Johnny Carson Website Launches Searchable Database

The official Johnny Carson website now features a searchable database of the existing 3,300 hours of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which aired from 1962 to 1992. There’s a catch: at the moment the database is only available for those hoping to license clips for commercial purposes. You can, however, watch a video that depicts the database in action and a press release announcing the database can be found at the Wall Street Journal. The database will eventually be opened to the general public as well, according to Frazier Moore of The Associated Press, who quotes Jeff Sotzing (president of Carson Entertainment Group and Johnny Carson’s nephew) as saying “in the near future, we’ll offer them the ability to search and select from the full library of shows.”

According to an article in The Los Angeles Times by Matea Gold, the database is complete from roughly 1973 to 1992. NBC recorded over the video tapes from 1962 to 1972 and only the occasional black-and-white kinescope footage is available from those early years. Here’s how Deluxe Archive Solutions went about digitization the Carson library, per Gold’s explanation:

The video footage was trucked securely from where it had been stored in an underground salt mine in Kansas to a facility in Burbank, where a high-speed “tape robot” transferred each tape to a digital format. Then a team of transcribers logged more than 1 million words of dialogue and tagged each show by key word, guest and musical number.

It took nine months to get through those 3,300 hours. According to Gold, during the digitization process some original video footage believed to have been recorded over was uncovered, including “a famous 1973 clip of Carson pretending to eat dog food during a live Alpo commercial after the dog refused the meal, before thought to exist only in grainy kinescope.”

The Johnny Carson website will be hosting a rotating block of video clips from the show and a variety of DVD compilations have been released with more in the works. Once the database is open to the general public I’m sure fans of Carson and his version of The Tonight Show will have a field day searching for their favorite interviews and jokes. According to the demonstration video, users only get a limited number of minutes of streaming per month, so its unlikely full episodes will be viewable any time soon. That’s understandable. This database is a huge step forward for access. It’s one thing to have a collection preserved properly (in a salt mine, no less) but making it available to the public is even better.

9 Comments

  • ejp says:

    For now though the site is much less user friendly because up to yesterday you could still go through a data base index of searching the shows by date or guest and even though they long ago stopped making full shows available to the public for purchase (due sadly to bootlegging), this was still helpful for those of us who would find old recordings of our own and try to lock down the date.

    Also, there needs to be a clarification on when the show’s run is mostly intact. In point of fact, there are a large number of complete shows that still exist from 1970-71 and almost all of 1972. A few scattered shows from 1969 like the Tiny Tim wedding show also exist complete and the earliest complete color videotape show that is known to exist is New Year’s Eve 1965 (when Skitch Henderson was still the bandleader).

  • Spindoxx says:

    News reports – including NBC – made it sound like all of it was open to the public on the web site. Today Show backpedaled today and said “registration was required”, but the coverage is still misleading about the archives. Still only fully open to professionals.

  • Barry I. Grauman says:

    There were several examples of some of the original ’60s videotaped segments featured on the syndicated “CARSON’S COMEDY CLASSICS” in the early ’80s- especially a September 1966 sketch when Johnny did his parody of “Charlie Chan” {“Johnny Chan”}, with guest Barbara Eden and Skitch Henderson supporting him. Nope, not all of those were “lost” or erased, although the majority of them, sadly, were….

  • ejp says:

    I had read in the past that 60s videotape clips that were in “Carson’s Comedy Classics” came from compilation reels of material set aside to give to the Emmy Awards committee and were not an indication of a full show existing in those instances.

    The oldest color clip on “Carson’s Comedy Classics” went all the way back to 1964 I think in a bit where Johnny and Ed are disagreeing on whether a small horse is smarter than a pig and they bring both animals out.

  • W.B. says:

    Also from 1964 was a Burbank-based segment with Danielle Aubry (anyone remember her?) that appeared on the “CCC” show.

    It was from an earlier version of the database (searching by guest and all that) that I found the origin of a New York show where drummer Buddy Rich was demonstrating his karate skills (which was on another “CCC” episode), as coming from May 11, 1973 – one year to the month after Carson moved “The Tonight Show” to Burbank. (Carson made two return visits to NYC after the move west, each time for three-week stays – in November 1972 and May 1973 – before its New York home, Studio 6B at 30 Rock, was recast as the studio for New York station WNBC-TV’s two-hour “NewsCenter4″ which was first unveiled April 29, 1974, after several off-air run-throughs, one of which made it onto an NBC gag reel and has been circulated through both YouTube and TVARK.)

  • Larry says:

    Good afternoon ,

    Many years ago my father came across a ( Sony Studio ) tape that is titled ( Carsons Classics ). I am not sure where my dad obtained this tape & I have had it for many years. Lately I have been searching for someone that could appraise this but have not had any success. Most of what I see on the internet is dvd’s & vhs tapes. I have not seen anyone who does anything with original studio tapes.This tape is in a weather proof / lockable container.
    If you know of anyone who could help me find the value of this rare find , please let me know.
    Thanks ,
    Larry ,

  • Garrett Goulet says:

    Are they going to have the original broadcast dates?

  • My dad is an avid fan of Johnny Carson. I hope the website is already good and running. I’ll tell my dad about this news this will surely make him happy. Thanks!

  • BB says:

    I am trying to identify a Tonight Show episode that I saw in the late 1960s, when the show was still based in New York but made occasional visits to Burbank. It was in Burbank that week, and I don’t remember who the scheduled guests were. All I remember is that a young man walked up to Carson and tried to shake his hand, and was quickly escorted offstage. Carson’s reaction suggested that this visitor was not invited. Doesn’t anybody else remember that incident? Can you refer me to a Tonight Show expert who might know? Thanks.

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