Billy Rose's Music Hall
CBS Radio Playhouse No. 1
CBS Studio 50
New York City
|Current use||Television studio|
|Production||The Ed Sullivan Show|
The Merv Griffin Show
Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell
Late Show with David Letterman
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
|The Late Show|
Ed Sullivan Theater
|Architect||Herbert J. Krapp|
|NRHP reference No.||97001303|
|Added to NRHP||November 17, 1997|
The Ed Sullivan Theater is a theater located at 1697–1699 Broadway, between West 53rd and 54th Streets, in the Theater District in Manhattan, New York City. The theater has been used as a venue for live and taped CBS broadcasts since 1936.
It is historically known as the home of The Ed Sullivan Show and the site of both Elvis Presley's second and third appearances on it (his first appearance was filmed remotely at CBS Studio Center in Hollywood), as well as The Beatles' debut performance in the United States. Since 1993, it has been home to CBS' late night talk show, The Late Show. CBS began using the theater during David Letterman's tenure as host, and Stephen Colbert retained it when he took over the show in 2015. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the interior has been designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The 13-story, brown brick and terra cotta office building with a ground-floor theater was designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp. It was built by Arthur Hammerstein between 1925 and 1927, and was named Hammerstein's Theatre after his father, Oscar Hammerstein I. The neo-Gothic interior contains pointed-arch stained-glass windows with scenes from the elder Hammerstein's opera productions. The first production at the theater was the three-hour musical Golden Dawn, the second male lead of which was Cary Grant, then still using his birth name, Archie Leach. Arthur Hammerstein went bankrupt in 1931, and lost ownership of the building.
It later went by the name Manhattan Theatre, Billy Rose's Music Hall, and the Manhattan once again. In the 1930s, it became a nightclub. After CBS obtained a long-term lease on the property, the radio network began broadcasting from there in 1936, moving in broadcast facilities it had leased at NBC Studios in Radio City. Architect William Lescaze renovated the interior, keeping nearly all of Krapp's design touches, but covering many walls with smooth white panels, with his work earning praise from the magazine Architectural Forum. The debut broadcast was the Major Bowes Amateur Hour. The theater had various names during the network's tenancy, including Radio Theater #3 and the CBS Radio Playhouse.
The theater was converted for television in 1950, when it became CBS-TV Studio 50. Shielded television cameras had to be developed especially for the theater due to strong magnetic interference from nearby subway electrical equipment. In the early and mid-Fifties, the theater played host to many of the live telecasts of The Jackie Gleason Show. Arthur Godfrey also presented his morning CBS radio and television show Arthur Godfrey Time and the Monday prime-time Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts from Studio 50.
Newspaper columnist and impresario Ed Sullivan, who had started hosting his variety show Toast of the Town, soon renamed The Ed Sullivan Show, from the Maxine Elliott Theatre (CBS Studio 51) on West 39th Street in 1948, moved to Studio 50 a few years later. The theater was officially renamed for Sullivan at the end of his "20th Anniversary Celebration" telecast on December 10, 1967.
In the 1960s, Studio 50 was one of CBS' busiest stages, used not only for Sullivan's program but also for The Merv Griffin Show, as well as several game shows. In 1965, Studio 50 was converted to color, and the first color episode of The Ed Sullivan Show debuted from the theater on October 31, 1965. (The program originated from CBS Television City in color for the previous six weeks while the color equipment was installed. One earlier color episode of the program originated from Studio 72 at 2248 Broadway and 81st Street on August 22, 1954.) What's My Line?, To Tell the Truth and Password also called the studio home after CBS began broadcasting regularly in color; previously, they had been taped around the corner at CBS-TV Studio 52, which later became the disco Studio 54. The first episode of regular color telecasts of What's My Line? was broadcast live on September 11, 1966. Line and Truth remained at Studio 50 even after they moved from CBS to first-run syndication in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The Ed Sullivan Theater was also the first home for The $10,000 Pyramid, with its huge end-game board set at the rear of the stage, in 1973. Other short-lived game shows produced at the theatre included Musical Chairs with singer Adam Wade (1975), Shoot For The Stars with Geoff Edwards (1977) (which was an NBC show), and Pass the Buck with Bill Cullen (1978).
The CBS lease on the building expired in 1981 and it became a Reeves Entertainment teletape facility. As such it hosted the sitcom Kate & Allie, which ran from 1984 to 1989 (as it happened, on CBS), as well as the early Nickelodeon talk show Livewire. In 1990, David Niles/1125 Productions signed onto the lease, with the theater to house his HDTV studio and new Broadway show Dreamtime. On October 17, 1992, an NBC special celebrating Phil Donahue's 25 years on television taped in the theater. The following month, NBC News used the theater for its November 1992 election night coverage.
Late Show with David Letterman
When David Letterman switched networks from NBC to CBS, CBS bought the theater in February 1993 from Winthrop Financial Associates of Boston for $4.5 million, as the broadcast location for his new show, Late Show with David Letterman. The existing tenant, Niles' Dreamtime, was given four weeks to vacate. Due to the economics of moving the show and the lack of a comparable available Broadway theater, Dreamtime closed. The quick sale and vacancy of the building earned the realtor the Henry Hart Rice Achievement Award for the Most Ingenious Deal of the Year for 1993.
The theater was reconfigured into a studio, with lighting and sound adjustments; the number of seats was reduced from 1,200 to 400. During the renovation the stained glass windows were removed and stored by CBS in an arrangement with the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; the window openings were covered with acoustic material. The architectural firm that did the work, Polshek Partnership, notes on its web site that "to preserve the architectural integrity of the landmark, all interventions are reversible."
