This wonderful collection of interviews from “The Merv Griffin Show” covers a wealth of personalities and topics during that celebrated talkfest’s 20-year-run on American television. For anyone who recalls Griffin’s program, it is a wonderful stroll down memory lane. And for those who never saw the show, it provides a startling example of how talk shows used to be conducted.
The three-part DVD collection begins with “Hollywood Legends,” and that is no small exaggeration. Included here is Orson Welles (in his final interview – he died hours after taping this segment), Laurence Olivier (who is brilliantly charming in detailing the challenges of acting in Shakespeare), Sophia Loren (who speaks frankly about turning 50), Richard Burton (who waxes enthusiastically on matters of history and Celtic culture) and Sammy Davis Jr. (visibly exhausted after doing a movie shoot and a Broadway musical earlier that day).
The second disc, “Great Comedians,” brings in the legends (Jack Benny, George Burns, Richard Pryor, George Carlin) with some names that have sadly become forgotten (Monti Rock III, Totie Fields) and a few promising newcomers who made very early TV appearances courtesy of Griffin (Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno).
The third disc, “Extraordinary Guests,” offers four presidents (Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan), two Kennedys (Bobby and mother Rose), two news broadcasting titans (Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters) and an utterly stunning half-hour interview with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that encompassed subjects of racial and economic disparity and the war in Vietnam.
Obviously, there are some dubious calls in here (is Tony Danza really among the “interesting people”) and some notable omissions (including Griffin’s classic interview with Marlon Brando – one of the star’s very rare TV appearances – and the hilarious Charo, who was a virtual regular on this show). Also missing are classic musical guests in performance (though perhaps clearing the rights to their numbers presented a problem).
Still, watching this collection is an eye-opener. Unlike today’s talk show hosts, Griffin is thoroughly engaged with his guests and knows how to ask off-beat and often provocative questions. And the interviews are often very long (there is no place for soundbites here). The depth and scope of the chat was clearly infectious on those who appeared on the program – at one point, an interview with David Niven was taken over by Robert Blake, a fellow guest on the panel, who was so moved by Niven’s charm and wit that he bypassed Griffin with questions of his own for the legendary British star.
This is a must-have DVD set for any fan of intelligent, playful and memorable conversation.