Friday, October 28, 2011

I’m Shreve…he’s Dickens…and that’s Fenster

There were a number of classic-TV-coming-to-DVD announcements up at this week, but the one that I’m really juiced about is a collection that I actually found out about before seeing it on TSoD (I got a heads-up via e-mail)—the long-awaited Volume 1 set of I’m Dickens…He’s Fenster, due to be released on April 10th next year.  However, if you take advantage of the exclusive pre-order option at the show’s website, it will ship to you beginning December 6th…more on that in a moment.

I’ve talked a bit about this show on the blog in the past, but for those of you with only a passing familiarity with the series I’ll try to bring you up to speed.  I’m Dickens…He’s Fenster was created and produced by the late Leonard Stern, the veteran comedy scribe who wrote for the likes of The Honeymooners and The Phil Silvers Show and later served as the executive producer on Get Smart.  Before Smart—and before later creating He & She and McMillan & Wife—Stern concocted this show starring future Addams Family patriarch John Astin (as Harry Dickens) and future Mr. Shirley Jones Marty Ingels (as Arch Fenster) as a pair of comically inept carpenters who were also best friends.  The show also co-starred future “Amanda Bellows” Emmaline Henry as Harry’s wife Kate, and Moundsville, WV’s own Frank DeVol as the boys’ deadpan boss, Myron Bannister.  Other performers seen regularly on the show include character veterans Dave Ketchum, Noam Pitlik and Henry Beckman as Arch and Harry’s co-workers.

The show ran on ABC for a single season in 1962-63 (a total of 32 episodes), and even though it did extremely well against its competition (Sing Along With Mitch on NBC, Route 66 on CBS) the network tossed it onto the scrapheap…then had a change of heart and tried to put it back on but by that time everyone on the series had moved on to other projects.  The show was seen in syndication briefly afterward, but is pretty much forgotten today save for a few diehard fans.  TV Time Machine and Lightyear Entertainment obtained the rights to the fine-grain 35mm masters of all the show’s episodes a while back and had originally planned to release a “Best of” collection; then wiser folk intervened and decided to go whole hog with the entire enchilada (don’t let anybody doubt that I can’t mix a metaphor with the best of them). 

The company’s commitment to release the entire series rather than the original “greatest hits” idea is the main reason why I’m not bitching about the split-season thing (though if you listen closely, the sound of teeth grinding you hear are probably mine); I’ve amassed a small collection of the shows (courtesy of your friendly neighborhood bootlegger) and think the show is falling-down funny…though your mileage may vary, of course.  Dickens/Fenster has always reminded me of Car 54, Where are You? (probably because of Stern’s Bilko connection) so I’m sure the show will leave at least one person stone-faced…but the program featured some first-rate physical comedy and funny one-liners—and it got the seal of approval from the legendary Stan Laurel, which is pretty heady praise as far as I’m concerned.  (If you’ve never seen an episode, the pilot for the series—“A Small Matter of Being Fired”—is available for viewing at the I’m Dickens…He’s Fenster website.)

I’m Dickens…He’s Fenster, Volume 1 is a 3-DVD collection containing the first sixteen episodes of the sitcom (newly remastered), and is chock full of extras including commentaries from Astin, Ingels, Stern (he worked on this project before his death in June), Ketchum and guest stars Lee “Catwoman” Meriwether and Yvonne “Batgirl” Craig.  (There are also interviews with some of the principals, and also directors like Arthur Hiller and Norman Abbott.)  A few featurettes about individual episodes are also on tap, including one for the show that I think is probably the funniest of the Dickens/Fenster outings, “The Joke.” 

