The Merv Griffin Show 1962-1986 Box Set-DVD Review
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, a large number of talk show hosts graced America’s TV screens. Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett, Dinah Shore, and Tom Snyder, among others, emceed self titled popular chat programs. One starring a former big band singer and game show host ran on U.S. network and syndicated television for 24 years-“The Merv Griffin Show”. MPI Video has gathered together the best episodes from the program in its new 12 DVD anthology, “The Merv Griffin Show 1962-1986”.
From San Mateo, California, Griffin began his show business career as a singer for The Freddy Martin Band, then hosted such game shows as “Keep Talking”, “Going Places”, and “Play Your Hunch”. He later created the game shows “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune”. “The Merv Griffin Show” aired in 1962 and 1963 on NBC and on CBS from 1969 to 1972. The show was syndicated from 1965 to 1969 and then 1972 to 1986.
The box set includes 44 "Merv Griffin Show" episodes, with a total running time of 42 hours. These aren’t the full broadcasts, as the shows featured in the box set last anywhere from 25 to 72 minutes. The Griffin shows have been edited to eliminate much of his banter with the program's musical director Mort Lindsey and his orchestra, including jokes with trumpeter Jack Sheldon and talk with bassist Ray Brown. During the 70’s and 80’s, Griffin would also sing a song and play the piano at the start of the program. Most of those segments don’t appear on the discs, either.
What really makes “The Merv Griffin Show 1962-1986” box set so great is the tremendous group of guests featured. Interviews with Martin Luther King, Robert F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Rosa Parks are all included.
Among the many highlights is an incredible September 1965 interview with Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida, the officer who led the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. Fuchida tells Griffin that the attack was “just his duty and he did not hate the U.S.”. After the war ended, Fuchida converted to Christianity and became an evangelist. He later moved to the U.S. West Coast.
Andy Warhol appears in an October 1965 episode along with Edie Sedgwick, but spends the interview time chewing gum and whispering answers to Griffin’s questions to Sedgwick. He finally says yes or no very softly to the questions a couple of times. A funny bit is that Lindsey’s orchestra plays “Pop Goes The Weasel” as Warhol and Sedgwick enter the set.
Phil Spector, in a September 1965 broadcast, comes across as not the most congenial guest. Right after his entrance he tells the host, “Do you know what the definition of gross ignorance is?144 Merv Griffins”. This was after Griffin asked Spector about the gold tipped, 1865 walking stick Spector was carrying onstage. Spector half-jokingly knocks Lindsey’s orchestra, by telling Griffin, “I thought you were going to fire that band”. He later gets into a testy exchange with fellow guest singer Eartha Kitt. In a bonus feature segment from a February 1966 broadcast, Spector verbally spars with another fellow guest, comic and future “Laverne and Shirley” co-star Phil Foster. Before leaving the stage,Spector tells Foster to “Take a listen to The Beatles new record, “Nowhere Man”. It’s dedicated to you”.
It’s also interesting to see “Law & Order: SVU” star Mariska Hargitay as a child in a July 1966 “Griffin” show. Hargitay, referred to on the broadcast by her nickname Maria, is onstage with her three brothers and the family's four chihuaha dogs, as their mom, Jayne Mansfield is interviewed The blonde bombshell, Mansfield, also performs “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”.Mansfield would tragically pass away the following year.
With the 1960’s broadcasts in the set, it’s obvious times were different in America then as Griffin and many guests smoke throughout the shows. The 1960’s Griffin telecasts began a bit differently from other talk programs, also, as he would start the shows by entering from the back of the theater and walking to the stage. Two decades later, during a 1985 episode with “The Golden Girls” (Betty White, Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty) as guests, you especially notice Griffin’s physical interview style. He’s very close to them, frequently leaning in from his desk to emphasize that he’s intently paying attention.
As the DVD's producers, David Peck and Tom Gulotta of Reelin’ in the Years Productions explain in the set’s informative 52 page booklet,due to clearance issues, no clips are included that a particular guest would bring with them to promote their latest film. It’s the case, too, with TV programs, as in the "Golden Girls" Griffin episode, the host introduces a video from the series, but the scene is edited from the disc.
Picture quality on the shows is excellent. Like so many television broadcasts of the day, from 1962 to 1981 the Griffin shows were recorded live to two inch videotape. Due to the cost of the tape at the time ($300- for a ninety minute tape, equivalent to between $850- and $2000- depending on if the tape was purchased in 1965 or 1980), much of the shows were erased. 4500 “Merv Griffin Shows” were broadcast, and Peck and Gulotta and their production team have found 1800 hours of the shows to use for the collection and licensing rights. It’s quite a feat that so many high quality shows are included in this set.
“The Merv Griffin Show 1962-1986” DVD box set makes for a fascinating and entertaining viewing experience. It's also a nice tribute to Griffin, who these days might be known more for creating two of the longest running game shows than his own talk show career.
Merv Griffin audio interview with John Lennon, 1965
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