Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The indisputable leader of the gang…

…celebrates a golden anniversary today—Top Cat, Hanna-Barbera’s successful primetime follow-up to the previous season’s hit series The Flintstones, debuted over ABC-TV on this date fifty years ago, and when Edward “Nucky” Copeland put out feelers a few weeks back looking to see if anyone had something for his blog (he’s been working on reviewing the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, and has been sort of busy) I decided to run past him the idea of honoring the denizens of Hoagy’s Alley: T.C., Benny the Ball, Choo-Choo, etc.  If I had to pick a favorite among Bill and Joe’s “kadult” (a combo of “kid” and “adult”) creations, Top Cat would probably get the nod—it’s a wonderfully witty and sophisticated homage (French for “rip-off”) to the classic sitcom The Phil Silvers Show…with a splash of the Bowery Boys tossed in for flavor.

Sometime back on the blog, I told a story about taking my niece Rachel to the Varsity (“The Happiest Place on Earth”) and while Mom and I went to fetch the prime drive-in grub, Rach and my Dad scoped out seats…and she was a little put out because my father waved her away from a section that had its gi-normous TV set tuned to the cable network known as Boomerang.  (“They’re showing the cartoons you like,” she informed me.)  A commenter then lamented that we’re raising a new generation of viewers completely unaware and out of tune with such sublime delights as the Flintstones and Bugs Bunny, and the more I think about that the saddened I become by that, too.  Rach’s cartoon favorites are more along the lines of Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants (SpongeBob fans—I just cannot warm up to this show) and yet I make an effort to sit down and watch with her because…well, because when I was her age my grandfather “Papa Jack” would sit and laugh at the antics of Tom and Jerry with me.  It’s a special thing for a kid to have an adult take time out of their world to share a little something in theirs…so I keep that in mind even when the SpongeBob theme is becoming an earwig in my brain.  (My two-year-old nephew is a big fan of the Olivia cartoon series, whose theme song I like much better.)

Well, no “hey-look-at-this-old-TV-show-I-rhapsodize-about” pointer would be complete without a few tidbits about some vintage boob tube classics coming to DVD soon—and Timeless Media Video will kick things off next month with the release of not one but two DVD sets of the most successful ninety-minute western in the history of the medium, The Virginian.  Season Five is next in the batting order, which introduced movie great Charles Bickford as the new owner of the Shiloh Ranch, John Grainger…with Sara Lane as granddaughter Elizabeth and Don Quine as her brother Stacey.  The 10-disc set will be released on October 25th (containing all twenty-nine episodes of Season Cinco)…and because I’ve seen most of these shows during their run on Encore Westerns I have to say—I think Bickford may have been my favorite of the Shiloh owners (and this coming from a devotee of both OTR gods Mister John Dehner, who had a short stint before Bick as Morgan Starr, and John McIntire, who replaced Bickford the following season—Bickford died in November 1967, shortly after the sixth season got underway—as John’s brother Clay [with the real-life Mrs. McIntire, TDOY goddess Jeannette Nolan, as Clay’s wife Holly].)

But the encouraging news, courtesy of TVShowsonDVD.com, is that Timeless will also release the ninth season of The Virginian to DVD on that same day—and the reason for this is because Season #9 is not currently in Encore Westerns’ rotation (they didn’t opt to get the rights to the show, which was telecast on NBC in its final run as The Men from Shiloh) and TMV wanted to strike while the iron is hot.  So a separate set of The Virginian: Season 9 gets released that same day—with Stewart Granger as the Shiloh’s new boss, Colonel Alan McKenzie, a post-Big Valley and pre-Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law Lee Majors, Doug “Trampas” McClure (with a hideous moustache) and the Man With No Name, James Drury hizzownself.  Twenty-four episodes will be featured in an eight-disc set.

Also on October 25th, the yearly trek from Missouri to California continues when the classic TV western Wagon Train sees its fourth season released—this would be the last one for veteran character actor Ward Bond (as trail master Seth Adams), due to Bond’s shuffle off this mortal coil in November 1960.  John McIntire, who would replace Charles Bickford on The Virginian seven years later, was pressed upon to take charge of the caravan as Christopher Hale (beginning in March 1961) and would keep that post for the rest of the show’s run (including its move to ABC from NBC in the fall of 1962).  I was not aware (until I did a little research) that the first official season with McIntire also featured five color episodes telecast during the 1961-62 season in an effort to hawk a few of RCA’s color TV sets.  (I thought the only color episodes were the ones telecast in the ninety-minute format in season 7, which has already been released in a separate DVD collection by Timeless).

