Mister D: Although, Miss M’s early years were burned in a fire, this is still good news, because we could get access to some high quality video interviews and performances (even though we’ve seen them before).
In one of his last “Tonight Show” monologues, in 1992, Johnny Carson informed his audience that a virus had struck the program’s computers, wiping out “29 years of our writers’ material.”
“Three of the best jokes you’ve ever heard in your life,” he said. “Gone forever.”
Now, nearly two decades later, that gag and more than 3,500 hours of Carson’s “Tonight Show” have been preserved digitally and will begin making their way onto the Web.
On Wednesday the Carson Entertainment Group is expected to announce the start of two new projects that will give Carson an Internet presence he has never had before.
The first is a rejuvenated Carson Web site, at johnnycarson.com, that will feature video clips from the 30-year history of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”
The second is an online archive – available at first only to industry professionals – where users can search a digital inventory of Carson’s program and watch nearly every surviving minute of his “Tonight Show” run.
“We have taken everything that exists,” said Jeff Sotzing, the president of Carson Entertainment and a former “Tonight Show” producer. (He also happens to be Carson’s nephew.)
The company has long contemplated the possibility of making its “Tonight Show” videos available online, Mr. Sotzing said. But “the technology has really not been there,” he said. “You could put it online, previously, but you could not put everything online. We wanted to make it accessible all at once.”
Not much from the first 10 years of Carson’s “Tonight Show” (he took over in 1962) has survived, having been destroyed in an era when no one contemplated the possibility of home video. But the existing tapes, along with a complete library of shows from 1973 on, were kept in storage – and this is not a joke from a Carson monologue – in a salt mine in Kansas.
During the past year Deluxe Archive Solutions, a media preservation and management company, has digitized and transcribed these materials, using a labor force of about 2,000 people, the company’s vice president, Tyler Leshney, said.
The result is a Web archive where users can call up countless moments of television history with just a couple of keystrokes. Almost instantly you can find the “Tonight Show” broadcast from May 6, 1981, on which Carson first welcomed a comedian who had “worked a lot of small clubs both in New York and Los Angeles” named Jerry Seinfeld; the April 18, 1986, program on which Carson surprised David Letterman by having Mr. Letterman’s beat-up Chevrolet pickup truck taken from his Malibu home to the “Tonight Show” stage; and the May 21, 1992, show on which Bette Midler identified herself as “the last fool Mr. Carson will have to suffer gladly.”
For now this password-protected site (licensing.johnnycarson.com) is intended only for media companies that plan to use the clips for commercial purposes. But Mr. Sotzing said he hoped to make more of its contents available to the general public eventually.
In the meantime, the johnnycarson.com site will feature between 40 and 60 video clips – from Ann-Margret’s spirited performance of “I’ve Got the Music in Me” to an appearance by Myrtle Young, the potato-chip lady – that will be updated to reflect current events. And there’s more to come, including a new “Tonight Show” DVD collection that Carson Productions plans to announce later this year.
Eventually, Mr. Sotzing might even be persuaded to post the clips in which Carson affectionately chided him by name from behind his “Tonight Show” desk.
“You can search my name on the database and listen to Johnny rib me,” Mr. Sotzing said. “The writers liked that.”
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