Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Bad News at North Fork

You may remember that a month ago I posted an announcement (courtesy of TVShowsOnDVD.com) that Fox Home Entertainment had finally decided to make the commitment and release the remaining three seasons (five, sex and seven) of Mary Tyler Moore Show to DVD after appearing to have stalled out with the first four. According to TVShows, it looked like FHE was going to screw over the individuals so devoted to the series that they painstakingly went and faithfully bought each season box set as it was released—only to discover that they’ll have to buy the same damn discs in order to complete their collection. (For those of you unfamiliar with how the TV-on-DVD business works, this is what is known as “standard operating procedure.”)

I had all four seasons of Mare and the gang collected at one time, but I ended up selling my copies on eBay when it looked as if a) I’d probably never get around to opening them, and b) Fox would never get around to finishing the other releases. So while I don’t particularly have a dog in this fight, I certainly feel the pain of others who do. In fact, TVShows has a blurb up right now that discusses the fate of another series episodes away from DVD completion, the classic television western The Rifleman (1958-63).

MPI Home Video originally had the rights to release Rifleman to DVD, and did so with six separate box sets that comprise one-hundred-and-twenty episodes of the series. Unfortunately, they forfeited the rights before they could finished out the remaining forty-eight, and the last anyone heard any news about completion was this tidbit that said the show’s producers were working out a deal to have a 50th anniversary set ready by 2008 that would include all of the episodes.

Well, 2008 has come and gone…and there’s no further information about the show, other than it’s still in the pipeline and may “indefinitely” be released sometime this summer. This still doesn’t obliterate the fact that those individuals who bought all the MPI releases (that would be me, or course) are going to get rooked in this deal.

But there is some positive news. Apparently, the first season DVD release of The Donna Reed Show was a success, because DVD Empire has the second year listed as a pre-order on its website ($31.56), set to be released by Virgil Films and Entertainment (formerly Arts Alliance America) on May 5 (which is right around Mother’s Day, in an amazing coinky-dink). I bought the first season set last year but haven’t gotten around to opening it yet (I’m sure more than a few of you are surprised); and even though I think the show was as exciting as vanilla pudding I still plan to scoop up Season Deux to make certain further releases will follow.

And here’s one that was completely off my radar—and we have our good friends at Acorn Media to thank for this one—a release of the 1981-84 Britcom Hallelujah! which stars UK comedy institution Thora Hird (In Loving Memory, Last of the Summer Wine) as Salvation Army Captain Emily Ridley, a feisty old warhorse who’s been with the firm for thirty-two years and whose superiors are ever-so-gently trying to force her out. Ridley refuses to do so, prompting the powers-that-be to station her in a series of “quiet postings” in several small Yorkshire townships that are certainly in need of a little old-time religion…particularly since all of them resemble the “twin cities” of Sodom and Gomorrah in various ways. Assisted by niece Alice Meredith (Patsy Rowlands), the two women show the town inhabitants the true meaning of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” in a comedy series that emphasizes a quiet and gentle character-based humor.

TVShows and Acorn Media are promoting this April 28th release as The Complete Collection, a two-disc set containing two series totaling fifteen episodes. However, I don’t believe that’s accurate. The website TV Comedy Resources reports that there were three series of twenty-two episodes; TV.com backs up this claim and the IMDb also notes twenty-two episodes, though they only acknowledge two series and one “unknown” series. If I had my copy of Mark Lewisohn’s Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy on hand, this argument would be settled in the wink of an eye but as a rule TV Comedy Resources is just as essential as Lewisohn’s tome and I’m going to side with them. Until someone proves me otherwise, I’m going to assume this is not the Complete Collection.

That having been said, I am looking forward to getting a further glimpse of this series—I’ve only seen one episode, “A Goose for Mrs. Scratchit”—a Yuletide-themed outing that was featured on the Region 2 DVD set Classic ITV Christmas Comedy. I positively adore Thora Hird, particularly her appearances on Summer Wine as the formidable Edie Pegden, who would scatter newspapers all around the floor of her house for her grease monkey husband Wesley (Gordon Wharmby) to step on (Edie was also responsible for one of the series’ best-known catchphrases, “Drink your coffee,” a rebuke to her daughter Glenda [Sarah Thomas] whenever she asked a foolish question). Hird’s other popular sitcom, In Loving Memory, received the Network treatment with its first season having been released a few weeks ago; in it, she plays Ivy Unsworth, the widow of a small-town undertaker (who dies in the first episode) forced to continue the business with her accident-prone nephew Billy (played by Upstairs, Downstairs Christopher Beeny). A huge hit for ITV/Yorkshire Television, the series premiered in 1979 and ran for five series until its cancellation in 1986.

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