In March 2012, Reelin’ In The Years Productions signed a deal with The Griffin Group to represent the rights to The Merv Griffin Show. At the time we had no idea how much of the show still existed (and neither did they).
From 1962 to 1986, there were over 4,500 episodes of The Merv Griffin Show produced. Up to 1981, all of the shows were shot live onto 2-inch video tape (the show switched to 1-inch tape after that). In some markets it was broadcast the same day, in others it could be weeks later. It was common practice in the industry that, after the initial broadcast, the network (or syndication company) would erase the tapes so that they could be reused for new programming. This was done as a cost-saving measure as tapes were very expensive. The average cost for a 90-minute reel of tape in the 1960s and 1970s was roughly $300, which in today’s dollars would be equivalent to between $850 and $2,000 (depending on whether the tape was purchased in, for example, 1965 or 1980). Additionally, it was hard at the time to envision that a daily talk show such as The Merv Griffin Show would ever be aired again and so, sadly, many of the shows were not saved.
When we first walked into the storage facility in Los Angeles where all of Merv’s archive was stored, it was like the scene at the end of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. From floor to ceiling were video tapes in all formats (2-inch, 1-inch, ½-inch open reel, Umatic, Betacam, Digital Betacam and even VHS, as well as 16mm films). We were standing in this massive vault with tapes towering over us 16 feet high and each aisle was over 70 feet in length. After the initial shock wore off we had to figure out where to begin. The easiest place to start was with the Betacam tapes that had been made as backups in the 1990s. Once a week, associate producer Mark DeCerbo would drive to Los Angeles and bring back 80 to 100 tapes to transfer to Digital Betacam. Once the transfers were done (which usually took 7-10 days), then Mark would drive back to Los Angeles to retrieve yet more tapes. None of these tapes were properly cataloged. On average, the only information on the tape was a show number and date. So putting each tape in the machine was like opening up a present on Christmas morning. While everyone at Merv Griffin’s vault was wonderful to deal with, we want to give a special thanks to Jack Fiore whose professionalism and enthusiasm were invaluable throughout the whole process and made the daunting task of cataloging this entire library a lot easier than it otherwise would have been.
Associate producer Jackie Clary was tasked with cataloging the transferred tapes into our database. Because of Jackie’s detailed work we now have an accurate listing of each show, each guest, their profession, whether they were simply interviewed or if they performed, what they performed, the length of each guest’s segment, etc. All of this information (a staggering 2,500 hours of The Merv Griffin Show) is now searchable within our database located on our website at www.reelinintheyears.com.
As we got into the first 100 shows we were reminded of just how significant The Merv Griffin Show was. Guests like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Salvador Dali, Dr. Timothy Leary, Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan were interviewed with intelligence and charm, elevating The Merv Griffin Show beyond the typically shallow daytime talk-show format. Merv brought people from all aspects of popular culture together not only to entertain, but to inform his viewing audience.
While the storage facilities held a massive amount of material, much of which was absolutely stunning, we refused to accept that this was all that was left of Merv’s archive and thus we began our search to find the missing shows. Dan Wingate, our friend who worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment, helped us locate hundreds of missing 2-inch master tapes from 1965 to 1967 that accidentally went to the Sony vaults when Merv sold the rights to Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! in 1986. Prior to Dan finding this hidden stockpile, much of what we had of the ’60s archive were very poor transfers of the master tapes done in the early 1980s on ¾-inch Umatic tapes. We’ve included 14 of these newly transferred programs on the first three DVDs in this set. What you are seeing here far surpasses the quality of the original broadcast as well as any copies of these shows that have been seen prior to this box set. Additionally, Dan helped us find another hundred missing shows from the late 1970s on Umatic and a few of those are included in this set as well. We can’t thank him enough for his time and incredible knowledge of TV history.
CBS Television had some of the missing shows from 1969 to 1972. Consequently on Disc 5 we were able to include a show featuring Dennis Hopper and Willie Mays that only existed on kinescope.
In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s there was a home video format known as ½-inch open reel (which was a precursor to Betamax and VHS.) We looked through every single box and shelf in Merv’s vault and were fortunate to find, in an unlabeled box of his personal things, a number of shows that existed in this unique format. He would have some of the shows run off to this format so he could view them later at home or in his office. One of the 30 tapes we found in that box was the Stax show filmed at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In December 1972, Merv turned the program over to Isaac Hayes and for one hour many of the great Stax artists of the day performed. This stunning show only exists because Merv saved a copy on this now obsolete format. In addition, we found another reel (in black and white) that had an extended unaired version of the artists performing “Reach Out And Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” at the close of the show without credits. We have included that in this box set as well.
Perhaps the most unexpected place that we found footage from The Merv Griffin Show was at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. In the mid-1960s, during President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, the president had a 2-inch video recorder installed in the press room of the White House so he could tape his televised speeches off the air to study them later. After Nixon took the oath of office in January 1969, he began to tape his friends’ and enemies’ appearances on various news programs and talk shows to see what they were saying about him. A very special thanks goes to Ryan Pettigrew at the Nixon library who supplied us with a number of missing shows from 1970 to 1972. We’ve included two segments from the library in this box set. On Disc 4, there is a scathing interview with famed writer and political commentator Gore Vidal from May 14, 1970 (only 10 days after the tragedy at Kent State). One can only imagine the look on Nixon’s face as he watched Vidal call for his impeachment on national television. Additionally, there’s a rare interview with Warren Beatty from June 1972 (on Disc 5) when he was campaigning for George McGovern (who was then the Democratic candidate for president).