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Letterman's successor, Stephen Colbert, continues to broadcast The Late Show with Stephen Colbert from the Ed Sullivan Theater, although extensive renovations were made between the two hosts' tenures. Removal of the Letterman set took place only a few hours after his last show, on May 20, 2015. Letterman's marquee was also removed, and was temporarily replaced by a banner promoting the Angelo's Pizza restaurant adjacent to the theater, featuring Colbert posing with a slice of pizza.
The theater underwent a full restoration to its original 1927 splendor, including the exposure of the theater's dome, which had been covered up by air ducts and sound buffers, the re-installation of the original stained-glass windows, which had been removed and placed in storage during the Letterman era, and the restoration of a wooden chandelier with individual stained-glass chambers that house its bulbs. The restoration was made possible due to advances in technology that allowed less sound and video equipment to cover up the auditorium's architectural details. CBS executive Richard Hart explained that Colbert was initially hesitant to use the theater, but called for the restoration after he was informed about the dome while touring the facility.
Colbert described his new set as being "intimate"; it features a multi-tier design, with extensive use of LED lighting and video projection backdrops, and a larger desk area than that of Letterman. Exposed for the new show, the Sullivan's dome is lit up with a digital projection system which is used to display images above the theater, such as a kaleidoscopic pattern featuring images of Colbert's face and the CBS logo. New, larger audience seats were installed, reducing the overall capacity from 461 to 370. The theater's new marquee was designed to have a "glitzy" appearance appropriate for Broadway; CBS late-night executive Vincent Favale joked that Colbert's marquee made the new rear marquee installed at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon look like a mall kiosk in comparison.
The theatre served as a stage for The Rosie O'Donnell Show for a week of shows in October 1996 when several eighth-floor studios at NBC's 30 Rockefeller Center headquarters experienced complications from an electrical fire.
The theatre has hosted most of the New York-based finales for the reality game show Survivor. The Ed Sullivan Theater was first used for Survivor: The Amazon (as a contingency plan due to rain scrubbing plans for a live finale outdoors in Central Park) and was subsequently used for every even-numbered season from Survivor: Palau to Survivor: One World.
In the 21st century, the theater has hosted roof-top or marquee-top concerts by a few musicians:
- Dave Matthews Band on July 15, 2002
- Audioslave on November 25, 2002 (their debut live appearance)
- Phish on June 21, 2004
- Paul McCartney on July 15, 2009
- Eminem and Jay-Z in June 2010
On February 9, 2014, the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first Ed Sullivan performance, CBS News hosted a roundtable discussion at the theater. Anthony Mason moderated the panel, which consisted of Pattie Boyd, Neil Innes, Mick Jones, Tad Kubler, John Oates, Andrew Oldham, Nile Rodgers and Julie Taymor. A replica of the marquee to the theater as it looked the night of the original performance also covered up the Late Show with David Letterman marquee over the weekend. David Letterman interviewed Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in the theater as part of a related Grammy tribute special which aired on CBS around the same time.
CBS This Morning temporarily relocated to the Ed Sullivan Theater on March 19, 2020, utilizing a portable desk located center stage away from Colbert's desk set and the band's setup; its normal facilities at the CBS Broadcast Center were shut down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, after several CBS News staffers tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The Late Show was in production hiatus at the time due to the pandemic; Late Show executive producer Chris Licht had earlier served the same role for CBS This Morning. An earlier incarnation of CBS This Morning broadcast a week of shows from the theater in May 1995, while Late Show was taping in London.The Late Show returned to the Sullivan facility on August 10, 2020, though not using the stage, but building office space re-decorated and re-staged to resemble Colbert's office with influences from the show's set. Guests, along with performances from house band Jon Batiste & Stay Human, continue to come in through videotelephony applications.
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- Greene, Alexis. "What Cable Offers Children", The New York Times, April 25, 1982
- Frazier Moore (November 3, 1992). "Networks Ready the Grand Finale of Election Night '92". Associated Press. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
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- Gerard, Eric R. "Deal-of-the-year: how it got done" Archived June 2, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Real Estate Weekly, May 11, 1994. Opening of article, via encyclopedia.com
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- Joel Lovell (August 17, 2015). "The Late, Great Stephen Colbert". GQ. Retrieved August 17, 2015.
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- "Audioslave Make Live Debut In New York City". Blabbermouth.net. 2002. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
- "June 21, 2004 Setlist". phish.net.
Notes: Phish performed on top of the theater's second-floor marquee at West 53rd Street and Broadway
- Carter, Bill (July 16, 2009). "Helped by a Big Name, Letterman Bounces Back". The New York Times.
- "Jay-Z and Eminem Perform Surprise Rooftop Concert in NYC". CBS Local Media. June 21, 2010. Archived from the original on April 5, 2014. Retrieved February 22, 2014.
- CBS News: 50 Years Later CBS New York
- Barr, Jeremy (March 18, 2020). "CBS News to Film Morning Show From 'Late Show's' Ed Sullivan Theater". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
- Johnson, Ted (March 18, 2020). "'CBS This Morning' To Move To Ed Sullivan Theater As Coronavirus Precaution". Deadline. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
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- Snow, Shauna (May 11, 1995). "Beatles Documentary Coming to ABC". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
- Porter, Rick (August 7, 2020). "Stephen Colbert, James Corden Set Return to Studio Taping". The Hollywood Reporter.
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