Friday, November 21, 2014

The Merv Griffin Show, 1962-1986

Thanks to David Peck and Tom Gulotta at Reelin' in the Years Productions, and MPI Home Video, a new 12 disc DVD set has been released to the commercial market. If you are looking for something to buy and treat yourself -- or for if your spouse who asks you what you want for the holiday -- you can look no further than The Merv Griffin Show, 1962-1986 DVD set. Over the course of those years, the show garnered 10 Emmy Awards and welcomed more than 5,000 guests -- including many of the most important names in the fields of entertainment, politics, music, art, sports, fashion and literature. If you love interviews with actors, Jayne Mansfield, Jane Fonda, Ingrid Bergman, Sir Laurence Olivier, Gene Wilder, Orson Welles and Sylvester Stallone are a small fraction of those included in this disc. If television is your meat, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Bob Crane, Betty White, Loretta Swit and Lindsay Wagner are included. History makers such as Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Rosa Parks, Dr. Timothy Leary, Alex Haley, Pres. Gerald Ford, Pres. Ronald Reagan, Col. John Glenn and Martin Luther King, Jr. are among the notables. Comedians George Carlin, Steve Martin, Moms Mabley, Andy Kaufman, Henny Youngman, Bill Cosby, Carol Burnett, Redd Foxx, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen... well, you get the idea.

When someone mentions a talk show, we generally think of today's hosts: Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Jay Leno... but few can deny that today's programs are nothing more than an hour-long infomercial. Celebrities pitching their latest motion-pictures and with a strong network connection (ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Company, NBC is owned by Universal, you get the idea). Sadly, the evening news does the same if you dig deep enough into the motives for the news briefs...

Looking back at a time when television talk show hosts interviewed celebrities for the sake of engagement between the studio guests and the television audience, "legends" come to mind. Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Dick Cavett and Merv Griffin are among the notables. And while some celebrities were pitching their autobiographies, the talk show hosts also displayed a warm and casual style, with mannerisms, that are no longer the meat and potatoes of today's variety-talk shows. Every time someone replaces another late-night talk show host, viewers often comment, "They are not as good as Johnny Carson..." And that is probably the sincerest compliment a talk show host could receive.

Merv Griffin interviews Martin Luther King, Jr.
My little nephew sat with me as we watched Adam West and Burt Ward promoting the 1966 Batman motion-picture. Both he and I were disappointed that the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder revealed little -- if anything -- and made me suspect they were tossed onto the program to help kill a few minutes on the program. My nephew Josh found Martin Luther King, Jr.'s talk about the Civil Rights Act and progress that would eventually be made in the country, fascinating. Many of King's predictions, however, fell short of what he envisioned as a perfect society in the United States. A bigger surprise to me than his discussions about his accomplishments. Talulah Bankhead, the great stage actress, told stories of the New York Stage and you could tell Griffin wanted to talk about subjects other than the Stage.

Farrah Fawcett-Majors on the Merv Griffin Show
John Wayne's hour-long guest shot was filmed in the Mid-West where he was spending the week selling cattle -- high-protein beef -- a financial investment that involved 30,000 head of cattle and enough feed stretching a quarter-mile long, piled 25 feet high... and there were four of these mammoth strips of feed! Wayne said he rarely tried to play a character -- he just played himself. He raved about Michael Curtiz, Harry Carey and John Ford and I quickly discovered "The Duke" was as human and down-to-earth as you and I... he never tried to be something he wasn't.

The April 27, 1973 telecast with Jack Benny was hilarious. It is a must-see.

Ray Bradbury dismissed the notion that he predicted future societies and the advancement of technology in his writings -- he merely dictated moral obligations of society in a world that didn't exist, but could be associated with today. He talked about his work with the Walt Disney Company (remember he created the story in the Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot), and predicted how people would communicate via satellite with holograms and projections. 

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta discuss the making of Grease, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly reminiscence about Star Trek for a full hour, the entire cast of Golden Girls devote an hour discussing their screen careers prior to the success of the sitcom (and sparks flew when their love lives were explored), Jim Henson and Frank Oz reveal the origins of The Muppets, and there are numerous musical performances such as Sammy Davis, Jr. performing "The Candy Man" in 1972, Merle Haggard's "Amazing Grace" in 1971, Liberace performs "Chopsticks" in 1976, Hank Williams, Jr. performs "Family Tradition" in 1981, Smokey Robinson offers a great rendition of "The Tracks of My Tears" in 1981, John Denver sings "Take Me Home, Country Roads" in 1976, Andy Williams performs "Moon River" in 1978, Isaac Hayes performs the theme from Shaft in 1972, The Everly Brother performs "Bye, Bye Love" in 1966, and Frankie Laine, Dionne Warwick, Loretta Lynn, Weird Al Yankovic, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston (two years before her first album was released), Screaming' Jay Hawkins, Freddie and the Dreamers, and many others provide great performances. Merv Griffin singing a rendition of "New York, New York" with The Muppets is also a highlight. 

