austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

You came my way, dear, took away my heart

With Conan O'Brien at least temporarily off late night I've had the chance to rediscover an older Tonight Show. Some cable channel somewhere in the wilderness so vast even Tivo is barely able to find it has started running Carson's Comedy Classics. For those who didn't discover this show as a time-filler during rain delays in Yankees games in the 80s, they're clips, compiled in the early 80s, by Carson's production company that smooshed together segments of The Tonight Show into digestible half-hour segments.

The objective of turning a talk show into a syndicatable rerunnable package probably forced the omission of the timeliest material, such as the Carson monologues, and they also cut almost all the interviews except where something spontaneously amusing and irrelevant to whatever the guest was promoting happens. There's a lot more comedy sketches, so it's pretty heavy on Carnac and Art Fern, and Joan Embry seems to turn up about five times per half-hour. And pieces can't avoid dating altogether; never mind just the entertainingly low-rent sets that apparently used to suffice for the show (and audience seating that seems to double for the Let's Make A Deal showroom floor), but when you made as many Nixon and Billy Carter jokes as everybody did in the 70s some of them are going to produce howls of laughter from the audience and a slightly mystified, oh yeah, I guess I remember that name, from the historically-illiterate-and-uncurious viewer like me. (Man, this Earl Butz guy must've worked for the show or something from how they rag on him all the time.)

The most startling thing to me is how low-key so much of the show felt, as if they were afraid too loud a noise would wake the audience. And the dazzling fidelity of circa 1975 videotape re-edited in 1983 is a treat to the eye. But there are curious and startling gems there too, such as Carson and McMahon playing over who has the taller seat in the new set, and Carson discovering he has buttons to roll up and down the backdrops. It had never occurred to me that the set's backdrop could be rolled up and down, but why shouldn't it be? More, why did Carson at one point have an on-set, live-during-taping control to sweep away the Vague California Skyline and replace it with Empty Theater Backstage or Wile E Coyote Desert? And why hasn't Letterman or O'Brien had that since then?

It's a curious and fascinating package. On the satellite TV it's found by searching the schedule for title since the channel, as mentioned, is something in the upper 111,394th century of channels.

Trivia: To help present the rustic, intimate games Squaw Valley promised the International Olympic Committee it would deliver for the 1960 Winter Olympics, the organizing committee hired Walt Disney as Pageant Director. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Aventine, Lee Killough.


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