NEW YORK - For three decades, Johnny Carson tucked his audience into bed while welcoming thousands of guests to "The Tonight Show."
Now the full Carson canon has been restored, digitized, annotated and transcribed.
One result of this huge archiving effort will be an upgraded website for fans containing dozens of clips for ready viewing.
Yes, there will be a boosted product line of "Tonight" DVD sets for purchasing through the website.
"But it will also become more of an entertainment site," said Jeff Sotzing, president of Carson Entertainment Group, a former "Tonight" producer and Carson's nephew. "There will be 40 to 50 clips, which we will change on a regular basis."
A companion clip-licensing website is also going live this week. Accessible only to media professionals who establish accounts, this site takes full advantage of the "Tonight" cataloging project, with a total of 3,300 hours of searchable program content keyed to any search term.
For example, the search engine locates 1,570 instances of "Hi-yo," announcer Ed McMahon's hearty greeting to Johnny. Any of them can be instantly streamed.
While certain early episodes were erased by NBC, the library reaches back as far as Carson's first weeks on the air in October 1962 (such as a session of "Stump the Band" Oct. 31, with then-bandleader Skitch Henderson).
Carson reigned as the King of Late Night until retiring after more than 4,500 nights in May 1992.
This treasury would make Carson devotees drool - if only they could get in.
The general public will have to make do for now with a relative handful of selected video samples. But even though ordinary viewers are barred from the "licensing.johnnycarson.com" site, Sotzing promised the public site will soon give them many of the same viewing goodies.
"In the near future, we'll offer them the ability to search and select from the full library of shows," he said. "They will be able to surf the entire date site."
While specifying no time table for opening the vault to Carson fans, Sotzing said, "I don't want to keep them out for long."