Other goodies include commercial bumpers and network promos, and a collectible booklet.  This DVD-set will be sold in stores next April…but you can pre-order it ahead of the crowd (I just did, as a matter of fact…and I’m not proud of this, but it involved mugging a Girl Scout) and if you do so, you’ll receive a nifty bonus in the form of a collectible postcard autographed by one of the stars.  (I should point out here that Meriwether and Craig participated in this…and I think that’s stretching the “show’s stars” description a bit.)  Plus, everyone who orders the set will get an acknowledgement as a “co-architect” when Volume 2 is released, and a “members-only” website (kind of like a secret clubhouse) will be made available with videos, photos, scripts, etc.  This is a limited edition deal, so let’s line up single file and try to avoid any ugly pushing or shoving, shall we?

Another TV rarity soon to make its DVD debut…well, that’s actually a misnomer because the 1963-64 series Arrest and Trial—starring Ben “Run For Your Life” Gazzara and Chuck “Rifleman” Connors—has actually seen disc action before in the form of two previous releases (each containing nine episodes) from Timeless Media Group in October 2007 and March 2008.  But this November 22, Timeless will release all thirty episodes of the show that predated the celebrated Law & Order with a ten-disc collection that I must reluctantly admit makes me regret that I purchased Parts 1 and 2 in the first place (sort of like the Checkmate and Tales of Wells Fargo releases).  So I’ll probably wait on this one a while; incidentally, if you’re not all that familiar with the series you might be interested in reading what Stephen Bowie of The Classic TV History Blog has to say in this well-worth-your-time essay.

Timeless will also release Season 2 of TV’s The Gene Autry Show to DVD on that same November 22 date (the company offered up Gene’s freshman season this past summer) in a 4-DVD set containing 26 episodes.  They’ll also be fully restored (since the prints have been culled from Autry’s personal film and television archive) and the SRP ($24.98) on this would seem to suggest that if you shop around a little online you might be able to get it for less.

I’ve always been effusively supportive of Timeless and their releases because of their tireless efforts to pull rarities out of the vaults and make them available to the TV-curious (let’s face it; you’re not likely to see any of this material on cable anytime soon—though Encore Westerns did run The Gene Autry Show at one time, to their credit) but every now and then the company is entitled to a mulligan, even though I can’t endorse how they handled it.  Back in April of this year, Timeless released a 3-DVD set of the 1961 boob tube oater Whispering Smith, a western-detective show starring Audie Murphy that filmed twenty-six episodes between 1959 and 1960—twenty of which aired over NBC between May and September.  The set contained 25 of the 26 episodes—the missing installment, “The Interpreter,” could not be located in either NBC-Universal or UCLA’s archives.

A little more detective work turned up “Interpreter” in the Library of Congress’ vaults, and so later production runs of the DVD set included the missing episode, marked with a yellow sticker to indicate such.  But for the fans that purchased the set originally…well, I’ve related enough Fugitive stories here to the point where you don’t have to guess that they got the fuzzy end of the lollipop.  The door on this fox paw isn’t completely closed; Timeless hasn’t officially announced whether or not they’ll institute a disc replacement program…but they haven’t ruled out the possibility, either.  What they did do was put “Interpreter” up on their website for public viewing (don’t try to download it, though…it will not work) as sort of a half-hearted contrite measure…but until the company dopes out a way to make things right for those people who bought the earlier release of Whispering they’re going to have to use a little pancake for that black eye of theirs.

While I’m on the subject of The Fugitive, CBS Home Entertainment has announced a recall of the show’s Most Wanted Edition boxset (which was due out November 1) “because it was inadvertently manufactured with discs that have potential technical issues.”  CBS-Paramount did not elaborate further, only to say that they will issue a new release date once everything has been ironed out—but a commenter at Stephen’s blog hints that the company has once again screwed up with the music and that might be the reason for yanking the product off the shelves.  I wish I could express my disappointment with this development, but CBS-Paramount has dicked so many people over with this series that all I can express is a detached ennui.  In other “not-ready-for-store-shelves” news, the release of eOne Entertainment’s It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series set has been moved up to November 15th.

