Retro : Yesterday's 'Tonights' : JOHNNY CARSON HELPS VIDEO PRODUCER PICK FAVORITE MOMENTS FROM HIS NBC REIGN

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Heeere comes Johnny--again!

It's been two years since Johnny Carson signed off as host of NBC's "The Tonight Show" after an amazing 30-year run as the undisputed king of late night. It was only a matter of time before he'd catch back up with him.

Buena Vista Home Video releases a four-volume collection of his best moments this week with Johnny Carson: His Favorite Moments From "The Tonight Show." The videos consist of "60sand 70s: Heeere's Johnny"; "70s and 80s: The Master of Laughs"; "80s and 90s: The King of Late Night," and "The Final Show: America's Farewell."

Highlights from the videos include the debuts or early appearances of George Carlin, Jay Leno, David Letterman and Garry Shandling and performances by veteran comics Bob Hope, George Gobel and Flip Wilson. Candid moments feature Carson singing with Pearl Bailey, Ed Ames with his famous tomahawk chop and Tiny Tim's wedding. Of course, there are ample clips of Jim Fowler and Joan Embrey with their unpredictable animals and numerous examples of Carson's famous sketches and classic characters (Carnac, Aunt Blabby).

According to the videos' executive producer, Jeff Sotzing, who worked on "The Tonight Show" for 17 years, there was never any plan to put Carson's "Tonight Show" on video. "But there was such a tremendous demand that, after a year or so, we decided we should actually put it together. I think we wanted to have the best representation as to what 'The Tonight Show' was. When you have a 30-year span and 20,000 hours of videotape to look at, it's hard to decide which way to go."

But Sotzing was well-versed on favorite "Tonight" clips, having put together Carson's popular "Tonight Show" anniversary specials. "I've a great relationship with Carson and Peter Lasally, who was the executive producer of the show. We had a pretty good road map as to where we wanted to go. We put it together on paper and then started to rough it out on video to see if it would work and hold up."

Carson, Sotzing says, was very much involved in the selection process. "What we would do was, we would talk about ideas for packages and segments we thought would work if they were tied together in a particular way. Then I would put the cassettes together and we would look at them. I would listen to his comments and we would make changes until we felt it really played."

Unfortunately, Sotzing acknowledges, most of the shows between '62 and '72 were destroyed. To save money, the network would just reuse the videotape. "We have an audio recording of the first show, the Oct. 1, 1962, show. They saved shows they would use for Emmy nominations. But most of the segments from the '60s are in bits and pieces. There's probably only a dozen or so full shows. But we have about 15 hours of segments from the '60s.

Sotzing's favorite moments are when "you never really know what's going to happen. The kids are always great. The Joey Lawrence segment where Johnny says, 'Have you ever seen the show before?' and he says, 'Well, when I was up vomiting (I saw it).' That's priceless. Joan Embrey and Jim Fowler are terrific. They were really great additions to the show. You forget how many sketches (Carson) did over the years. They did it as a live show. They never stopped tape, so if something went wrong he just pushed on through."

"Johnny Carson: His Favorite Moments from 'The Tonight Show' " is available on Buena Vista Home Video. The four-volume set is $60; the first three volumes are also available for $15 each.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
62°