The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: Johnny and Friends: The Complete Collection DVD Review

At nearly 29 hours, it offers a lot of laughs for fans of Carson, comedy, and classic television.
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Over the summer, Time Life released a three-disc Johnny and Friends set featuring Steve Martin, Robin Williams, and Eddie Murphy.  Those three discs (Volumes 2, 7, and 10) are part of this 10-disc set and were previously reviewed.  The remaining discs focus on Don Rickles, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, Burt Reynolds, Rodney Dangerfield, and Jim Fowler.  As with previous Carson releases, the complete shows can be watched with vintage commercials and may have technical flaws, which are noted.

Volume 1 features Don Rickles on November 14, 1973 and January 6, 1976. On '73, the insult comic followed  retiring baseball manager Leo Duroucher, he then takes part playing basketball with Carson and gold-medal Olympian Olga Connolly.  There's a Haggar commercial with Howard Hessemen and Steve Martin.  The '76 program comes from an "industry version of a VHS tape" and the quality is very poor.  The bonus clip, NYC Award Reels 1968 (9 min), which was taken from an Emmy submission.  A small portion is well known as it features Carson learning about Japanese bathing which descends into chaos when Don crashes and jumps on Johnny's back.

Volume 3 features David Letterman on November 24, 1978; August 30, 1991; and May 15, 1992.  Letterman made his very first stand-up appearance in '78 and received the treasured call to the couch. On '91, it was after the announcement he wasn't going to be the next Tonight Show host. Carson enjoys teasing him about it.  Guitarist B.B. King as musical guest was a plus.  On '92, it was one of Carson's last shows and Letterman is sandwiched between Clint Eastwood and Bob Hope.  Letterman's offbeat sense of humor is consistent.

Volume 4 features Jay Leno, who would follow Carson and later Conan O'Brien as Tonight Show host, on April 28, 1977; June 22, 1988; and May 16, 1991. On '77, he is making his second stand-up appearance and gets called over.  By the last two shows, he was serving as the regular guest host of the show.  He's amusing but the material is bland, which likely helped him get the job.

Volume 5 features Jerry Seinfeld from June 27, 1985; February 21, 1986; and June 9, 1988. All take place before Seinfeld so he's on do perform his observational stand-up. On '85, there's a silly Carson Art Players sketch about Mr. Rambo's Neighborhood.  The other shows include what are presumably the first appearances Oprah Winfrey and Andre Agassi respectively, based on Ed McMahon mispronouncing their names.

Volume 6 features Burt Reynolds from Aug 2, 1978; Oct 12, 1984; and March 12, 1992. On '78, Burt and Johnny are very playful as they pour water and ice cubes on each other.  On '84, Dom Deluise teases Burt and they both act goofy when joining in the love/sexual discussion Dr. Joyce Brothers has. The '92 episode was Burt's last appearance on the show  with Johnny.  A clip of them going at each other with whipped cream is shown, and Burt relives it.

Volume 8 features Rodney Dangerfield from July 23, 1980; August 12, 1983; and a Bonus Clip (44 min) from Aug 1, 1979. On '80, friend Jim Fowler appears before Rodney does stand-up. On '83, Rodney promotes Easy Money in between jokes. The bonus clip cuts out Debby Boone and Arlene Golonka, but Rodney, Carnac the Magnificent, and James Mason make it entertaining.

Volume 12 features Jim Fowler (and his animals) from October 28, 1976; April 8, 1982; and June 23, 1983. On '76, Fowler brings scary animals because it's close to Halloween.  Also appearing are Steve Martin, Bob Hope, and consumer advocate David Horowitz.  Martin does a funny answering machine bit.  On '82, Fowler brings a feisty baboon and a monitor lizard. On '83, he brings a crane with an artificial leg and a hungry bear cub.

At nearly 29 hours, The Complete Collection (although it's not really complete since Volume 9 with George Carlin and Volume 11 with Joan Embery from the previous 12-disc set have been omitted), offers a lot of laughs for fans of Carson, comedy, and classic television.  Especially for those without access to Antenna TV, which currently airs Johnny Carson reruns, this is a wonderful set to have on hand.

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