The series, which was made over five years of planning and production, is composed of numerous film clips and interviews that present a complete history of the band from the Beatles' own personal perspectives. The series was later released on VHS, laser disc and as a boxed set of five DVDs (Full-Screen only).
Air dates on ABC:
Two days after the first television special in the series had aired, Anthology 1 was released to stores, and included music recorded by The Quarrymen, the famous Decca Records audition tapes, and various out-takes and demos from the band's first four albums. It also included the song "Lend Me Your Comb", omitted from the collection 'Live at the BBC', released the previous year (1994). The song "Free as a Bird" was included at the very start. 450,000 copies of Anthology 1 were sold in its first day of release, the most sales for an album in a single day ever. The Beatles' original drummer Pete Best, fired by the band in 1962 before they hit it big, received his first substantial Beatles royalties from this album, for the inclusion of early tracks on which he played.
On March 17, 1996, Anthology 2 was released. The second collection presented out-takes and demos from the Beatles' sessions for Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Magical Mystery Tour. These included selected early demos and takes for Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever", previously available only to bootleg collectors. The new song "Real Love" — which, like "Free as a Bird", was based on an unfinished Lennon recording — was also included in the two-CD collection.
The three album covers, when laid side-by-side, become one long painted collage of various peeling posters and album covers representing the different stages of The Beatles' career. This was the work of Klaus Voormann, who also created the album cover for Revolver in 1966. The Anthology covers required Voormann to recreate elements of his cover for Revolver within the collage. During the music video for "Free as a Bird", the Anthology collage appears as posters on a shop window as the camera pans quickly across the street. The design also adorned the VHS, laserdisc and DVD releases, again to be properly encountered by laying the cases side-by-side. Upon the release of Anthology 3, HMV stores made available a cardboard sleeve designed to hold all three CD volumes of which each side of the sleeve make up half of the collage.
In October 2000, The Beatles Anthology book was released, which included interviews with all four band members and others involved, plus rare photos. Many of the interviews quoted are from those featured in the documentary films. The book is designed as a large-format hardback, with imaginative artwork throughout, and several visually impressive and colorful spreads featuring graphics relevant to the proceeding chronology, photographic arrays and a variety of text styles and layouts. The book went straight to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list.
Promotional displays used in stores for each of the three album releases are also now fetching high prices amongst collectors.
"Weird Al" Yankovic parodied The Beatles Anthologies in an AL-TV special. He said he had a copy of a fictional #17 (which he claimed wouldn't be available to the public for a while). He played for the audience a track of Paul McCartney brushing his teeth.