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The keeper of the fame

Carson's nephew handles licensing of 'Tonight Show' clips.

April 26, 2008|Vance Durgin | Special to The Times

"I sell a lot of clips to people like the new biography shows," he explained. "Someone doing a story about Drew Carey or Robin Williams or any person, they'll want to track their career, and, of course, 'The Tonight Show' is a basic part of these guys' careers."

Movies are another area where the clips have proved useful, last year's "Talk to Me," starring Don Cheadle, being one example. Cheadle plays an ex-con turned disc jockey who gets a shot at the big time.

"The story line is that the character gets a shot on 'The Tonight Show' in 1971, I think it is. So they bought some footage from us and re-created 'The Tonight Show' set in New York. When you see the movie, it's amazing because they've cut this character into 'The Tonight Show.' "

Few "Tonight" clips from the New York days exist, as the first 10 years of the show's tapes were erased years ago. But an early '70s clip featuring one of Bette Midler's first "Tonight" appearances proved to be perfect for the movie. Overwhelmingly, the clips available today are from the shows produced in Burbank, where the show moved to in 1972.

Though "Tonight" remains Sotzing's primary business, it's not his only interest. For many years he flew for the Orange County Flying Samaritans, a group of pilots and medical personnel that provides medical services to remote villages in Baja California. He's also involved with the annual Muckenthaler Rod and Custom Show in Fullerton, this year on May 17 and 18 as part of the Imagination Celebration of Arts Orange County.

Sotzing says he stays in touch "all the time" with people from the show, including announcer Ed McMahon and bandleader Doc Severinsen. But don't look for them to be providing commentary on the DVDs.

"Johnny always felt that . . . you really didn't want to ask them because, how could they say no? And he also always said that the material should speak for itself. So we don't have any narration. We don't have anything other than the material itself on the DVDs. And it seems to have really worked well."

As for deciding what to release, Sotzing says he's selective.

"The first question is the quality. Is the quality high enough to be a worthwhile release? We have so much material, we don't want to just flood the market. Johnny was very selective about merchandising segments of 'The Tonight Show' and only let it be merchandised on a limited basis. So we've done that and now have a dozen or so DVDs out, but there's actually much, much more material we could release."

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