Orson Welles less than a a few hours before his death.
Don Rickles and Mr. T play off each other beautifully. Sylvester Stallone and Burgess Meredith talk about Rocky III. Muhammad Ali proves he is the greatest. Orson Welles is a guest host with comedian Andy Kaufman. Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld share couches. Dick Cavett switches roles to interview Merv Griffin on Griffin's own program. Eva Gabor is making a pass at Chuck Norris in 1971. Willie Mays makes an appearance on two separate interviews in this set. James Brolin is extremely young in 1971. Ingrid Berman, Shelley Winters, Bette Davis, Olivia DeHavilland, William Wyler, Hedy Lamar, Jerry Lewis, Danny Kaye and Roddy McDowall are among the Hollywood legends.

Unlike today's talk programs that serve either for political reasons or as publicity devices, The Merv Griffin Show is a refreshing example of a time when people on talk shows actually "talked." They provided stories, jokes, moments we can only laugh at, and trivia we could only relish with each chapter on the DVDs.  

David Peck and Phil Galloway
inspect the shelves in the
warehouse holding the thousands
 of tapes comprising
the Merv Griffin Show archive.
In March 2012, Reelin' In The Years Productions signed a deal with The Griffin Group to represent the rights to The Merv Griffin Show. Because the archives were rarely explored, no one seemed to know how many of the television broadcasts existed. Talk shows rarely received preservation over the years -- the medium was split between business decisions (the reuse of tape and storage fees) and preservation of the arts. Up to 1981, all of the shows were shot live onto 2-inch video tape (switched to 1-inch tape after that). Keeping in mind that the average cost of a 90-minute reel of tape was roughly $300 in the sixties and seventies, the reuse of tape was practical from a business standpoint. Additionally, hundreds of tapes of "lost" Merv Griffin's program were sitting at Sony Pictures Entertainment, when Griffin sold the rights to Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! in 1986. Some of these were better quality than the 1960s archive that were poor transfers from the master tapes does in the early 1980s on 3/4-inch Umatic tapes. The DVD box set contains 14 of these newly-transferred programs on the first three DVDs in this set. The quality on these DVDs far surpasses the quality of the original broadcast, as well as the copies of the same shows that had been released on a prior box set of Merv Griffin shows.

CBS Television had some of the missing shows from 1969 to 192. The shows featuring Dennis Hopper and Willie Mays on disc five existed only on kinescope.

An unaired version of Isaac Hayes and the great Stax artists of the day performing "Reach Out and Touch Somebody's Hand" is included on disc five, along with the December 6, 1972 telecast that existed only on 1/2-inch open reel, filmed at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, formerly considered a "lost" program. Two segments from the December 20, 1967, telecast with Richard M. Nixon and David Susskind is included on disc four, courtesy of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, which turned up a number of missing shows. If you know your American history well, you will enjoy Gore Vidal on the May 14, 1970 telecast, also on the same disc, calling for Nixon's impeachment on national television, ten days after the tragedy at Kent State. 

Even with all these surprises, close to 1,800 of the more than 4,500 shows have been found. Reeling' In The Years Productions are still very much on the hunt for episodes (and/or segments) that are missing from the Merv Griffin archive. If anyone has any of the "lost" episodes, regardless of format, they are asking the general public to contact them at info (at) mervgriffin.com and you can find the entire library catalogued on a searchable database located on the website, www.reelinintheyears.com

Photo of the 12-disc set so you make sure you get the correct one.

There are bonus extras on every DVD, highlights from Griffin's final show on September 5, 1986, CBS trailers and promos, and more. Mer Griffin teaches Jay Leno how to host a talk show in February of 1986 and then a few days later, Leno is a guest host with comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Leno makes a touching remembrance of Merv Griffin on July 9, 2014, also included in this set. The set also includes a 52 page book documenting the history of the television program, a brief biography of Merv Griffin, and a wonderful section titled "Producers' Notes."

Convinced yet? Treat yourself and buy your copy today.




Side Note:
With the DVD retail market being what it is today, as a result of the huge trend in "illegal downloading," and the movie studios being short-sighted in shutting down websites that provide file swapping services, the producers of this set have publicly asked for three favors. One, help spread the word about this DVD set. Two, sign up for their mailing list at www.mervgriffin.com to stay informed of future DVD releases. Three, quoting the producers: "To those who wish to share this wonderful footage with your friends by posting it on YouTube or any other online site -- please don't. Not only is it illegal, but we as a company police YouTube frequently and will have it removed. A lot of time and money went into this and we'd like to do more, so please respect our rights." This means the sales figures for this DVD set will determine future releases. This is a cause similar to donating money for preservation, and you get something to enjoy at the same time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your review (my copy of the set arrived here in Australia and I will get to it this weekend). One thing: the caption under the picture of Welles needs altering...Welles did the interview with Griffin and his biographer Barbara Leaming, then went home and died later that evening. Keith Scott

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