Monday, October 23, 2017

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson Boxed Sets

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson DVD sets


We often talk about lost films, those have been destroyed due to fire or negligence. Recovering what we can from the farthest corners of the planet has been our mission in order to restore parts of film history. But what about the history of television? Some shows were neglected in much the same way. They were discarded or in some cases like The Dick Cavett Show or The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, they were taped over with new material. Many of those early episodes with interviews and performances that should have been preserved are lost forever. With The Tonight Show, many of the early episodes are lost but some episodes from the 1970s were recovered thanks to  copies sent to industry executives. These are gems that merit preservation for future generations.

Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon
Doc Severinsen, Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon

Out of the NBC vault comes two new collections brought to us by Carson Entertainment and Time Life: The Vault Series: Collector's Edition and Johnny and Friends. Each of these DVD boxed sets boast a variety of episodes from the 1970s, '80s and '90s, some never before released in their entirety or at all. Bonus clips consist of episodes cobbled together from existing materials. Special episodes are preceded by a note giving some background on any technical difficulties, quality issues or missing segments. What makes these collections so specials is that they contain full episodes. These are not collection of clips or segments. You get the experience of the full episode presented just the way it appeared on its original air date.

The DVD menu gives you an option to watch the episodes and bonus clips with or without commercials. I implore you to watch them WITH the commercials. They are half the fun of watching these sets. There are lots of vintage commercials from brands such as Pillsbury, Budweiser, Fresca, KFC, Ore-Ida, Sanka, Subaru, RCA, Sears, JC Penney, Revlon, Delta, United Airlines, Alpo and more. Some of the commercials feature well-known actors early on in their careers. There are also Ed McMahon's sponsored spots for numerous brands which are a lot of fun to watch too.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson The Vault Series


The Vault Series set contains 6 DVDs and features 18 episodes and bonus clips (which watch like almost complete episodes). These include anniversary and birthday episodes, notable guest appearances and some serve as a time capsule. For example, 2 discs highlight one week in March 1976.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends


Johnny and Friends set contains 10 DVDs which 3 episodes and bonus clips. Each DVD highlights a particular regular guest on the show. These include: Don Rickles, Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Burt Reynolds, Steve Martin, Rodney Dangerfield, Eddie Murphy and Jim Fowler. Save the Don Rickles DVD for last because it's the best one.


Highlights of both sets include:

  • Ray Bolger song and dance numbers and a performance with Bing Crosby and Marvin Hamlisch
  • Charlton Heston on working with Cecil B. DeMille
  • Michael Caine and Sean Connery promoting The Man Who Would Be King
  • Orson Welles on the power of radio, on the good old days of radio.
  • Lucille Ball and Johnny Carson talking about their sex lives
  • A tipsy Dean Martin
  • Don Rickles insulting Johnny Carson and his guests
  • Don Rickles and Johnny Carson doing sit-ups with Olympian Olga Connolly (Fikotova)
  • James Garner and Ellen Burstyn discuss working together
  • Lauren Bacall discusses her admiration for Bette Davis
  • First appearances by David Letterman, Eddie Murphy, etc.
  • Burt Reynolds and Johnny Carson prank each other
  • James Mason discussing some of his worst films
  • Rodney Dangerfield's stand-up
  • Wildlife expert Jim Fowler and his animal friends
  • Bob Hope's entrances with Thanks for the Memories played by the band
  • Appearances by notable actors including Susan Sarandon, Clint Eastwood
  • Johnny Carson (finally!) performs Rhinestone Cowboy
  • Johnny Carson's skits including Carnac the Magnificent and Tea Time Movie matinee
  • The retro commercials.
  • The "More to Come" art in between commercial breaks often features classic film stars including Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Mae West, Shirley Temple, etc.


Both sets make fantastic gifts for the Johnny Carson fans in your life. If you want to pick only one of these two sets, I recommend the Vault Series over Johnny and Friends. I enjoyed the presentation of episodes more with that one. If you're a classic film enthusiast there is much to enjoy there. However, Johnny and Friends includes 4 more DVDs and a lot of truly excellent content. I wasn't as interested in some of the featured guests but with the full episodes I found plenty of other guests to capture by attention.

Watching full episodes of The Tonight Show, presented with retro commercials, is like taking a time travel trip to a bygone era of television history. These sets are so much fun to watch. I hope you'll give them a try.


Many thanks to Time Life for sending me these DVD sets for review. Shop The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson sets on Time Life.

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