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The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson-The Vault Series Volume 1 DVD review

Updated on February 28, 2014

Before Letterman, Kimmel, Fallon, and Leno, there was “The King of Late Night TV”, Johnny Carson.

The Carson Entertainment Group, headed by Johnny’s nephew Jeff Sotzing, has released several DVD collections of his uncle’s Tonight Show highlights. A few of the discs featured condensed, edited versions of Carson’s classic talk program. But now, with “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson The Vault Series Volume 1”, viewers can watch mostly complete versions of Carson’s iconic NBC series for the first time on DVD.

The “Vault Series Volume 1” DVD consists of a pair of 1972 digitally mastered “Tonight Show" broadcasts. One dated October 2 celebrates Carson’s tenth anniversary hosting the program. The other from September 19 represents the usual “Tonight Show” you’d see in the early 1970’s. In other words, you have Carson’s monologue and banter with sidekick Ed McMahon, followed by interviews and a musical performance.

The Tenth Anniversary show is interesting in that it included guests on the set, instead of the usual “Tonight Show” celebration clips of Ed Ames and his tomahawk tossing demonstration or Don Rickles getting thrown into a hot tub after interrupting Carson’s Japanese massage segment. You could say several of the Anniversary Show guests, if they toured together, would have made up the original, old school Kings of Comedy. Appearing on the program that night were Jack Benny, George Burns, Jerry Lewis, Don Rickles and Joey Bishop as well as “Laugh-In”’s Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Then California Governor Ronald Reagan is out first to congratulate Carson on his decade as “Tonight Show” host and to deliver the same message from U.S. President Richard Nixon.

Johnny Carson interviews Joey Bishop 10/2/72

The September 19 program starts off with an early mention of the Watergate affair during Carson’s monologue. Of note is that this program was recorded a little less than two months before Nixon was re-elected. Who knew watching this particular broadcast that night the political damage that would take place for the next two years due to Watergate? The first guest, Bob Hope, plugs his then newly released film, “Cancel My Reservation”, which marked the last movie he would star in. Dom DeLuise then talks about his family, while John Denver performs two songs and also chats with Johnny. A Peter Fonda interview rounds out the show.

The DVD's "Tonight Show" episodes run for about an hour and sixteen minutes each, and include the original commercials. Much like the ads found in “The Four Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles” DVD, the commercials are a lot of fun to watch. One’s for Dutch Masters cigars, which is ironic since cigarette TV ads were banned in the U.S. in 1971. On the other hand during the Anniversary Show, Benny and Burns smoke cigars onstage, while Carson, Lewis, and Rowan smoke cigarettes.The ad for Whirlpool appliances features a very brief appearance by Judd Hirsch, six years before “Taxi” began airing.

But, the two funniest commercials take place on the program’s set and star McMahon solo or in tandem with “Tonight Show” bandleader Doc Severinsen. McMahon tries to a smash a pre-schooler’s toy truck with a crowbar to prove how sturdy and unbreakable Mattel’s Tuff Stuff line is. Additionally, the duo are pitching Carson’s relatively conservative looking fall clothing line of suits, shirts and ties, and raincoats, while three men model the apparel on camera. As he’s reading the plug, Severinsen is shown wearing his trademark mod wardrobe of a long sleeved purple shirt, a thick green belt with white spots on them, and what looks to be green pants with images of red and blue flowers.

The DVD’s picture quality is excellent with nice color, or as NBC advertised it back then “living color", especially for a program shot in 1972.. The master tapes for these two broadcasts and the rest of the surviving Carson hosted “Tonight Shows” are stored 650 feet underground in a temperature controlled vault and working salt mine in Hutchison, Kansas. The DVD begins with about eight seconds of footage showing the vault before the menu appears

There are some minor quibbles with this “Tonight Show” disc. You do have John Denver performing two songs in the September 19 broadcast, “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” and “Prisoners”. But, you don’t get to hear Severinsen and The Tonight Show Band’s music coming back from the commercial breaks. It sounds like a small combo performing about two or three short, unidentified numbers. So, musical clearance rights problems must have played a role with this DVD release. As a result, Jack Benny enters the set minus his theme song “Love In Bloom” and Bob Hope ‘s signature tune “Thanks For the Memories” is also missing.

Plus, there’s just one bonus feature, a 12 minute segment with Carson and stunt woman Peaches Jones. Additionally, there’s no booklet included with the DVD with extra facts about Carson, "The Tonight Show", or even an in depth look at the performers seen in the two shows.

John Denver 9/19/72

All in all, the DVD is a nice reminder of how entertaining Carson and his program could be. “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson The Vault Series Volume 1” can be ordered through the CEG website, or purchased via

Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson | Source


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