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Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series Volumes 7-12, The

Time Life // Unrated
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Johnnycarson]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted May 2, 2017 | E-mail the Author
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson DVD Set Review

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was a long-running NBC television talk show and variety program which aired for 30 seasons from 1962-1992. The series was beloved, in part, because of its legendary host. Carson is highly regarded as one of the best television hosts in history.

Johnny Carson has often been hailed as the father of modern late night television with his use of stand-up comedy and a format of television variety programming which has been used in large part since. Though late night television has certainly had some updates or tweaks over time, Carson's method of a comedy opening monologue and interviews with guests promoting a television program, movie, or book (and the occasional political or social guest) remains something at the forefront of late-night television.

This DVD collection by Time Life includes a sample of episodes from his long run as host of The Tonight Show. It includes 12 full-length episodes (including the option of viewing them with their original commercial breaks. Special guest stars on these episodes include the likes of Gene Kelly, David Brenner, Stockard Channing, Rodney Dangerfield, Joe Frazier, James Garner, Michael Landon, Steve Lawrence, Richard Pryor, Carl Reiner, and others.

It was fascinating, for example, to hear the brilliant Gene Kelly (who is one of my favorite musical performers from the golden age of classic cinema) discuss working on the now legendary Singin' in the Rain. Getting to hear Kelly speak about the legacy that his classic musical has had with audiences was truly wonderful. Kelly and Carson display great rapport with each other.

Carson would often introduce and spotlight performers who, without the help of late night television, would have struggled to promote themselves. With this series (and it's memorable host) they had a great outlet to promote their materials. One such performer who appears on The Tonight Show brought with him a trio of female triplets and he put on a comedy routine which promoted his live stand-up show.

Then you have special guests like improvisation groups (performing comedic sketches you normally wouldn't see anywhere else on television). In one such sketch,  a girl walks out on stage and directly approaches another performer. She speaks about how he's "doing it wrong!" and that he needs to fix it. His performance is failing. She acts as the teacher. Then another performer walks out on stage and tells her that she's "doing it wrong!" and the joke continues until several improvisational actors are on stage arguing with each other.

Conversely, there's a comedic sketch with a phone call a woman receives where a man speaks about "making out" and the woman doesn't even know who's speaking to her on the phone. But then,  upon calling a different number, the woman speaks to a man to complain about the earlier man she spoke to and then they begin discussing going out to eat, going to a show, and making out (in the same tone as the earlier caller). Thus ends the joke!

This DVD release includes the following air-dates of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: March 26, 28, 29 1974, November 4, 6, 7 1975, November 11, 20, 21 1975, August 2, 4, 5 - 1977, November 17, 22, 25 1972, and November 23, 27, 29 1972.  Episodes include opening monologues (with Carson delivering his own brand of comedy to the audience), audience participation sketches, interviews with special guest stars, and much more.  As this is also a variety program, episodes include a variety of entertainment as well: musical performances, improvisation groups, theatrical performances, and performances by stand-up comedians.

As a fan of late night television,  I have had many fond memories over the years of seeing various episodes of Conan or Jimmy Fallon (amongst others).  Yet Johnny Carson was actually before my time. He'd gone off air when I was barely three years old. I was basically a baby at the time. So I don't hold the same nostalgia some viewers might hold for the performer. However, I did find Carson charming and think that longtime fans would surely enjoy revisiting some old episodes. There's still something interesting about late-night television... even when it's simply in re-runs. 

The DVD:


Time Life presents The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on DVD with the best source available. The presentation preserves the series original television broadcast aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full-frame. The release is satisfactory as a historical preservation of these episodes. However, it should be noted that some episodes are missing a small number of reels and unfortunately some damage is present to the video (with occasional warble and minor distractions to the video). The presentation is far from perfect but it is still acceptable. Expectations should be kept in check but it's still certainly watchable.  


The audio is presented in stereo 2.0. The audio presentation preserves the original television broadcast sound design. Dialogue is easy to understand. The audio is never so distorted as to be entirely detrimental to the overall experience. However, the audio pales in comparison to the video presentation. Hiss and other poor audio quality elements make this a sub-par experience that is merely serviceable at best.


The release includes select additional clips (spread across each disc in the set) with an additional two hours of material selected from a variety of episodes of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

Final Thoughts:

Johnny Carson is beloved as one of the greats of late night television. For fans of the host, Time Life has created a historic set by collecting a sampling of episodes in one set. Though the video and audio quality is merely OK the release is worth some consideration for Carson fans hoping to experience these episodes again. I recommend renting this release first given the quality of the source material and the limited number of episodes provided (out of Carson's lengthy run as host).

Rent It.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.






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