If you're of a certain age, and I am, your first exposure to late night television was The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Carson held court as the host of The Tonight Show for over 30 years. During that time he set the standard for everyone who would come after them.
The footage from this landmark series hasn't been seen since Carson's retirement in 1992. All of that has changed with Time-Life's new release of The Vault Series.
THE VAULT SERIES gives viewers the opportunity to relive the incomparable magic of a night with Johnny, Ed and Doc. These collections feature some of the best and most requested episodes from over 4,000 shows -- including material not seen by the public since the original broadcasts!
Among the many highlights are the 10th and 11th anniversary shows and Johnny’s birthday episodes, a week of shows from March 1976, visits from Carnac the Magnificent and the Mighty Carson Art Players, and Johnny singing Rhinestone Cowboy astride a donkey.
Carson is also at his best bantering with famous friends including Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Richard Pryor, Muhammad Ali, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Sean Connery, John Denver, Peter Fonda, Charlton Heston, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Paul McCartney, Burt Reynolds, Don Rickles, Orson Welles, and many others.
Hours of highly-entertaining bonus features are also included on the multi-disc sets, and feature bonus monologues, in-depth interviews, and additional clips with Lucille Ball, James Brown, Rodney Dangerfield, David Letterman, Joan Embery and her wild animals, the beloved Aunt Blabby, and a Hollywood stuntwoman demonstration.
THE VAULT SERIES retail DVD configurations includes:
Single disc release (2 shows)
3-disc collector’s set (6 shows + nearly an hour of bonus features),
6-disc collector’s set (12 shows + two hours of exclusive extras) and
12-disc deluxe edition collector’s set (24 shows + over 4 hours of exclusive extras)
I had the opportunity to review the 6-disc set. What a blast! The shows are clearly taken from old tapes, so the clarity isn't up to current standards, but it doesn't matter. Watching Carson at the height of his power is a treat. His genius is effortless.
These shows are taken from when Carson would do 90-minute shows. Take for example the show from August 4, 1977. After a spotty monologue, Carson wheels out The Great Carnak, Joan Embery and her animals, Orson Bean, Andy Kaufman and violinist Eugene Fodor. The diversity of the panel is ridiculous and each guest got plenty of time to interact with the King.
Nobody was yelling. There were no games. Just an episode of end-to-end entertainment.
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series is available for purchase now. Do yourself a favor and pick up a set.