In just five years, Jack Paar changed the way Americans watched television. The first successful host of the Tonight Show (Steve Allen, Ernie Kovacs, and others were given chances prior to Paar), from 1957 to 1962 Paar made the late-night talk show a staple. In an era when celebrity still carried a measure of dignity, Paar both treated his guests with respect and got them, for the first time, to open up to the American public.
As I Was Saying... breaks up Paar's career between three videos. The first tape concerns itself mostly with Paar's pre-Tonight Show life: his start in radio, his stint in the Army, and his early days in Hollywood, where Jack Benny served as his mentor. Paar's Army hitch proves to be a turning point in his life--it was then that he first performed in front of an audience, and his job hosting the acts that come through to perform for the troops brought him national fame and Benny's attention.
The second tape shows the development of Paar's conversational humor, along with plenty of clips from the Tonight Show. There are early clips with Bill Cosby and Woody Allen, clips with Jonathon Winters and Buddy Hackett, and a sampling of Paar's own monologues. Paar's defining moment is explained in detail: after NBC censored a joke he made about a water closet (the British term for a restroom), Paar walked off the show; his return, a month later, is considered one of television's classic moments. He strolled onstage, struck a pose, and looked right into the camera. "As I was saying, before I was interrupted...," he said, and the audience erupted.
The third tape is hosted by Paar himself and is an edited tour through his post-Tonight Show career and life. Almost no mention is made of his failed variety show or brief stint as a Johnny Carson competitor; instead, there are clips of Paar as a guest on Carson's show and on Pat Sajak's short-lived program. There is also footage from Paar's African excursions, which are little more than well-filmed and -narrated home movies. They're nice for Paar completists, but hardly as entertaining as the first two tapes. --Randy Silver