Seven years before Johnny Carson took over The Tonight Show and became the king of late-night television, he had a short-lived prime-time comedy/variety show on CBS.
It lasted but 39 weeks in 1955-1956 and was promptly forgotten. But now ex-wife Joanne has supervised a release of 10 episodes on two discs with some interesting bonus material. Besides being historic, these well-preserved black-and-white shows are also surprisingly charming and witty. Rather than going for the broad slapstick humor of a Sid Caesar or Milton Berle, the quietly amusing Carson spotlighted less antic, offbeat material with satiric elements and sharp writing. The first show features him imitating Edward R. Murrow interviewing his own family on Person to Person -- first wife Jody and their three children take part. In another episode, set in the future, he becomes exasperated at his personal robot. You can see elements of Bob Newhart, David Letterman and Ellen DeGeneres in this work and, of course, of the droll talk-show host Carson was to become. (Steven Rosen) Grade: A
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