Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Classic TV at your fingertips

In the past, I’ve mentioned the two online services—Hulu and Fancast—that often present classic movies sometimes too elusive to catch on TCM or FMC, and have also pointed out that they showcase vintage television shows as well. Though I don’t think I’d be willing to part with the voluminous TV-on-DVD collection that comprises a goodly portion of the material stored in the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives, every now and then it’s nice to catch one of these old programs…particularly if they haven’t made their way to DVD yet.

What put me on this course of thinking was reading a blurb at Rick Brooks’ award-winning* blog Cultureshark, in which he pointed out that the newly titled WGN America offers what the station calls an “Outta Site Retro Night Sunday” on the day of rest, and that they had added Barney Miller reruns to the lineup. (This “Retro” thing, by the way, includes introductory bumpers from DJ/former Solid Gold host Rick Dees, who apparently has stopped getting his Disco Duck royalty checks.**) My father, at a point in his life when he still laughed at sitcoms, was a big fan of the police squad room comedy and since he ruled the prime-time television kingdom with an iron fist back then I would have to pretty much watch what he wanted. (As such, this turned out not to be a bad thing, because I think Miller is a bona fide TV classic.)

So, Sunday night, I decided to tune into WGN because—let’s face it, TCM fans—there’s only so many Elvis movies a man can take. Both episodes were a genuine surprise in that the series was still as fresh and funny as I remembered. Now, back in January 2004 Columbia/Sony released the first season of Barney Miller to DVD…and then announced that because it didn’t sell like hotcakes, that was pretty much it. The company soon had a change of heart and released the second season to disc four years later in 2008. This, however, didn’t do me a heckuva lot a good because by that time I’d already sold my first season copy on eBay. But since the third season arrived on DVD a year after, it looks as if Sony might make a commitment to putting all of the seasons on disc (give them credit—they went all the way with Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie) and so after seeing the show and enjoying it so much, I made an impulse purchase at Amazon.com and snapped up all three seasons. (Walmart.com actually had the shows priced less, but I was going to have to pay a whopping s&h charge in addition to sales tax so Amazon seemed the smart way to go.)

After making the purchase, I skated over to TV.com to look at what episodes were featured during each season, and I see that the series is available to watch online. How cool is that? So I spent last night—in between TCM’s showing of Portrait of Jennie (1948)—catching up on some of the first season entries, and having an enormously good time in the process.

This experience set me to thinking again. Would it not be helpful if there were someplace…say, for example, a highly-respected weblog that covers classic film, radio and television…where an enterprising young individual (with a bit o’ free time on his hands) could link to the various classic television shows available for online viewing at both Hulu and Fancast? (Strictly as a public service, you understand.) I hope you’ve answered yes, because that is just what I have done—in the sidebar to your right…no, your other right…you’ll find a list of some of the best (as determined by me, naturally) and classic programs the cathode ray tube has to offer. Keep in mind that I’ve merely just tapped the tip of the iceberg—and that some of these shows (Nanny and the Professor being a primary example) aren’t necessarily my cup of Orange Pekoe but I’ve included them because they may not be on DVD as of this writing. In particular, I was jazzed to see that series like Bat Masterson and Sea Hunt are available—selected episodes of these series have appeared on disc but they’re usually those that have achieved public domain status. (The fact that Sea Hunt is online means that the Athens chapter of the Royal Huntation Society™ may start having meetings—for those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, this will explain things more fully.) There are also a few shows of recent vintage that I included only because I consider myself a big fan. In addition, I’m also plan to introduce a section devoted to older movies that are playing on these services, concentrating on those flicks that, once again, don’t show up on television much or just films that I’ve seen and that I’ll think you’ll enjoy. There’s no need to thank me…it’s all in a day’s work for…Bicycle Repairman.

*In all fairness, I don’t think Rick has won any major awards—but his daughter laughs and claps at his blog, and that’s close enough for government work.

**This is also meant to be a joke. Please don’t go on and on about how wonderful a human being Rick Dees is in the comment section. I’m sure he’s a prince of a fellow.


Laura said...

Nice list of links! My husband recently discovered SEA HUNT online and has been having a great time watching it. My brother was hooked on reruns as a kid so it brings back memories for me, too.

Best wishes,

Chris Riesbeck said...

Thanks for the list of available shows. One find I came across was the 50's live Tales of Tomorrow at the Internet Archive. I've only watched a couple, e.g., Appointment on Mars with Brian Keith and Leslie Nielsen, but far more ambitious for live TV than I expected.


Dave Lewis said...

I had no idea the classic stuff was there until just this morning, looking at David Cranmer's blog. They have the first season of Bat Masterson! I've never been able to find more than two episodes on DVD.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...


Your mentioning of Tales of Tomorrow reminded me that Hulu has the forty shows released on DVD by Image, so I added that link to the list as well.

Scott C. said...

Woo Hoo, Sea Hunt! Thank you, Brother Ivan!

I was insanely fascinated by that show as a kid, and when I unexpectedly got the chance to go scuba diving in Key West years later, my confidence was bolstered by flashbacks to Sea Hunt. Every other episode, Mike Nelson had to teach some landlubber how to use an aqualung, and each and every lesson began (and ended) with the same words, "First, you have to learn how to breathe through your mouth." Even as a 6-year old, I thought, "Oh I can do that."

Okay, it turned out there was a little more to scuba diving, but I'm not ashamed to say that I owe my Open Water Certification entirely to Lloyd Bridges.

Rick Brooks said...

Great idea and a great public service, Ivan, and I'm not just saying that because of the kind words. I'm sure my daughter would laugh and clap at your blog, too, except that I'm determined to keep her off the Internet until she's...oh, 25 or so.