TV weekend: Grammys salute Beatles, Ripper Street tackles Elephant Man (with video)

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TV weekend: Grammys salute Beatles, Ripper Street tackles Elephant Man (with video)

Posted on: February 8th, 2014 by tommyj

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CBS presents The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute To The Beatles

CBS presents The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute To The Beatles

More than 23 million viewers across the U.S. and Canada tuned in on Sept. 24, 2002, when Kelly Clarkson made TV history by being crowned American Idol’s first winner. At the time, Idol was the talk of the TV town, and TV’s unassailable ratings champion. More than 38 million viewers tuned in the following year to see Ruben Studdard crowned over Clay Aiken.

Now consider this: On Feb. 9, 1964 — 50 years ago to the day Sunday — 74 million viewers tuned in to The Ed Sullivan Show to watch the Beatles make their U.S. television debut.

It was a watershed moment in pop culture and would go on to become one of the most-watched TV events — long before the advent of cable and tech-happy Super Bowl broadcasts.

The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles is just that, a two-hour concert salute to The Beatles, featuring a reunion of original Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with show-stopping performances by Beatles groupies and devotees Maroon 5, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, Pharrell Williams and Brad Paisley, Dave Grohl, Joe Walsh and Gary Clark, Jr., John Mayer and Keith Urban, and Stevie Wonder.

The concert was recorded in January, the day after the Grammy Awards, and has been held back until this weekend. In a happy coincidences of timing, the 50th anniversary falls on a Sunday, traditionally the most heavily sampled night of the TV week.

The Ed Sullivan Show is a throwback to a different time, of course, but the Beatles’ appearance in 1964 was one of the earliest examples of how a combination of buzz, a shrewdly staged marketing campaign and saturation radio play can piqué interest and drive audience tastes.

The Beatles understood the power of radio, and American radio stations were saturated with Beatles tunes in the weeks leading up to The Ed Sullivan Show. “The Beatles are coming!” became a slogan, catchphrase and mantra all in one. Their arrival in America at New York’s Kennedy Airport was covered by the national network newscasts on ABC and CBS — something that would be unthinkable today, for any band, at least at the national network level. Local news is a whole other ball game.

Sullivan’s stiff, somewhat disoriented introduction would go on to become one of TV’s defining cultural moments. (“The city never has seen the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool, who call themselves the Beatles … Right now, and again in the second half of our show, ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles. Let’s bring them on!”)

Those last words are hard to pick up on film footage of Sullivan’s introduction, because they were drowned out by the screams of young girls in the audience. McCartney began his count-in, broke into All My Loving, and music was never the same again.

The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles can’t compare, of course, but it rocks in its own way. (Sunday, City, CBS, 8 ET/PT, 9 MT)

If you judged an unfamiliar TV show on its name alone you could be forgiven for thinking Ripper Street is mindless exploitation. “Ripper street” makes a good audience hook for a detective mystery set in 19th-century London in the aftermath of the Jack the Ripper murders, but there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

In its first season, the BBC drama took on everything from pride, prejudice and social inequality to child prostitution, anti-Semitism, eugenics, human experimentation, political corruption and the way a class system entrenched over generations twists one’s view of the world — all in the guise of a cracking good yarn, with a new mystery every week.

Last week’s season opener — easy to overlook, because it’s marooned on Saturday nights on the Space specialty channel, an odd fit in anyone’s book — touched on the opium trade at the time and how a bent copper fresh off an assignment in Hong Kong had established his own drug-peddling ring in the heart of London’s East End.

At the end of the hour, the miscreant eluded the short, stubby arm of the law and got away scot-free, in keeping with Ripper Street’s dark world view — and in keeping with the tone of many of today’s cable dramas. Like Copper before it, Ripper Street is a period mystery viewed through a modern-day moral prism.

When the story picks up in this week’s episode, Am I Not Monstrous?, Det. Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) knows his detective colleague has turned, but proving it in a court of law is another matter.

The episode revolves around Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man of historical fact and Oscar-nominated movies, and how Victorian Londoners were obsessed with freaks and carnival sideshows — anything for their amusement.

Ripper Street is at its best when taking familiar historical notes — the London dock strike of 1889, the Ripper murders, etc. — and turning them inside out by adding a new twist or capping them with an alternative ending. Am I Not Monstrous? follows in a similar vein: Merrick (Joseph Drake) has witnessed a murder, and now Det. Insp. Jedediah Shine (Joseph Mawle) is determined to silence him.

The vocabulary and dialogue, which some viewers have complained about, is true to the era without being forced or mannered. Unlike so many other period dramas of its time, Ripper Street isn’t burdened by jarring modern language.

It takes its audience seriously, in other words, and gives viewers credit for keeping up with Victorian expressions and mannerisms without the need for subtitles or companion guide.

If you haven’t seen Ripper Street yet, don’t be dissuaded by that title — or the fact that it’s on Space. It’s not what you might think. (Saturday, Space, 10 ET/7 PT)

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