DVD Review: The Merv Griffin Show - 1962-1986

The Merv Griffin Show had an impressive run during its 24 years on the air from 1962 to 1986. The talk show started on NBC, went into syndication in 1965, spent three years on CBS late night beginning in 1969, and then returned to syndication in 1972 for the remainder of its existence. MPI Home Video and Reelin’ in the Years Productions have teamed up to release The Merv Griffin Show - 1962-1986, a 12-disc collection featuring more than 42 hours of excerpts from the nearly 4,900 episodes of the classic talk show. This set is arguably the most important archive of American culture to be released all year because of the different backgrounds of the 200-plus guests and their discussions.

For an example of the eclectic mix of guests the show might offer one need look no further than the very first episode in the set, which aired on September 2, 1965. Comedienne Phyllis Diller delivers a very funny few minutes, mainly poking fun at herself and her husband. Frederick Ayer Jr., spy novel author and nephew of General Patton, follows her, and the episode concludes with Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, a former Japanese military commander who planned the Pearl Harbor attack who had become a Christian missionary.

The Merv Griffin Show offers a great look at United States history as Merv proved a thoughtful man and executive producer. He had serious discussions uncommon for most modern-day talk shows. He spoke with Colonel John Glenn in '65, Timothy Leary in '66, Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard M. Nixon separately in '67, Gore Vidal in '70, and President Ford in '79. The Vidal material had been lost but was found thanks to the episode having been recorded by the Nixon administration due to Vidal's rabble-rousing and calls for impeachment.

However, Merv seemed at his happiest when interacting with entertainers. He enjoyed talking to movie stars, listening to musicians, and verbally sparring with comedians. As the show progresses through the '70s and '80s, there are quite a few themed episodes. Merv puts the spotlight on Lucille Ball in '73, the miniseries Roots in '77, Francis Ford Coppola in '80, the 10th anniversary of Ms. Magazine in '82, and movies like The Jerk, Star Trek II, Rocky III, and The Muppets Take Manhattan. Even Merv is the focus of an episode when Dick Cavett, a former writer for the show, came on in 1980 to interview Merv about his autobiography.

The early episodes find the show taping in Time Square, New York, and then moving to Hollywood, California. Las Vegas was a frequent destination, and Merv also went on location to the Cannes Film Festival, to Venice, Italy for a charity tennis event, to the White House to sit with President and Nancy Reagan, and even to John Wayne's ranch. The latter program features a great segment from a previous episode where both Merv and the Duke are obviously drunk as they chat on a movie set.

Stand-up comics were a regular presence on the show. Richard Pryor and George Carlin appear during the mid-'60s, all cleaned up and in suits. Steve Martin had yet to release A Wild and Crazy Guy but his material made clear he already was one. Having to follow Bill Cosby, Jerry Seinfeld appeared in 1981, introduced as being known for his role on Benson. His material is weak and the crowd doesn’t give much of a reaction. No one would have been able to guess how big he would be in ten years.

The show made history a few times. Whitney Houston's first television appearance occurred in June '83 before her album was released. Jay Leno got his first taste as a talk show host in '86. Merv offers notes but it's not clear if it's a bit or behind-the-scenes footage that was captured. Orson Welles' final appearance happened just hours before he died at this home. The episode aired five days later on October 14, 1985.

I highly recommend The Merv Griffin Show - 1962-1986 and I haven't covered all the extras, which include but aren't limited to additional interviews, Musical Moments, highlights from the final show, and a interview by Leno recorded on July 9, 2014 where he offers insight into what a great guy Merv was.This is a must-own collection.

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Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer…

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