Fifty years ago, NBC and Singer helped Elvis Presley mend his career

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The 50th Anniversary of the Elvis Comeback Special
ELVIS: '68 COMEBACK SPECIAL -- Pictured: Elvis Presley during his '68 Comeback Special on NBC. (Gary Null/NBC)

By 1968, Elvis Presley was finished with the film industry and vice versa. Not only was Presley weary of making films, something he'd spent seven years doing, but a series of box-office flops had seen Presley released from his studio contract.

It was at that time that Presley's manager, Col. Tom Parker, approached NBC with the idea of a televised Elvis Presley Christmas special, a vision that would have seen Elvis dolled up in a fake-snow-festooned sound stage, singing standards like "Silent Night." Presley wasn't too interested in that idea, but NBC producer Bob Finkel and director Steve Binder wrested creative control from Parker, developing an idea that Presley liked, and creating a template for televised live-music specials that persists to this day.

Aired on Dec. 3, 1968, the program was titled Singer presents … Elvis, so named after receiving sponsorship from the Singer Corporation, probably best known for its line of sewing machines. Rather than being a Christmas special featuring Elvis singing along with an offstage backing band, the show was recorded before a live audience with Elvis appearing in the round, wearing a black leather jumpsuit for most of the show, and singing his songs with a small band while sharing some interstitial stories along the way. Notably, the program concluded with Presley performing the premiere of a song, "If I Can Dream," which contains lyrics inspired by quotations from speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., and aired to a national television audience six months after Dr. King's assassination. Singer presents … Elvis was the No. 1-rated show on NBC that season.

The program has since become known as "Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special," although Presley himself disliked the show's sobriquet because it suggested he had become, as he put it, "a has-been," at age 33. Nevertheless, the program did indeed mark a comeback for Elvis. The show-ending song, "If I Can Dream," charted on Billboard's Hot 100 for 13 weeks, peaking at No. 12, with more than one million sales. Of his performance, many observers at the time noted Elvis's ease onstage and his maturity, and the special ended up launching Presley's long-standing live shows in Las Vegas, and by 1970, it reactivated his national tours.

The Presley estate has made a number of the performances from the '68 Comeback Special available for viewing on YouTube, including "If I Can Dream."

Beyond its effect on Elvis Presley's career, the 1968 Comeback Special, in the hands of director Steve Binder, developed a format that has been used in televised music specials since then, such as MTV's Unplugged series.

For its part, NBC plans to mark the landmark program with a two-hour special, "The 50th Anniversary of the Elvis Comeback Special," set to air in 2019 (exact air date TBA). The program will be a look back at the network's 1968 special that put Elvis Presley back on the map, and it will feature an array of music superstars who will pay tribute to Elvis, recreating the spectacle, including the staging, of that night in television and music history. In addition to the musical performances, the special will showcase rare Elvis footage, outtakes and interviews from those involved in the special, including director Steve Binder.

External Link

Elvis Presley - official site

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3 Photos

  • artifacts from Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special
    Elvis Presley's Gibson J200 guitar from the 1968 TV special is displayed during at "Elvis at the O2" exhibition in London on December 11, 2014. (LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
  • artifacts from Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Special
    The leather jumpsuit worn by Elvis Presley on a 1968 TV Special was added to the 'Elvis At The O2' exhibition at The O2 Arena on February 11, 2015 in London. (Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
  • artifacts from Elvis Presley's 1968 Comeback Special
    The leather jumpsuit worn by Elvis Presley on a 1968 TV Special was added to the 'Elvis At The O2' exhibition at The O2 Arena on February 11, 2015 in London, England. (Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)

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