The TV Rating That Has Never Been Beaten

You may think that the series finale of either Seinfeld or M*A*S*H garnered the biggest TV ratings of all time, but you would be wrong. That honor goes to Elvis Presley’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. It actually wasn’t his first time on live TV. The crooner had appeared on The Steve Allen Show a couple of months earlier. However, it was on Sullivan’s show that Presley proved to be a smash. A record 82% of the television audience tuned in that night — September 9, 1956 — despite the fact that Ed Sullivan wasn’t even hosting the show. He had been in a car accident and Charles Laughton stepped in to host the show from New York. For his performance, Elvis walked away with $16,000, which was over triple the normal $5,000 performers were paid to appear on TV shows. Though seemingly harmless to watch by today’s standards, Elvis made some exaggerated bump and grind movements during the song “Hound Dog," which caused a national controversy. The media went into an uproar after seeing Elvis gyrating on stage in an “obscene performance,” and the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis” took hold.