Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I was going to review this 'un (a b-day gift courtesy of none other than BILL SHUTE!!!!) along with another DVD set I received a few weeks back (the second volume of Kino's Avant Garde Films collection) but since that one's such a struggle to get through I thought I'd give this Carson set its just dues and wait until whenever I finally finish the Kino collection before I give it a good what for. And what a collection this is, for these two disques do not contain any clips from the infamous 30-year Carson reign on THE TONIGHT SHOW that you very well may have been conceived to (unless you're Dave Lang, in which case you should settle for THE MORNING FARM REPORT), but come directly from the long-fabled (and presumably long-lost) 1955-56 prime-time Carson series on CBS which few people talk about, even fewer remember, and probably hardly anyone alive would have claimed to have viewed back in those classic tee-vee goodie days.

But whadevva, the two disques here sure give a good sampling of just what Carson was up to a good ten years before he pretty much achieved superstardon on late-night tee-vee by telling off color jokes with lots of beaver references. With Carson playing his good-natured midwestern WASP self to the hilt, THE JOHNNY CARSON SHOW pretty much comes off like a good half hour version of The Mighty Carson Art Players which is fine if you (like me) would stay up for the Floyd R. Turbo Editorial Reply and forgo listening to George Carlin pretend he's being "relevant". The curtain may seem similar albeit not in that garish multi-colored remnant of early color tee-vee days (I did like the one with all of the CBS "eye" logos lined up nice and neat), and come to think of it there are many bits and pieces in this series pointing towards the Carson we all knew and snoozed to. Y'know, the deft spoofing of mid-Amerigan living to the funny monologues on a variety of current events and subjects that Carson seemed to raise to an art form back in the sixties. And, with a little fine tuning, a few of the skits here would have placed on THE TONIGHT SHOW 20/30 years down the line with ease, such as the in the one where Carson presents all of the new and exotic pets one can latch onto these days as well as the psychic bit which kinda foreshadows Karnac, which in itself was a swipe of Steve Allen's Answer Man.

And Carson sure knew how to swipe from the biggies even then. You may know all about Carson stealing his Aunt Blabby routine from Jonathan Winters (who at first didn't seem to mind but later on let his hidden anger be known) while the whole Carson/Doc Severinson display was a direct swipe from Jackie Gleason and Ray Bloch (later on Sammy Spear). And you probably knew that "The Mighty Carson Art Players" name if not concept itself was a direct riff on Fred Allen. But even at this early stage in the game you can see Carson "borrowing" mannerisms from Jack Benny, which I guess proves that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...

And seventies tee-vee maniacs will want to take note that such future television stars such as Jack Albertson and Jamie Farr can be spotted, as can Werner Klemperer in a pretty funny trojan horse spoof. And true, I can see just why THE JOHNNY CARSON SHOW didn't make it outta the first season alive, but like in a lotta things the fifties doth wrought the reverberations into the next decade sure rang loud and clear!

Oh, and for once I decided to eye the feature bonuses and they're neat as well. Since they always seem to cut the commercials from these legitimate copyrighted releases it was grand seeing Carson hawking Jello even if they weren't actually part and parcel of the program as I would have liked (hmmm, another Benny swipe...y'see, Benny got his start hawking Jello too!). An episode from Carson's '56 afternoon program on CBS was interesting if too panel discussion-y, while the 1958 WHO DO YOU TRUST on ABC (which was pretty much a YOU BET YOUR LIFE imitation!) was a fine example of just what could happen on afternoon game shows at the time, with a contestant getting locked in an isolation booth while workmen get him out as the show progressed! Heck, there's even a short clip from the time Carson guest-hosted THE TONIGHT SHOW in '59 while Jack Paar was on vacation! Talk about eerie shades of things to come within a few short years!

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