Saturday, December 20, 2008
The Best of Password: The CBS Years (1962-67) (BCI, $29.98) is now on DVD...but you'd better buy it while you can! For those of you not yet made aware, Navarre - the parent company of BCI - decided to close operations at BCI this past week, leaving any additional game show releases in question, as well as leaving doubts about the long term availability of this recently released DVD set. It is entirely possible the initial production run will be the only production run. Given that two of my favorite game shows were in the release pipeline for 2009 - Tattletales and What's My Line – I'd just like to take a moment to strongly encourage Navarre to continue to use the license negotiated by BCI so that fans may enjoy new titles *like* What's My Line, in addition to subsequent editions of Match Game and The Price is Right.
In regards to this release, however, contained within this DVD are 32 episodes of the classic game show Password - all from the 1960s CBS run of the show (hence, the title...). Included are 25 nighttime episodes, as well as seven daytime shows. 24 of the 25 nighttime episodes are in black and white, while the final nighttime episode as well as the 7 daytime shows included are presented in color. Celebrities included in the episodes presented include Carol Burnett, Dick Van Dyke, Jane Fonda, Jack Benny, Robert Goulet, Sammy Davis Jr., Betty White (who ultimately would marry show host Allen Ludden during the series' run), Lucille Ball, Bob Newhart, Vivian Vance, Gene Kelly, James Stewart, Woody Allen, Nancy Sinatra, Frank Gifford, Elizabeth Montgomery...(takes a breath)...Bob Denver, Irene Ryan, Donna Douglas, Martin Landau, Lauren Bacall, Eddie Albert, Bea Benederet, Peter Lawford; not to mention the first THREE hosts of The Tonight Show - Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson.
As some of you may be buying the set for the extremely lengthy list of celebrities involved and not the game itself, a quick primer: Password was a game show in which two teams, featuring a contestant and their celebrity partner, attempted to get their partner to guess a word by giving them one-word clues. For example if the password were "dog," the easiest clue to give would be the word "cat," with an inflection to indicate that you're looking for an opposite. You couldn't use hand gestures, and you were limited to only one word at a time. If your partner guessed incorrectly, then the other team got to attempt to play the same word. Control alternated until the word was guessed correctly and points were earned, or the word couldn't be guessed in the maximum number of turns, at which point a new word was played. Guessing a word on the first clue was worth 10 points; the second try was worth 9, with the value decreasing by 1 point for every clue given. First to 25 points wins $250 and goes to the bonus game. Winning team plays the bonus game, in which the clue-giver has 60 seconds to get their partner to guess up to 5 different words. Each word guessed is worth $50, with the top payout being again $250, for a total of $500 per game. Depending on the point in the run, contestants may or may not be allowed to play an additional game.
With that over with, the episodes as presented, are about what you would expect for 45 to 50-year-old television programs whose episodes were never expected to even be reran, let alone released for home enjoyment four decades later. The episodes on discs one through three are all in black and white as the series was only preserved in black and white until very late in the show run. The video is fairly decent, though there are issues with a couple of episodes on the first disc - one in particular has significant issues. The 5th and 6th episodes on disc one (N022 – Jack Benny and his wife Joan; N028 – Anne Bancroft & Robert Goulet) both suffer from strange instances of color noise and distortions in the episodes. The Benny episode is particularly bad, and has another, more major, flaw in the audio. The audio is distorted through the entire episode, with a garbled sound affecting some vocals and sound effects. This episode was never rerun on GSN for precisely for this reason, and it is assumed that the problem exists with the master copy itself. The rest of the episodes look fairly well, and there are no other major flaws.
The episodes are presented in 2 two-disc slimcases inside a box. The packaging art on the slimcases is exceptionally clever, with the artwork depicting tickets to see the show. Having seen a number of old tickets to game show tapings in my day, these images are most likely based on scans of legitimate tickets, with only minor changes (such as insertion of disc numbers) made. The ticket on the first case is from a January 28, 1964 taping. The ticket on case #2 is from November 11, 1965. Also included in the set are "liner notes," whose front cover features a third ticket, this from the September 21, 1964 taping. The liner notes feature a full set of credits, a run-down of the format of the show and its history, information on its creating, and a set of Did You Know trivia bits. At the bottom of the second and final page is a dedication to Allen Ludden and Betty White, as well as credit to the two people who compiled the set and thanks to a few other individuals. While the liner notes aren't nearly as comprehensive as those included with their Price is Right or Match Game DVD sets in particular, they're still a great addition.
The only real problems with this DVD set are the rampant issues with the Jack Benny episode (which, as stated earlier, has never aired on Game Show Network in the channel's 14-year existence for precisely this reason), the smaller problems with the Bancroft/Goulet episode...and the fact that the publisher doesn't exist anymore as they were folded a few days ago. Strong sales of this title in particular could convince Navarre to push forward with future releases nonetheless, so if you're looking for a cheap stocking-stuffer or you're a fan of any of the celebrities involved OR if you're a fan of game shows or you want to see more game shows on DVD, then PLEASE purchase this DVD set. If you discover you're not a fan of the show after purchasing, then fine - sell it online or to one of the retailers who purchase used DVDs. Give the show a chance though and I think you'll like it. Or another reason to but this set is if you discovered the format in its new incarnation on Million Dollar Password on CBS Sundays and love that. Even if you don't, I still might get to see What's My Line, more volumes of The Price is Right, and so much more on DVD if enough people show interest in this set so I can't really recommend this set enough. STRONG RECOMMENDATION.
-- Reviewed by Seth Thrasher
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New on DVD/Blu-ray (December/January)
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