In the fall of 1979 what was at that time television’s longest-running crime drama, Hawaii Five-O, started its twelfth and final season on the air without the services of James MacArthur…who decided to hang it up and was subsequently awarded a medal of valor for having put up with star Jack Lord for eleven years.  The final season of Five-O is not held in particularly high esteem by the show’s fans—but it does feature the final showdown between Steve McGarrett (Lord) and his longtime nemesis Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh) in the series wrap-up, “Woe to Wo Fat.”  (I know many Five-O devotees don’t care for it, but the completist in me enjoyed it…especially since it left an “out” at the end.)  Anyway, the show’s final nineteen episodes will be available on a 5-disc set due out January 10th—the same day a honkin’ big collection entitled Hawaii Five-O: The Complete Original Series will also hit the streets and will not, according to TSoD’s David Lambert, “be a special release of the type we normally cover, but rather just a shrinkwrapped ‘brick’ of the existing season sets bundled together.” 

Inside the offices of CBS Home Entertainment:

FIRST EXECUTIVE: Sir, we’re on track for the Hawaii Five-O: The Complete Original Series release in January…those fans that haven’t yet picked up any of the sets will be able to do so in one fell swoop…
BOSS EXECUTIVE: I see…and what sort of extras will be offered?
BOSS EXECUTIVE: Extras, you idiot!  Bonus material!  What will motivate consumers to buy this collection a second time?!!
SECOND EXECUTIVE: Well, it would seem to me that if people have already purchased each set individually there’d be no reason for a second purchase…would there?
BOSS EXECUTIVE: That’s why you’re a mere second executive, and I’m the boss, Wilkins…how much money do you think the company is going to make if we don’t put something in this collection that wasn’t available previously?
SECOND EXECUTIVE: Gosh…I wasn’t thinking, sir…
BOSS EXECUTIVE: Well, it’s about time you started, you dunderhead…I want some ideas thrown out, and now!
INTERN: If I may offer a suggestion even though I’m not qualified to speak, sir…there’s a second season episode of the series that was removed from syndication after its initial airing and hasn’t been since…
BOSS EXECUTIVE: Go on, lowly office plebe…I’m listening…
INTERN: If this new set were to contain that “lost” episode, “Bored, She Hung Herself”—fans would line up around the block to shell out money one more time!
(The Boss Executive is quiet…but only for a moment.  He then begins to laugh in a diabolical fashion while stroking a white cat sleeping in his lap.  His laughter is soon joined by the intern and the other two executives, as a third sits at an organ and plays the fictional scene out.)

By the way, those weren’t human actors in the above sketch—those were actual weasels, made to look as if they were speaking with the use of clever CGI effects.  Give it up for them!

We’ll close our little production (since my chances of getting any freebies from CBS-Paramount are pretty well shot) with one last little TV-on-DVD nugget: Time-Life will follow up their June release of The Dean Martin Show: The Best of, Collector’s Edition with The Dean Martin Show: The King of Cool, Collector’s Edition.  It’s a six-DVD set priced at $59.95 SRP and will, according to TSoD’s Lambert, “contain as much material and music as Time Life is able to get clearances for.”  Loosely translated, that means that if you’re expecting to see the original telecasts of the popular 1965-74 comedy-variety hour…then you’re seriously boned.  (Many of the show’s fans who purchased the first set were disappointed, so I’m not entirely certain why Time-Life is going to the well a second time unless they’re pure dagnasty evil.)  That sort of thing does not serve “The King of Cool” well…and really, everybody knows Steve McQueen is the coolness monarch.

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1 comment:

ClassicBecky said...

I heard that! -- "Dickens/Fenster has always reminded me of Car 54, Where are You? ... so I’m sure the show will leave at least one person stone-faced" Gee, I wonder who you could mean? Uh huh.

To be fair, I don't remember that show well enough to say I didn't like it. Although if it reminds you of Car 54, you are probably right. However, never forget in all this that I LOVED Bilko!

I had completely forgotten about Whispering Smith. These posts are fun just to be reminded of the ghosts of TV past.