DVD Review: The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series
Time Life
Release date: October 4, 2016

Johnny Carson, the pioneer of late night television, whose incarnation of The Tonight Show ran for 30 years on NBC, is now available in newly packaged deluxe DVD set from Time-Life entitled The Vault Series, showcasing some of the best and most requested episodes from that program.

With the current success of The Tonight Show in reruns on Antenna TV, Johnny Carson’s famous visage, wit, distinctive voice, intelligence, and propensity to have a smooth control throughout has been resurrected for audiences young and old. Chock full of entertainment variety including a virtual who’s who of celebrities and musical acts, ranging from Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Paul McCartney, Muhammad Ali, Jack Benny, Richard Pryor, Sean Connery, Jerry Lewis, Buddy Rich, Don Rickles, Orson Welles, and scores of others, one would be hard pressed to find a celebrity who didn’t make his way on the program, which originally ran from 1962 to 1992. With hilarious sketches that usually parodied the pop culture of the times, and of course the banter between Carson and sidekick stalwart Ed McMahon, The Tonight Show was the perennial go-to program for most of America as the twilight hour surfaced, five nights a week.

Available in 3, 6, and 12 Disc sets, The Vault Series houses some of the greatest episodes from The Tonight Show’s remarkable run. The icing on the cake is that the episodes are complete and unedited, replete with original commercials, money ads, and credits, with most even containing the original NBC “living color” peacock opening. The episodes themselves look good and sharp, free of grain and image lag that would usually be found on 40-plus year old material which lay on 2-inch videotapes which was mostly the industry standard of recording material back then. Episodes and material included on The Vault Series range from the 10th and 11th anniversary shows (from 1972 and 1973 respectively and chock full of stars and colorful personalities), a Carson birthday show, a complete week of programs from the mid 1970s, sketches, musical performances, and Carson’s memorable and hilarious characters such as the pseudo-mystic Carnac the Magnificent and the highly opinionated Aunt Blabby.

Original audiences will delight at rediscovering all these classic moments and sequences, culled from over 4,000 shows, and new audiences who have just discovered Carson in recent months will get a retro kick out of the old styles and fashions of the times and seeing celebrities that they may know looking younger and in different elements. It’s almost like looking into a bubble prism of an era long gone, but with a current curiosity factor that still runs sky high. It’s also because of this that makes these programs appealing, not to mention the inclusion of the original commercials, which range from products still existent today, and others that are defunct. Sharp-eyed viewers will be able to notice people like a young Cybill Shepherd pitching products among other familiar faces. For those who want to skip the commercials, there’s a feature in the menu to allow the viewer to do just that.

Along with the complete episodes, there’s also a nice helping of bonus material, as to be expected from Time-Life, including classic Johnny monologues, which uncannily seemed to touch the pulse of what was going on in America at the time and was usually loose and sometimes off the cuff and always set the tone for what was to follow on the program, as well as insightful interviews and appearances by some of the biggest legends in the industry, such as Lucille Ball, Rodney Dangerfield, David Letterman, and “the hardest working man in show business” James Brown.

It all culminates in a package, whether it’s the 3, 6, or deluxe 12 disc set, that will allow the viewer to once again relive the wonderful enchantment that America experienced for three decades, exactly as it originally aired. The Vault Series showcases a time and an era long since gone, but remains a vital blueprint for what is on the current landscape of late night television, with scores of talk shows log jammed during those hours, all of them in some way or another, owing a nod to Johnny Carson, whether directly or indirectly.

Absolute essential viewing for the die hard, the faithful, the curious or someone who is all three, The Vault Series confirms and shows again and again, why Johnny Carson was, is and remains one of the true iconic mandarins of the vast and rich history of American television, a force of nature and power never to be seen again, until now.

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