I’ve already told my Mom about this next release—and I probably should have kept it under wraps, since the result was my Dad’s ragging on her about the show’s star, Dale Robertson (Dad always refers to him as “Dale Roberts”…which really sets her off)—but Timeless Media Video will release on October 25 (where are we classic TV fans supposed to find all this fundage, I ask you?) the first and second seasons of Tales of Wells Fargo.  Fifty-two episodes will be made available on a six-disc set…and I have to confess I approach this collection with a little trepidation.  I previously purchased the company’s Best of set two years ago (released in July 2009) and had I known they were going to get around to putting out “the whole enchilada” I might have waited.  (On the other hand, I refrained from buying the other Best of Wells Fargo set, the one containing the hour-long color shows…so that should count for something.)

TSoD also has a press release up on eOne Entertainment’s honkin’ big It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series collection…which has been moved up from its previous October 11 scheduled release to October 25.  (Classic television fans may have to move some money around.)

But back to Timeless Media.  On November 15th, the company will give fans a real treat with the release of Medic, a six-disc collection that will contain fifty of the surviving shows from the groundbreaking medical drama that aired on NBC from 1954 to 1956.  Before he achieved TV immortality as Paladin, Richard Boone played Dr. Konrad Styner on this medical anthology created by James E. Moser (a pal of Jack Webb’s, Moser wrote many Dragnet episodes and also a few Dr. Kildares as well)—who later went on to write Ben Casey.  Styner was occasionally the focal point of many installments on Medic but he served primarily as the show’s host, and the series soon gained a reputation for gritty realism and rapt attention to the intricate details involved in medical procedures.  (The show’s theme song, Blue Star, also became a pop hit for Felicia Sanders in 1955.)  There were a total of 59 episodes of Medic filmed…nine of which have disappeared into the ether, so the remaining fifty will be spotlighted on this collection—which is thirty-three shows more than I have (I have a few of the P.D. Medic collections, and it’s not a bad little show).  This is a nice find for vintage TV fans, and I may have to roust the couch cushions when it hits the streets in November.

Also on that date is another television rarity from Timeless in The Wide Country, a short-lived TV oater that aired on NBC from 1962-63 that starred Earl Holliman and Andrew Prine as Mitch and Andy Guthrie—a pair of “lusty men” (and I use that in the Nicholas Ray sense) who made the rounds on the rodeo circuit with Mitch (Holliman) as the older, more experienced rider and Andy (Prine) as the “kid brudder” he was trying to discourage.  The show was similar in theme to another series that premiered that same season in Stoney Burke (starring a pre-Hawaii Five-O Jack Lord); Burke only lasted one year and Country’s problem was that it was in a suicidal time slot against ABC’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet/The Donna Reed Show and CBS’ Mister Ed./Perry Mason’s first half-hour.  The eight-disc set will contain all twenty-eight episodes of the series (plus the original show’s pilot, which starred the late Cliff Robertson)…I’ve only seen one of the installments, “Step Over the Sky” (01/10/63), which was released on one of Mill Creek’s TV westerns box sets a while back…but it made me curious to see a few more, so now I’ll get that chance.

In other TV-on-DVD news, I have to hand it to CBS-Paramount: sure, they have very little respect for classic TV fans, particularly with those razzle frazzle ricken racken split-season abominations…but once they’ve announced the release of one volume, the second volume is usually not far behind on the schedule.  (Sorry about that…my arm hit the sarcasm switch.)  Part one of the sixth season of legal drama warhorse Perry Mason will hit the streets next Tuesday…followed by the other shoe dropping a mere seven weeks later on November 22nd.  (I really need to find honest work so I can start replenishing the missing Masons in my collection…rahlly I should.)  The following week (October 11), the first volume in Gunsmoke’s fifth season will be released (this one will soon be on the way, thanks to some birthday largess I scored from sister Debbie—thanks, Snip!)…and Volume Numero Dos arrives in stores December 13th.  (I think in the readers’ reviews section over at Amazon.com for Gunsmoke: Season 5, Volume 1 there was some angry invective from a senior complaining about how long it was taking CBS DVD to release the Gunsmokes and I believe that he posited at the rate the company is going he’d be dead by the time they got around to the hour-long episodes.  I found that…heartbreakingly sad, to be honest.)

