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Documentary showcases the dawn of late-late night TV

Date: 11/26/2014

A treasure trove of music of the 1970s music is the focus of this week’s DVD column.

The Midnight Special

Up until 1973, late night television essentially ended after the conclusion of  “The Tonight Show.” Some stations might air old movies while others flipped the switch and signed off.

Producer Burt Sugarman had an idea: why not attract a young audience, people who actually were awake after the Carson show with a music program featuring the hottest acts he could book? NBC was willing to consider it but only on the provision that Sugarman own and finance the show, taking all of the risk.

The result was “The Midnight Special,” a 90-minute music show that debuted in February 1973 and was hosted by different rock stars, but had the legendary deejay Wolfman Jack as its anchor and comedy relief.

Sugarman taped the show, but the music was performed live instead of being lip-synced. He revealed in the extras of the DVD there were no chairs for the audience who sat on the floor before the three stages on which the acts would perform.

This new six-disc set presents a number of the best performances culled from the hundreds of shows. The set focuses on the music, rather than the other elements, so there is relatively little of Wolfman Jack and of other comedy performers such as Andy Kaufman or Richard Pryor. That’s a shame.

The set does not have any complete shows, which I think is also unfortunate, as I’d like to see one. Being a farm boy at that time, I never watched the show when it was on the air. It was too late!

This set, though, gives a person an incredible taste of 1970s pop music. The artists in the set include Maria Muldaur, Gordon Lightfoot, Robert Palmer, Blondie, Helen Reddy, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, the Bee Gees, Eddie Money, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye, The Kinks, Bill Preston, Eddie Rabbitt, Peaches and Herb, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Barry White, Olivia Newton-John, The Cars, Joan Baez, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Harry Chapin, among others.

What I liked about the selection of the artists is the willingness of the show’s producers to bring in folk and country crossover acts, along with rock and soul. It’s an accurate reflection of what Top 40 radio used to sound like.

The plentiful extras include a tribute to Wolfman Jack and a hilarious one about the rock fashions of the 1970s.

While I may never have seen the show when it was on, watching it now and listening to the music is certainly nostalgic and much of the music still holds up today.

Quick takes on films now on DVD

“Maleficent:” When our goddaughter selected this movie to see earlier this year, my wife and I both looked at each other and silently rolled our eyes, but we were wrong. This cleverly written version of “Sleeping Beauty” from the perspective of the villain is thoroughly involving and well worth watching. Angelina Jolie is wonderful.

“Snowpiercer:” This science fiction film set in a future in which the Earth is in a perpetual winter is audacious in both story and visuals. Humanity’s future is contained in a train that travels around the world taking a year for each revolution and there is revolution on board as the lowest social class makes its way to the front of the train to learn its secrets.

“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For:” I wanted this sequel to be good, but it missed the mark. It’s a direct sequel that requires an audience to remember the action, situations and characters of the first film and that approach doesn’t serve the movie well. The script also wastes time with some sequences that go nowhere. Skip this one.