Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Droopy of TV detectives

On Newhart, they used to have a running gag involving Tom Poston’s character of George Utley, in that the befuddled Stratford Inn handyman liked to watch reruns of Barnaby Jones in his spare time, and even was a member of good standing in Buddy Ebsen’s fan club (“Any TV schedule without Buddy Ebsen sucks eggs.”). It was a funny bit, to be certain—the Newhart people even built an episode around the concept (“Three Brothers”), in which Michael [Peter Scolari] cancels the Barnaby Jones reruns at the station—but I often wondered why they chose that particular show for George to be obsessed with. Contrary to people’s memories, Barnaby Jones was not a good-old-fashioned, folksy crime drama—no doubt considered so due to the participation of friendly Buddy Ebsen—but a fascinating study into the evil minds of some really twisted people.

The basic storyline of a Jones episode usually involved a nice, middle-class husband and wife who commit a depraved act in a temporary mindset of idiocy, and then commit blunder after blunder as the noose tightens around their necks. They’d race around like mad trying to cover up their crime…and there’s ol’ Barnaby, everywhere they go, just being his folksy, avuncular self until he had the evidence he needed to convict the hapless pair and send them to the chair. It used to remind me of Tex Avery’s Droopy cartoons, where the wolf character would literally bust his ass running away from the Droopster (usually representing the law) only to find Droopy greeting him with his typical deadpan cheer: “Hi there.” And the titles of the episodes: Indoctrination in Evil, Academy of Evil, Daughter of Evil, Band of Evil, Portrait of Evil, Image of Evil, See Some Evil, Do Some Evil—it wasn’t an installment of Barnaby Jones unless it utilized “evil” or words like “dead” (“death,” “deadly”), “kill” (“killer,” “killing”), “murder,” “terror,” “fatal,” “danger,” or “nightmare.” Don’t get me wrong here—I liked the show as much as anyone else (I always marveled at the fact that the network purposely moved the show around a lot and yet never seemed to be able to kill it because its audience followed it obediently, like Quincy, M.E.) but it sort of puts George Utley in an entirely different light, if you know what I mean.

TVShowsOnDVD.com announced yesterday that CBS DVD-Paramount will be releasing the first season of Barnaby Jones to disc on February 16th; news that is sure to make a lot of people happy since it’s been a highly-sought-after candidate for DVD-dom for quite sometime. Since the series premiered on January 28, 1973 as a mid-season replacement, Jones’ freshman season had only thirteen episodes—which I’m sure frustrated some of the suits because it kept them from engaging in their favorite practice of split-season box sets. (Perhaps I shouldn’t speak too soon—there’s always Season 2…assuming there is a season two. Read the final paragraph of this post if you’re curious as to what I mean.) Another fortuitous happenstance for the CBS-Paramount folks is that the pilot episode of Jones (“Requiem for a Son”) featured a guest appearance from another popular television shamus: Frank Cannon, played by William Conrad and at that time enjoying its sophomore year as a hit series. (Conrad would make a return visit to Barnaby Jones as the portly gumshoe in the second part of a fifth season episode, “The Deadly Conspiracy.”)

And why is this so propitious, you may be asking yourselves? Because on that very same date (February 16), CBS-Paramount is releasing Cannon: Season 2, Volume 2 to a store shelf near you—said collection containing the remaining twelve episodes of the 1972-73 season. (How indeed fortunate we are to live in a country where a show that ran for five seasons on network television can now run for twice that many on DVD!) The previously mentioned “The Deadly Conspiracy,” by the way, is a story that started out on Cannon in its fifth season (which means you’ll have to wait until the ninth box set release to see it) and concluded on Jones, with Ebsen making an appearance on Conrad’s program to start the ball rolling.

CBS-Paramount has also announced a tentative release schedule for the second season release of The Lucy Show, coming to stores July 13, 2010. (This is the season where Gale Gordon joined the ensemble as the irascible bank manager Theodore J. Mooney.) If the show continues to sell well, a third season set will be made available October 12th. The TVShows announcement of this is both troubling and amusing at the same time:

A point we failed to emphasize thoroughly with our previous report (but that our contact thought we ought to have!) is that the follow-up DVD releases are NOT guaranteed yet, just because the tentative dates are scheduled: the Season 2 set MUST have good sales numbers before CBS/Paramount will commit to releasing the third set in October (or at any other time). Our contact asked us to make that perfectly clear, and rightfully so.

I can’t wait until the ad campaign for this comes out—sort of a variation of the famous National Lampoon magazine cover (“Buy this DVD or we’ll kill this dog”). I guess the company’s slogan about putting “TV DVD on a pedestal” should be amended to “but we won’t hesitate to knock you on your ass if you don’t pay up.”

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