Back in January 2017, Time Life released The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series in a 6-disc version that was the back half of a 12-disc set, which were labeled Discs 7 through 12 and was reviewed here. And on September 26, the front half of that set, Discs 1 through 6, was made available.
Predominantly featuring programs from the 1970s, this collection allows viewers to see what made Carson and his show so entertaining. He was a congenial host, who allowed his guests to shine and didn't feel threatened when they did well. He also enjoyed verbally sparring with his fellow comedians. Announcer Ed McMahon and band leader Doc Severinsen made great sidekicks as both knew when to add a little something to the proceedings.
Disc 1 is entitled “10th Anniversary Special from Fall 1972” with episodes that originally aired October 2 and September 19. The former is the actual anniversary show. It is a star-studed affair with Governor Ronald Reagan, Jack Benny, Joey Bishop, Don Rickles, George Burns (funny to hear Burns ask Carson if he'll do ten more years of the show and Carson says he didn't think they'll "make another ten". He was partially right as they made it another 20), Jerry Lewis, Rowan and Martin, and Dinah Shore. The more people on the couches, the more entertaining and chaotic the show becomes. Sept. 19 features Bob Hope, Dom DeLuise, Peter Fonda, and John Denver, who plays two songs. The bonus clip (12 min) is from September 22 and contains an interview and stunt presentation by Peaches Jones where she flips Carson and dives off a 30-ft. platform.
Disc 2 is entitled “Johnny's Birthday Shows” with episodes that originally aired on October 23 from 1974 and 1984. Buddy Hackett is the most well-known guest on the '74 show and Paul McCartney is the same on the '84 show. Here and on other shows, the interviews with lesser-known guests provide an opportunity for Carson to reveal his interests outside of Hollywood. The bonus clip (38 min) is from also a birthday show, from 1987, with David Letterman and Joe Piscopo on the couch. Carson asks Piscopo to do his Letterman imitation. The episode is shortened because Cutting Crew's performance has been cut as has a song by Piscopo.
Disc 3 is entitled “Trip Back to December 1975” and begins with a disclaimer that "the quality is less than ideal, and there are some tracking issues...on the first show". The episodes originally aired December 5 and 12. The former features Gallagher's debut appearance selling The Tonight Show home game. Michael Caine and Sean Connery (also making his debut appearance) are promoting The Man Who Would Be King. The latter presents Bob Hope, Dean Martin, and Charles Nelson Reilly, with Martin, particularly hilarious while drunk or pretending to be. The bonus clip (23 min) is an interview with Lucille Ball from December 2.
Discs 4 and 5 present four straight episodes from “A Week in March 1976”. On the 2nd, Carson is joined by friends Charlton Heston and Michael Landon. Bill(y) Crystal performs stand-up. On the 3rd, Orson Welles tells great stories about his radio days, John Byner does hysterical imitations, and Susan Clark talks about different roles. On the 4th, Hope makes his third appearance in the set, and both Don Rickles and Robert Blake are their typical, unpredictable selves. On the 5th, Bing Crosby and Ray Bolger perform separately and together with Marvin Hamlisch. Both bonus clips are from the March 23, 1976 episode with the monologue and a sketch with Ed McMahon and Aunt Blabby on Disc 4 (18 min) followed by a surprise appearance by Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Embery with animals on Disc 5 (24 min).
Disc 6 is entitled “11th Anniversary Show from Fall 1973” with episodes that originally aired September 7 and October 2, with Oct. 2 being the anniversary show. The former begins with a note about audio drop outs and video splices. Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton, winner of their previous fight, appear before their rematch and conduct a weigh-in. The latter show is jam packed with Dean Martin, Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles, and Burt Reynolds joining the celebration. Carol Wayne and The Mighty Carson Art Players appear on both shows. The bonus clip (21 min) aired between them on September 14. It features a Mighty Carson Art Players spoof of Grease and James Brown performing "Slaughter's Theme Song" and then interviewed.
While some fans will understandably want the entire 12-disc The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series for their collection, one can't go wrong buying them six discs at a time, like the set reviewed above. It offers a great look back at the King of Late Night and other talented entertainers of that era.