When the Beatles appeared on CBS on February 9, 1964 this episode became most watched episode or event of all time until eclipsed by the finale of The Fugitive (1963) in 1967. The episode was watched by 23.24 million households or 45.3% with a Neilsen share of 60%.
A segment of the National Public Radio series "This American Life" profiles the experiences of husband-and-wife team Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall who had had a struggling nightclub act when they were booked for this very show. McCall and Brill, who had never heard of the Beatles (and did not recognize John Lennon) found their opportunity to appear on national television overwhelmed by the Beatles' presence that same night. The episode of "This American Life" in which their story is recounted is entitled, appropriately, "My Big Break".
As customary at the time, commercial breaks were much shorter at the time this program first aired. This may be seen on the DVD of the Beatles's appearances on the show, in which all of the original commercials are included. Only one commercial is shown on each break, not the multitude of commercials thrown at TV audiences today each time a program goes to a break.
Before The Beatles made their first appearance on the show (on their first visit to America, in early 1964), manager Brian Epstein and host Sullivan made some careful negotiations. Epstein wanted the show to cover the band's flight expenses to New York and back, and in return Sullivan wanted more than one appearance. In the end, the Beatles performed for three weeks running (two live and one pretaped), making visits to Washington DC and Miami in between.
Also appearing on the show was the cast from the musical "Oliver" which featured another young man from England named Davy Jones. Of course, Jones would appear two years later in a sitcom inspired by the Beatles success, The Monkees (1966).