TV ON DVD: Too much Tom Jones is a good thing Interview with Paul Brownstein, American TV historian and expert archivist/ producer of this series for Time Life.
"There was just too much great stuff". That’s what ace DVD producer Paul Brownstein found when he started mining the archives of the vintage 2-inch videotapes of “This Is Tom Jones” -- 63 variety hours produced 1969-71 for ABC and featuring some of the 20th century’s top performers alongside the Welsh sex-and-soul symbol.
“Ray Charles got moved to a later set to make room for more music in the initial three-disc release", says Brownstein, who did find ways to include segments from eight shows spotlighting the likes of Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin [pictured below] and Joe Cocker. Subtitled Rock ‘n’ Roll Legends, the first “This Is Tom Jones” set hits store shelves Tuesday from Time Life, with a followup release (possibly later this year) planned to showcase “legendary performers” like Charles, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Darin, Tony Bennett and Johnny Cash.
Brownstein is used to big names like that. His TV DVD credits include acclaimed sets for Sonny & Cher’s 1970s showcase, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the “definitive edition” of “The Twilight Zone,” for which this self-proclaimed “raider of the lost archives” scrounged up more extras than anyone knew existed -- not just new commentary tracks by cast and crew members, but also old audio recordings of lectures by creator Rod Serling, radio versions of episodes, isolated music scores, vintage commercials, etc.
Souping up the “Tom Jones” set was easier because Jones owns the rights to his shows and has a vested interest in preserving them. (Studios don’t always show the same care for their myriad properties.) Lucky Jones fans, they get to compare two stagings of his 1969 show with Stevie Wonder and political comic Pat Paulsen: one taped for Britain on the PAL video system, the second for the States in NTSC. Pushing the “angle” button on the DVD remote switches back and forth between the two tapings done on two consecutive days. Tom and Stevie duet slightly differently, and Paulsen’s comedy routine is somewhat “cleaned up” for American viewers. Other special features include vintage promos and interviews, along with Jones’ informative new intros and recollections by Sir Tom, still a hot charmer at 67.
What’s not on the set, sadly, is the episode with classic performances by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. “Neil Young denied the publishing. Himself. And he didn’t even write the song in question,” fumes Brownstein, who often sees wonderful footage thwarted by music rights permissions and payments. Young “just blanket does not allow his songs to be licensed,” so far as Brownstein knows. (The producer hopes to get that episode onto public TV somehow, “because on PBS we won’t have to clear the music, and America can see Tom Jones sing with CSNY.”) Brownstein says he also had “incredible footage of Tom and [Broadway star/songwriter] Anthony Newley. But do I get to put that in, or do I get to put in The Who? At the end of the day, it was how many songs could we afford to put out.”
At least The Who appear, though it’s in a black-and-white kinescope, filmed long ago off a TV monitor airing the original color broadcast. “The color tape is missing,” Brownstein laments. “I think the color footage was probably given to them when they did [The Who film] ‘The Kids Are Alright’ in the ’70s and it just never came back. We scoured all the vaults and different archives.”
Brownstein is doing the same thing now for the Smothers Brothers, whose legendarily controversial variety series “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” -- yanked by CBS in 1969 in the wake of censored songs and sketches opposing the Vietnam War -- is set to come out on DVD later this year. He’s got a head start this time, too: Brownstein already produced episode-specific interviews with Tom and Dick Smothers in 1992 for the show’s repeat run on E! cable. Those fresher-at-the-time recollections will find their way onto disc, creating their own valuable archive for future historians to raid decades down the line.