Each year I like to highlight some of my favorite TV on DVD/Blu-ray collections from the past year that would make great presents during this Mellowmas season. Some of these selections you may have heard of, while others may be coming to your attention for the first time. Links are attached to each title. Have a great holiday season and as always, thanks for reading Popdose! — Scott
Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory)
Mecka-lecka hi, Mecka-hiney ho!
All 45 episodes of Paul Reubens’ Saturday morning sensation have been meticulously remastered from the original film elements for this new Blu-ray release. If you’re of a certain age and you remember watching this show when it originally aired on CBS, this great new box set will bring back warm, cuddly and flat out goofy childhood memories. Pee Wee and his pals, like Jambi the Genie, Miss Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis, Reba the mail lady, Captain Carl, Magic Screen, Conky, Globey, Chairry and Pterri have never looked or sounded better.
Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Complete Series is an eight disc set that comes from Shout! Factory, one of the best companies reissuing classic television series on DVD and Blu-ray. Just about everything these guys do is worth your time and money. As with all of their box sets, Pee-wee’s Playhouse comes in a beautiful package that you will treasure. In addition to every episode from the show’s run, the set includes the Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, four hours of brand-new interviews with the cast and crew, plus never-seen, behind-the-scenes footage. Featurettes cover a range of topics, including the fantastic set design, the music for the show, the puppets, and a look at the cast, which featured future stars Laurence Fishburne (Cowboy Curtis), S. Epatha Merkerson (Reba) and the late Phil Hartman (Captain Carl). Not to be missed.
Batman: The Complete Television Series (Warner Home Video)
Holy remastered, Batman! The 1960s Adam West/Burt Ward comedy series that has lived in reruns for decades at long last comes to home video. Years of wrangling between 20th Century Fox (who produced the original series run from 1966-1968) and Warner Brothers, the owner of DC Comics and the ”Batman” franchise, have been laid to rest. Batman can now be crossed off the list of TV shows overdue for DVD/Blu-ray release.
What makes this presentation so special is that it isn’t a case of the studio dumping the old tired prints onto DVD and pushing them off on consumers, knowing that they’ll make a killing no matter what. Instead, Batman has been remastered for hi-def and looks as pristine as it did back in the day. Actually, considering that the quality of broadcast standards has improved light years since the 60s, this may be the best Batman anyone has ever seen the show, outside of the producers who originally cut the shows together.
Besides the 120 episode contained on the 13 Blu-rays discs (or 18 DVDs, if you go that route), Batman: The Complete Collection includes the original 1966 Batman movie, as well as over three hours of bonus materials. A huge bonus is the rarely seen ”Batgirl” pilot. This release ranks at the top of my holiday list, just above…
The Twilight Zone: The 5th Dimension Limited Edition Box Set (Image Entertainment)
This one has me salivating to save up my pennies or possibly write my first letter to Santa since I was a kid. For the first time ever, Rod Serling’s classic original series that ran from 1959-1964 and the superb reboot that ran from 1985-1989 are collected in a limited edition box set. There are 225 episodes of television included in the box set. If that wasn’t enough, the 41-DVD box comes with over 20 hours of bonus features.
They include: never-before-seen interviews, the PBS American Masters documentary ”Rod Serling: Submitted For Your Approval,” Rod Serling interviews, lectures and appearances, interviews with cast and crew, and isolated music scores.
Only 7,500 sets of this limited edition box set were created. It became available on November 11, so get one while you can, The Twilight Zone: The 5th Dimension Limited Edition Box Set contains one of four possible collectible 1960s Twilight Zone comic books. Limited Edition packaging features 3D black and white lenticulars and a serialized number on each of the box sets.
