TV's Beatles Tribute Returns for an Encore

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Grammys tribute honoring the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance in the U.S. will air in an encore showing tonight, Wednesday, at 8:30 p.m. EST on CBS (CBS).

The tribute special, "The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles," was recorded Monday, Jan. 27 -- the day after the televised Grammy Awards -- and first aired 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9. The complete roster of entertainers featured the appearances by a reunited Eurythmics featuring Annie Lennox, John Mayer performing with Keith Urban, Alicia Keys in a piano and singing duet with John Legend, Imagine Dragons, Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5, The Beatles LOVE by Circque du Soleil, Brad Paisley performing with Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, Joe Walsh, legendary pop genius Stevie Wonder, Dave Grohl, George Harrison's son Dhani Harrison and -- most significantly -- reunion performances of Beatles numbers by the surviving members of the band, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

Also appearing will be Sean Penn, Eric Idle, Johnny Depp and others. Members of the families of the original four Beatles, including Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon, were also present.

The Recording Academy's broadcast alternates live performances with short, taped biographies of the band members and a visit by McCartney and Starr to the original New York theater that housed the Ed Sullivan Show, now the stage for Late Night With David Letterman. Letterman himself leads a short tour of the theater and interviews the two Beatles.

Sunday's broadcast netted nearly 14 million viewers. The most-watched programs that night were the Winter Olympics coverage and The Walking Dead. The original 1964 Ed Sullivan Show broadcast captured the largest TV audience ever at 73 million viewers, a record that held for a few years as TV audiences and America's fascination with TV grew.

Channel surfers can be forgiven if they thought they were, in fact, tuned into The Walking Dead during the interview segments with Letterman and the two Beatles. The bandmembers were entertaining enough, but for all of Letterman's experience, he seemed unable to maintain an interesting flow of conversation and the segments came across stilted and dull.

The performances themselves, particularly by the younger artists, were often exciting, backed by a house band that included longtime McCartney, Harrison and Starr collaborator Jeff Lynne (The Traveling Wilburys, Electric Light Orchestra). The rocker duets of Lynne/Grohl on Hey, Bulldog and Mayer/Urban on Don't Let Me Down were highlights, as was the emotional Keys/Legend performance of Let It Be.

While the program was highly scripted and heavily edited to achieve a near-Hollywood-documentary-style gloss, what came through was an authentic passion that the Beatles' music evoked in the performers. The younger ones especially never seemed either so young or so talented as they did in these aged classics.

Even if you're no fan of Ed Sheeran, it's hard not to be touched by his intimate solo guitar and voice rendition of In My Life and likewise, Katy Perry's mannered, voice-cracking emotionalism in Yesterday seems at once over the top and somehow sincere, originating near a core spark of her musical spirit.

The Beatles catalog is vast, and as evident in a series of articles at TheStreet over the last few weeks, including a nationwide survey, our fascination with the band and its music has not diminished.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Beatles previews the Grammys tribute and the talks about the original Ed Sullivan Show performance. Roll Up for the Mystery Tour offers a look at some of the career highlights and cultural impact of the Beatles. The Beatles: Money, That's What I Want and Brittany Umar's video assessment of the band's current market value examine the products and profits to be made on the current decade of Beatles anniversaries. And finally, Laurie Kulikowski examines the Apple (AAPL) iTunes premiere of a Beatles Channel.

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York City