After much hard work, close to 1,800 of the more than 4,500 shows have been found.
We are still very much on the hunt for episodes (or segments) missing from the archive so if anyone has copies of the show (regardless of format) we would very much appreciate you reaching out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we discussed earlier, the archive exists in many different obsolete formats. There are very few people who know how to properly transfer these tapes and, most importantly, care about the work they are doing. In our opinion, David Crosthwait and his company DC Video are alone at the top in this field. David, along with his associate Craig Asato, spent an incredible amount of time getting these tapes to look their best. Transferring these obsolete tape formats requires extraordinary measures. For example, with some of the ½-inch open reel tapes, it took upwards of six hours to transfer one 60-minute reel to make it look its best. David and Craig’s extensive knowledge, passion and work ethic made this material look better than it ever had in the past. We really can’t stress enough the important role they played in the restoration of the entire Merv Griffin archive.
While David and Craig at DC Video performed miracles on some of this footage, the simple fact is that these tapes are very old and, as we discussed above, the material is housed on both broadcast and non-broadcast formats. Consequently, there will be imperfections and glitches here and there, but we felt, whenever that was the case, the shows in question represented important moments in the history of television and were worth including, even if some of them are in less than pristine form.
Although we have produced over 70 titles (the GRAMMY®-nominated American Folk Blues Festival series, the Definitive Motown series, the British Invasion series and 30-plus Jazz Icons titles), our main business at Reelin’ In The Years Productions is to license clips for various media. As we were restoring and cataloging the library, our main objective was for that aspect of our business. After building the archive up, we knew that while this material would be invaluable to producers and directors for a variety of projects, it was too important to be used solely for clip licensing. We very much wanted to release this material to the public.
As soon as we made that decision, we reached out to our friend Jim Pierson who has been working with MPI Home Video for many years and has overseen many significant releases such as the Hullabaloo and Music Scene TV series, as well as classic TV shows such as Dark Shadows and The Honeymooners. We very much appreciate Jim’s efforts in making this happen and a special thanks goes to the owner of MPI Home Video, Malik Ali, whose enthusiasm for this project has been invaluable.
Upon embarking on the process of deciding what would go into this 12-disc set, the most important thing for the both of us was to showcase all the facets of The Merv Griffin Show. The first thing we did was to look at the breakdown of every single show on paper. We wanted the box set to reflect the show’s wide range of guests and topics covered during its long run on the air. While 12 discs may seem like a lot, it represents only a fraction of the overall library. Because there is so much material in the archive, this box set is just a way to launch the series. We have many more releases planned for the future.
So many factors came into play as to what was included. As Rick Nelson once said “You can’t please everyone so you got to please yourself.” We are fans so we tried to include shows and moments that we found entertaining and enlightening and we hope you will feel the same way. One of things we had to do not only for clearance purposes, but more importantly to make the shows more compelling, was to cut them down from their original broadcast length. (The dates listed for each show are primarily the air dates.) There were many times where a given show would have a fascinating guest followed by someone who we felt was less noteworthy. We went to great lengths to make sure the shows were edited to be as seamless as possible but sometimes you’ll see a person on the couch whose segment we edited out sitting next to a featured guest that warranted inclusion. The lengths of the cut-down versions of the various shows can vary from as little as 25 minutes to as much as 72 minutes (depending on the show and the guests.) Additionally, due to clearance issues we could not include original movie clips that the guest would sometimes bring with them to promote their latest film. Finally, in the later years of the show, Merv had a lot of music guests on but because they were lip-syncing their latest hit, the music portion of their performance would have had to be cleared through the record label that owned the original recording. This was simply cost-prohibitive and that’s why every music performance on this set is completely live.
This was a very long and tedious process and it was made easier by Phil Galloway (vice-president of Reelin’ In The Years) who not only helped negotiate the rights to represent this unique library but made sure the day-to-day business did not get sidetracked while we got our hands dirty in the vaults.
With the DVD retail market being what it is today, it’s very hard to get the word out about unique products such as this box set. If you would like information on future releases in The Merv Griffin Show series please sign up for our mailing list at www.mervgriffin.com.
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—as 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 and share it with friends by inviting them over to watch it with you or encouraging them to go out and purchase it. You can also visit the website to see additional content.
In closing, we want to give special thanks to The Griffin Group and the Estate of Merv Griffin for allowing us complete access to the archive and giving us their 100% trust to honor his legacy and his gift to the world of television.
We hope after watching all 42 hours of material included in this box set you’ll see The Merv Griffin Show for what it is, a very significant part of our culture.
David Peck &Tom Gulotta
Reelin’ In The Years Productions
Dedicated to the loving memory of Rita Ann Peck (“The Lady”) 1928 – 2013