Saturday, November 19, 2011

Several developments—none of them revolting…

I’m back in the saddle again…temporarily, that is.  Finished up a set of liner notes for a CD collection of The Life of Riley broadcasts that will be released by Radio Spirits in the near future, and next on the agenda is a collection featuring that schoolteacher “who teaches English at Madison High”: Our Miss Brooks.  I thought the OMB assignment was interesting, particularly since my Facebook pal Pami took the WABAC machine to 1976 via scans of the program from the production of the play we performed in high school.  But in the amazing world of coinky-dinks that often seems to hold court here at TDOY, there’s also one connected to The Life of Riley project I just finished…in fact, it kicks off a bodacious list of classic TV-on-DVD releases that we’ll be able to look forward to in the coming months.

You know that in addition to his long run on radio as Chester Arthur Riley, William Bendix played the part in a 1949 motion picture (written and directed by Riley creator Irving Brecher) and in a 1953-58 TV version of the sitcom that he was able to do once his contractual obligations to Hal Roach had elapsed (Brecher had to substitute Jackie Gleason for Bendix in the first version of the TV show in 1949).  But Bill Bendix headlined a second TV series beginning in the winter of 1960; an hour-long western entitled Overland Trail that co-starred future The Virginian player Doug McClure.  As Fred Kelly, Bill was a curmudgeonly superintendent for a stagecoach line and McClure (as Frank Flippen, affectionately known as “Flip”) his rowdy, youthful sidekick in a short-lived series that blended western action and comedy (it was sort of like Tales of Wells Fargo meets Laredo).  Trail’s regrettably brief run on NBC was due to its kamikaze scheduling: it was on opposite Lassie and Dennis the Menace on CBS and Walt Disney Presents and Maverick on ABC—and I don’t think even full frontal nudity would have distracted audiences from those hits.   In another season, without the glut of westerns on TV at the time, Trail might have had a better shot but after 17 episodes Bendix and McClure rode off into the sunset (and of course, Doug turned up in San Francisco in the fall on Checkmate).  Timeless Media Video has thankfully rescued Overland Trail from obscurity and will release the entire series on DVD in a 4-disc set on February 14th next year—a real treat for fans of TV western oaters.

In other Timeless news, the company will complete the four-year-run of the classic boob tube western Laramie a week earlier (February 7th) with a 8-DVD set (the package art says 6 discs, but that is apparently a typo) of the show’s second season…and no one is more pleased than I to hear the final boot drop, as it were.  Apparently this collection will also contain a first season show, “Ride Into Darkness” (01/12/60), that was missing on the first season release (which I was not aware of; I have Season 1 but—yes, I know this is hard to believe—I have not opened it yet) as well as a featurette on star John Smith.  I can’t say I heartily endorse how Timeless released the Laramie series (they started with Season 3, which was the first one in color, and followed it with Season 4, then the inaugural season) though I can understand why they did it the way they did…and even though the quality of the prints is often iffy it’s just gratifying to see that this series got a DVD release despite insurmountable odds.

The last noteworthy TMV release is one that will contain Seasons 2 and 3 of State Trooper, a syndicated crime drama that ran from 1956-59 and starred serial stalwart and B-western cowboy hero Rod Cameron as square-jawed lawman Officer Rod Blake.  Trooper, a series that boasted that it was “based on true cases from the files of Nevada State Police,” had a western feel to it (due in large part to Cameron’s participation) and also co-starred Robert “Carl Denham” Armstrong and Don Haggerty as colleagues of Blake’s (they were Nevada sheriffs; Haggerty being in charge of Vegas).  The first season of State Trooper saw a 4-DVD release on Timeless back in December (along with another Cameron private eye series, COronado 9) and while this Season2/3 collection also has a December street date (12/13) it will consist of the remaining 65 episodes plus the show’s pilot (which didn’t make it into the first box set).  Now all Timeless has to do is track down and put the actor’s first TV crime drama, City Detective (1953-55), on disc and they will have successfully executed the coveted Rod Cameron hat trick.

On the same day Timeless finishes up State Trooper, another TV western classic rides back into town in the form of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp—the first season of what some consider to be the boob tube’s first adult western (keep in mind, though, that it debuted in the same season as the dean of TV oaters, Gunsmoke) will be released on December 13th with all thirty-five episodes of its first season to be made available in a set from Inception Media Group.  Now, if you’re thinking this all seems a little déjà vu…it’s because technically it isEarp’s first season has already seen DVD action before; it was released by the Falcon Picture Group in 2009 and plans to release the second season were not far behind but for some reason scuttled shortly before Season 2’s street date.  (Not that Season 1 didn’t have its problems; according to a couple of sources one of the episodes on that set is actually from Season 2.  I am relying only on hearsay here because…well, you’ve probably guessed the reason by now.)  But Inception has acquired the DVD rights and apparently has decided to give fans a second chance to acquire the set—personally, this is starting to play like a similar scenario when Rhino released a “Best of” collection of the show in 2005 (containing twenty-six episodes) and then Timeless issued the same set two years later, except that it contained only fifteen episodes.

