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Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett and Bob Hope TV episodes now on DVD

Posted September 25

If you are too young to know or care about TV shows starring Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett or Bob Hope, this column isn’t for you. But fans — yes, old folks like me — are always looking for episodes that have not seen the light of a television screen for decades, and we’ll make space on our shelves for them.

Call us sentimental, but many of us would rather bathe in the warmth of the nostalgia of these old shows and enjoy some of our favorite entertainers of yore than wallow in the muck that makes up much of today’s TV programming.

But that’s all the rant you get today, folks. I come not to bury television but to praise it — or at least the shows under discussion here.

There are lots of older TV series on DVD and Blu-ray these days, especially the most popular programs, such as “The Twilight Zone,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Perry Mason,” “The Fugitive” and many others.

But the variety shows that were a staple of the era have been more difficult to find. (And yes, although “The Tonight Show” is technically a talk/interview program, under Carson’s reign, like Steve Allen before him, it took on a variety-show feel with comedy skits, stand-up comedians and musical performances.)

Casual, indiscriminate viewers may be content to watch Carson, Burnett and Hope on random, sometimes poor-quality clips on YouTube, but if you’re longing for complete episodes transferred from the original source material that you can watch at your leisure, Time Life has been listening.

Time Life is the music and video enterprise (with its fingers in lots of other entertainment pies as well) founded by the book division of Time Inc., taking its name from the company’s two most popular magazines when it was organized in the 1960s. On the DVD side, Time Life specializes in older television programs, from the 1950s through the 1990s, from “The Bob Hope Chevy Show” in 1956 to the final episode of “The Wonder Years” in 1993.

And among the latest releases are complete episodes of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” “The Carol Burnett Show” and TV specials starring Bob Hope. Many of them are hysterically funny and each boasts an array of guest stars for extra incentive. (They’re available at the Time Life website, timelife.com, as well as Amazon and other online stores, and in some brick-and-mortar outlets.)

“The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson: The Vault Series” (1972-75, six discs, 12 episodes, excerpts). Carson took over “Tonight” in 1962 and was at his peak in the 1970s and ’80s, when his late night program, and especially the monologues that opened each show, provided water-cooler discussions in the workplace — every day. And often, everyone in the office had seen them! (Quite different from today’s fragmented TV programming when it’s difficult to find any three people that are watching the same shows.)

Collected here are Volumes 7-12 (earlier volumes are also available), featuring Suzanne Pleshette, James Garner, Carl Reiner, Gene Kelly, Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield, David Brenner, Truman Capote, Margaret Truman and many more. But even when the guests aren’t your favorites, it’s fun to see Carson bantering with sidekick Ed McMahon, performing skits and doing monologues — especially when the jokes flop and Carson plays to the studio audience.

“The Carol Burnett Show: The Lost Episodes: Ultimate Collection” (1967-72, 22 discs, 45 episodes, excerpts, featurettes, bloopers; 40-page book, five episode booklets). Episodes from Burnett’s long-running variety show (11 seasons from 1967-78), with co-stars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner, have been in release for a few years now, but they were all from post-1972 shows, many concentrating on frequent guest Tim Conway, who became a regular in the ninth season.

The “lost” episodes (they weren’t really lost, just neglected) are from the first five years of the series, and DVD releases began a year ago, each handpicked by Burnett. This “Ultimate Edition” is comprised of the smaller “Lost Episodes” sets that feature such comedy and musical guests as Conway (his first guest appearance was in the first seasion), Lucille Ball, Bob Newhart, Bing Crosby, Lana Turner, Burt Reynolds, Flip Wilson, Debbie Reynolds, Diahann Carroll, Nancy Wilson, Sonny & Cher, George Carlin, etc.

“Thanks for the Memories: The Bob Hope Specials” (1956-96, color and b/w, six discs, 14 episodes). In addition to his radio programs, movies, USO shows, charity golf tournaments and countless other entertainment appearances during his long career, Bob Hope starred in nearly 200 TV specials from 1950-1996, and this collection touches on a great many of them.

Included are six specials that offer an array of clips covering various stages of Hope’s career and eight complete specials, from a 1956 black-and-white episode that features the cast of “I Love Lucy” to the extended, all-star “Joys: A Comedy Whodunit” to a Christmas special that has Mark Hamill in his Luke Skywalker garb showing up at the end of a “Star Wars” spoof. Many of the gags are dated and some are very corny (and sexist) but Hope is shown at his best, especially when he ad-libs after a flub. Among the guests are a very young Barbra Streisand, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, James Cagney, Jack Benny, The Muppets and many, many more.

In addition to the specific sets described above, Time Life offers smaller groupings of episodes from each of these shows, designed to fit any budget.

Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at hicks@deseretnews.com.

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