles’ music were the only thing that could halt crime in its tracks. However, according to Snopes, crime didn’t drop during the performance.

Mental Floss wrote that the myth started “when Bill Gold, a reporter from The Washington Post, snarkily remarked that while The Beatles were on that evening, no hubcaps were stolen anywhere.

“It was meant to infer that The Beatles appealed to the type of degenerate who would do such a thing, but the meaning was twisted and reprinted by Newsweek.”

Following that, Gold wrote an equally snarky retraction on Feb. 21, 1964: “This week’s issue of Newsweek quotes my report from B.F. Henry that there’s one good thing about the Beatles—’during the hour they were on Ed Sullivan’s show, there wasn’t a hubcap stolen in America.

“It is with heavy heart that I must inform Newsweek that this report was not true. Lawrence R. Fellenz of 307 E. Groveton St., Alexandria, had his car parked on church property during that hour—and all four of his hubcaps were stolen.

“The Washington Post regrets the error, and District Liner Fellenz regrets that somewhere in Alexandria there lives a hipster who is too poor to own a TV set.”

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The Beatles viewership record was broken by the finale of ‘M*A*S*H’

For a while, The Beatles kept their viewership record from the performance. That is until 1983. According to the Irish Examiner, the 70 million figure was surpassed in February 1983 when nearly 106 million, 46.95% of the U.S., tuned in to watch the finale of M*A*S*H.

Still, The Beatles’ performance went down as one of the most memorable TV performances in American history. Although, the staff working that night didn’t know it at the time.

John Moffitt, the Assistant Director of The Ed Sullivan Show that night, recalled, “Nobody realized the impact to come, how momentous it would be. We didn’t talk about making history. It was more like, ‘What are we going to do next week? Not only are we doing this again, we’re on location.'”

The most important thing about The Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show is that it inspired many musicians to come. Artists like Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Joel watched that night, and it gave them hope that one day they’d be just like the Fab Four. If that’s not a legacy, we don’t know what is.

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