We could probably have a lengthy debate on whether or not the 1968-70 series Here Come the Brides should be called a western (I’d argue that it is…and I’d bring snacks in case the debate ran long) but something that we could all agree on is that the news of the show’s second and final season will finally be released to DVD next February 28th will be a tonic to those fans who have been waiting since May 2006 for, once again, the other boot to drop.  Shout! Factory has wrested away this DVD assignment from Sony Home Entertainment and on the date mentioned will release the remaining 26 episodes from the show’s final year on a 6-disc set.  (For those of you not familiar with the show, this is the season where Bobby Sherman’s Jeremy Bolt loses his stutter…apparently because it was making him less cute.) made the announcement back in October that the Factory has decided to shoulder the burden of a few properties owned by Sony and make them available on DVD; Police Woman, the 1974-78 crime drama starring Angie Dickinson as supercop Pepper Anderson will see its sophomore season (24 episodes on 6 discs) on DVD on February 7 of 2012—fans of that show have been waiting almost as long as Brides devotees (the last Police Woman release was in March 2006).  The 1961-66 sitcom Hazel, which recently marked its 50th anniversary here at TDOY and Edward Copeland on Film…and More, has also been obtained by Shout! Factory—the date on the second season released has been moved up (a flyer from the company originally hinted the first of November) to February 21st with a 4-disc set containing 32 episodes.  (Definitely going to have to put that on my wish list.)

But the biggest news to come out of the Factory is that they have secured the rights to one of TDOY’s favorite TV series of all time, Route 66—according to this press release at TSOD, the company “now owns extensive proprietary rights to this beloved television series, including all 116 original episodes, its archived materials, worldwide home entertainment and digital rights, and North American broadcast rights.”  Roxbury Entertainment, 66’s previous owner, has “retained the trademarks and television remake and film rights” to the series because they are working on a reboot of the show (apparently not having learned the lessons of the abortive attempt to do so in 1993).  That’s really all the press release has to say at this point—I would assume that Shout! would eventually get around to releasing the show’s fourth and final season to disc but I’d also like to see the possibility of repairing the previous three season box sets, what with their varying degrees of quality in the transfers.

CBS-Paramount announced a week or two back that the sixth season of the private eye chestnut Mannix will be released in a 6-disc set (containing all 24 episodes) on January 24th next year.  TV fans know that Joe Mannix (played by Mike Connors) was one tough essobee in the crime drama game, but I think what I admire most about Joe is that he managed to avoid the dreaded split-season releases that have unfortunately befallen his heftier colleague Frank Cannon (William Conrad) with regards to DVD.  Best of all, there are two more seasons to go for Mannix, which will make his final caseload oeuvre complete in two additional sets.

In this edition’s “I can’t believe that is coming to DVD!” department, the word is out that the short-lived 1964-65 sitcom My Living Doll will be making its debut at the DVD cotillion on February 28th thanks to MPI Home Video.  This set will only be a two-disker, containing 11 episodes of the series that starred Bob Cummings as a psychiatrist entrusted with the care of one Rhoda Miller (Julie Newmar), a statuesque woman who is in reality a robot prototype (AF709) left in Bob’s care…his assignment is to teach her to be a real woman.  Because of Newmar’s later exposure on Batman, My Living Doll has always held a cult status among her faithful…and according to what I know (and if I am wrong, please correct me) they’ve only been able to locate 11 episodes out of a total of 26.  (Actress Newmar, who has a Facebook page, has put the word out that any collectors with 16mm prints of the show’s episodes should either give her a shout-out or Chertok Productions…as in Jack Chertok Productions, the studio that produced Doll, My Favorite Martian, Private Secretary and several others.)

A couple of date changes that may be of interest to TV-on-DVD collectors: the heralded fourth season release of The Donna Reed Show (The Lost Episodes!), originally scheduled for December 20, has actually moved up a week to December 13—and according to this press release, there’s an extended episode on the collection entitled “Donna Meets Roberta” that guest stars Roberta “The Shaggy Dog” Sherwood in what apparently was a “back door pilot” for a Sherwood spin-off series (co-starring Gale Gordon) that never got off the ground.  In addition, the honkin’ big box set Underdog: The Complete Collector’s Edition will see a February 21st release, and not January 24th as originally scheduled.

I thought I’d close out the TV-on-DVD announcements with another one of those wild coincidences that I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post…and with that, let’s take the WABAC machine back to…

SHERMAN: Where are we going now, Mr. Shreve-body?
ME: Set the dials to October 11, 2011, Sherman
SHERMAN: Right!  October…um…cheese and crackers, I thought we’d go back further than that!

Indeed…because it was during a “Coming Distractions” post that I made this observation after seeing Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion (1965) on TCM’s schedule in November:

November 16, Wednesday – People who have been reading this blog for a while now—and yet still have managed to not lose any of their friends—know that I have a tendency to refer to actor Marshall Thompson as “Marshall ‘Daktari’ Thompson” because of his starring role as the veterinarian who practiced his profession at a nature preserve center in East Africa on a hit TV series than ran from 1966-69.  TCM is going to show the film that served as Daktari’s pilot, Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion (1965), at 10am so if you’ve never seen the series you can get a taste for what it’s like; why this film—or the TV series, for that matter—isn’t available yet on DVD is puzzling because a) it’s tailor-made for family film/TV devotees and b) it’s not in black-and-white.

So was it a coincidence that on November 15th the Warner Archive released not only Clarence on MOD DVD but the first season of Daktari (all eighteen episodes) as well?  Or do I just have a tremendous amount of pull in the industry?  No, it’s more likely the first one…particularly since if I did swing any weight at Warner, people like Laura at Miscellaneous Musings fame would be dropping one of the Maverick season set discs into their player right now.  But I am pleased to see this turn of events…and the surprise of surprises was that my Mom seemed excited by the news as well—apparently she was quite fond of Daktari.  (Yeah, The Twilight Zone and The Dick Van Dyke Show were never her cup of tea but a show with animals running loose in the wild gets her enthusiastic thumbs-up.  I was definitely left on the doorstep as a child.)

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