But on a lighter note, Lucy fans will be able to rejoice that the penultimate season of The Lucy Show will be released in between Mason and Gunsmoke on December 6.  This will be an interesting release because of the fifth season’s 22 episodes twenty-one have already been released on various public domain collections (including one from Mill Creek that I purchased many years back)—the lone holdout is “Lucy Puts Main Street on the Map,” originally telecast on January 30, 1967.  There are about thirty episodes of The Lucy Show that are considered P.D. material…which is why CBS-Paramount’s releases all feature “The Official (blank) Season” in their descriptions, as if they were saying: “Take that!  You pretenders to the throne!”  I will say this, though.  When the company included the Lucy Show episode “Lucy and the Efficiency Expert” on what appears to be their solo Phil Silvers Show/Sgt. Bilko release (let us all bow our heads) it was a superior print to my P.D. copy, in which the soundtrack is painfully out-of-sync.

No word yet on when MPI is going to resume with the releases for Lucille Ball’s follow-up sitcom, Here’s Lucy…but TSoD has an announcement that the fourth season of The Donna Reed Show (MPI obtained the rights to Donna from Virgil Films & Entertainment/Arts Alliance America…and they’ve also got the fifth season of the family sitcom in the hopper, too) is up for pre-order at Amazon.com, with a release date of December 20th.  (TSoD has no idea what the listing “Lost Episodes” entails…and I don’t think I want to know, unless Jeff and Mary Stone were doing something that would probably have been classified back then as “icky.”)  Now…I’ve kind of ragged on The Donna Reed Show in the past for its stifling conformity, disturbing male chauvinism and bland, white-bread WASP sensibility…and I…where was I going with this, anyway?  Oh…but besides all that I’m pleased to see that MPI is going to bat for this sitcom classic…because when you consider the alternative, I could be shelling out an arm and a leg for a Shout! Factory Select release (*cough* Father Knows Best *cough*).

Well, let’s wrap this up with the best news I’ve heard all week—there’s been no official news on TSoD about this, but Mick Clews of The British Phil Silvers Appreciation Society announced on Facebook Tuesday that Shananchie Entertainment will release the second season of Nat Hiken’s classic creation Car 54, Where are You? to DVD in February 2012.  This will be sensational news for fans of the show, described memorably by my blogging pal Our Lady of Great Caftan as “divided into two types of people, those who revere Nat Hiken and ‘Car 54, Where Are You?’ and Classic Becky!”  Testify!

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Marilyn said...

It's not a TV show, but I was gobsmacked when watching "Invitation to the Dance," the Gene Kelly danceathon and saw that Hanna Barbera were responsible for the animated chapter. After Kelly's unsuccessful attempt to dance with Mickey Mouse, I guess he didn't ever bother approaching Disney again.

Elisson said...

Two words: Arnold. Stang.

DorianTB said...

Ivan, I loved your salute to TOP CAT! I've been a fan of TC and the boys (cats?) since I first saw it on TV as a little tyke growing up in the Bronx. Great Hanna-Barbera blend of Sgt. Bilko and The Bowery Boys, always outsmarting the put-upon Officer Dibble. Benny the Ball was always my favorite. Team Bartilucci has made sure we introduced our daughter Siobhan to the classics, including TOP CAT. Heck, she's already come across many of them on YouTube or Boomerang, and she's always amazed that Vinnie and I know who they are! :-) Great post!

Anonymous said...

Wow, somebody thought to release The Wide Country! There are some fuzzy, audio-out-of-sync clips from each episode on YouTube, and I thought it looked like a really interesting show. I wonder if it'll eventually make it to a streaming service like The Virginian has.

Brent McKee said...

Speaking of lamenting a generation for not experiencing something that we loved, consider this: We are the probably last generation that will hear Rossini's "William Tell Overture" and automatically mutter under our breaths (and sometimes aloud - not advisable in a concert hall) "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi Ho Silver!' The Lone Ranger rides again!"

ClassicBecky said...

Well, I've decided that I AM the lone sane voice in a crazy world that adores ... I just can't say it anymore. I know that I am being followed by a haunted police car with 2 goofs hanging out of either side yelling at me endlessly "Like me! Like me!" I will never escape it...NEVER!!!

I want the Medic. I absolutely love Richard Boone. Actually fell in love with him as Paladin before I knew about this one. I don't know how that happened if Paladin came later. That black and silver ensemble, that calling card, that rugged face, that great music! Oh, I was talking about Medic, wasn't I? I like that too.

So Ivan, want to have a face-off someday? You can quote from Car 54 and I'll quote from Hamlet, and we'll see who can remember the most! (Snob alert!) LOL!

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

We are the probably last generation that will hear Rossini's "William Tell Overture" and automatically mutter under our breaths (and sometimes aloud - not advisable in a concert hall) "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty 'Hi Ho Silver!' The Lone Ranger rides again!"

Thanks for making me laugh, Br'er Brent...I think they used to use that as the definition of an intellectual ("a person who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger")...which can be interpreted as we've raised an entirely new generation of intellectuals...