Hill Street Blues: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory)
In the 1980s, Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll created this seminal cop show that revolutionized the TV drama as we know it. Instead of a case of the week that was wrapped up within the hour, Hill Street Blues focused on the characters and shepherded in the serialized storytelling that has become the standard in the world of television. Hill Street Blues took viewers inside the heart of a racially torn, crime-ridden precinct of an urban metropolis. Each episode charted a day in the life on the ”Hill,” and introduced us to men and women living in the gray areas between good and bad. In addition, the series introduced us to fine actors such as Daniel J. Travanti, Veronica Hamel, Bruce Weitz, Betty Thomas and future Emmy Award winner, Dennis Franz.
This handsomely packaged 34-DVD collector’s box set contains all 144 episodes from the series’ seven-season run, the original Hill Street Blues pilot, a commemorative 24-page book with a special essay written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic Tom Shales, and retrospective bonus content, featuring new interviews with Steven Bochco, the cast and more.
Daniel Boone: The Complete Series (Fox Home Entertainment)
You don’t have to be a big man with the eye of an eagle to appreciate this beloved family series that ran from 1964-1970. Fess Parker starred as the legendary American frontier hero who helped settle the wild frontier and fight the British during the 1770s. But Boone wasn’t just a man carrying a gun and fighting off threats to settlers, he was also a detective, a codebreaker, a speech maker and a matchmaker (when needed).
The series was shot on film and began its run in glorious black and white. By season two, the switch was made to color and the show’s popularity rose. Remember, this is a family show, so the dialogue can be a little hokey at times and some of the storylines borderline on heightened cheese. But Parker gives a noble, admirable performance throughout the show. If you’re like me and grew up on Daniel Boone reruns (or if you saw them in their original run), this set is a real treasure.
In celebration of Daniel Boone’s 50th anniversary, all 165 episodes from the show’s six seasons are collected on 36 DVDs. The prints look fantastic and the sound quality is great. While there are no bonus features, this is the first time all seasons are collected together. Furthermore, DVD versions of this series have been out-of-print for years, so this is also an ideal gift for fans who missed those initial releases.
The Wonder Years: The Complete Series (StarVista/Time/Life)
I wrote about The Wonder Years earlier this year. This release is beautifully assembled and was produced by people who obviously loved the show. The care and thought that went into the presentation alone make it something to behold. It comes in a mini-locker, with all of the DVDs housed in booklets that resemble school notebooks. But there is more. The producers worked for years to secure the rights to the many 1960s and 1970s era songs used throughout the entire series run. They also loaded up The Wonder Years with hours of featurettes, including cast reunions, new interviews with the creatives, and behind the scenes footage from when the series was in production.
As I said in my original review, The Wonder Years helped change television. It was a single camera half hour series, commonplace in our 21st Century television world, and it was one of the first dramedies. 115 episodes and 23 hours of bonus features on 26 DVDs make this one heck of a stocking stuffer. By the way, the link above is to the Star Vista/Time Life website, where this collection is exclusively available.
WKRP In Cincinnati: The Complete Series (Shout! Factory)
This has been a banner year for TV series long overdue for home video release. First Batman, then The Wonder Years, and now WKRP in Cincinnati sees the light of day. As I said in my review earlier in the fall, WKRP was a show that could double you over with laughter, and also give you pause to reflect on some of the more serious issues of the day (i.e. Vietnam, the Who concert tragedy).
Set in a struggling AM station located in Cincinnati, OH, WKRP’s stellar cast included Gary Sandy, Howard Hesseman, Tim Reid, Loni Anderson and Gordon Jump. To help create a realistic TV show that took place in the world of AOR rock ’n roll, WKRP featured a songs by some of the biggest stars of the late 1970s and early 80s. Springsteen, the Stones, AC/DC, Clapton, Blondie, the Dead, Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, Marvin Gaye, and Wings are just a few of the artists whose music gets played by the DJs at the fabled WKRP.
Like the challenge that faced the producers of The Wonder Years release, the makers of this box set had to secure the rights to hundreds of songs that were used when the show originally aired between 1978 and 1982. The use of these songs in the home video market is what’s kept the series getting all seasons released in the original form (except for a couple of instances in which Pink Floyd didn’t want their music used). Shout! Factory (those guys again) not only got the rights to the music, they assembled all four seasons into this wonderful box set.
Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery (Paramount)
David Lynch’s surreal, twisted mystery drama didn’t just send TV viewers for a loop in 1990, it blew the roof off of network television. It had been a long time since people had seen something this dark and obtuse, if they ever had seen anything like Twin Peaks. The show was and remains downright bizarre. Yet there are moments of humor, friendship and love that compel you to watch. Oh, and there’s also the dancing man who speaks backwards.
While Twin Peaks has previously been available on DVD, this new Blu-ray set pairs the entire series with Lynch’s equally strange (and infuriating) feature film prequel, 1993’s Fire Walk with Me, and includes hours of deleted scenes, featurettes and interviews with the cast. Moreover, the picture quality has been upgraded to beautiful HD.
For any Twin Peaks fan this is the perfect gift. With the recently announced new Twin Peaks mini-series coming to Showtime in 2015, you’ll have plenty of time to immerse yourself in the slow burn insanity of Killer Bob, Laura Palmer and the best damn coffee in America.
The Merv Griffin Show – 1962-1986 (MPI Home Video)
One of the most beloved TV personalities of the 1960s and 70s, Merv Griffin hosted a daily talk show that won 10 Emmy Awards during its 24 year run. This comprehensive collection (reviewed earlier this year by Dw. Dunphy) features 42 hours of interviews, comedy and musical performances that not only remind us what a polished variety show host Griffin was, but informs those who’ve never seen his work that Johnny Carson wasn’t the only one who could book big guests and hold thoughtful conversations with world leaders and influential pop culture figures.
The names of the Hollywood stars who appear on The Merv Griffin Show – 1962-1986 is a who’s who of legends past and in the making. Among them are John Wayne, Bette Davis, Laurence Olivier, Ingrid Bergman, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Jerry Lewis, Andy Kaufman, George Clooney, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Seinfeld, and a 19-year-old Whitney Houston making her national TV debut in 1983. Equally impressive are esteemed figures such as Salvador Dali, Timothy Leary, Maya Angelo, Rosa Parks, President Reagan, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. who sit down with Merv.
This 12-disc collection contains 44 episodes of The Merv Griffin Show, plus seven hours of bonus material that includes interviews, vintage promo trailers, and a 52-page booklet with exhaustive notes, rare photos, memorabilia and a foreword by Dick Cavett.
The Jeffersons: The Complete Series- The Deee-luxe Edition (Shout! Factory)
During its long network run from 1975-1985, The Jeffersons proved to be one of the most reliable sitcoms on the CBS schedule. Developed by Norman Lear as a spin-off from his already classic All in the Family, The Jeffersons wasn’t so much an issue oriented comedy as it was a character driven one. Who can blame Lear and his crack staff of writers and producers if they moved away from controversial topics and focused on the strong characters they’d created? They had George and Louise (Sherman Hemsley and Emmy winner Isabel Sanford) and their quick witted maid, Florence (scene stealer Marla Gibbs). Together with a brilliant supporting cast, The Jeffersons was laugh out loud funny. The cast sometimes had to wait until the live studio audience settled before they could continue with the show.
Shout! Factory has done TV fans a great service by putting together this box set and allowing longtime fans the opportunity to relive some of the greatest moments in 70s television comedy. The Jeffersons: The Complete Series- The Deee-luxe Edition includes all eleven seasons on 33 DVDs. It comes with a complete episode guide and an exceptional essay by Tom Shales, the Pulitizer Prize winning critic from The Washington Post, as well as a bonus disc that includes a featurette on the history of the show, the All in the Family episode in which the Jeffersons move to Manhattan, an episode of Checking In, Marla Gibbs’ short lived spin off series, and the pilot to Elliot Gould’s E/R, which featured Hemsley making an appearance as George.