Saturday, March 27, 2010

Digital Digest: Lucy Calls the President DVD Review; A Look at International DVDs

Welcome to the very first edition of Sitcoms Online Digital Digest, our new weekly feature where we will discuss all thing related to our sitcoms in the digital world! This will be a feature of our website every Saturday from now on. Our main focus will be on home media releases (that includes both DVD and Blu-ray) of sitcoms, including news of recently announced home media releases and a reminder of home media releases for the upcoming week. Digital, though, implies much more than just home media formats. We will also talk about things on the internet that are sitcom relevant, particularly relating to watching sitcoms on the internet as well as some discussion of internet video features relating to sitcoms. But that's not all! Each week, we will conclude with one or two "feature stories," where we will go in-depth on a DVD topic. But if you are a fan of blog reviews, there is no need to worry--they aren't going anywhere! Most weeks, at least one of our "feature stories" will be a blog review. This week, we are going to review The Lucille Ball Specials -- Lucy Calls the President. We are also going to take a look at some of our favorite American sitcoms on DVD, but with a twist. We are going to look at foreign releases of American sitcoms, which sometimes can be different from the versions released in the United States. We are simply trying to make the blog a much more interesting destination for your Saturday routine, just like your routine on Sunday of reading the Sunday newspaper with a cup of coffee in your hand! So enough of the introduction... time to get down to business with the inaugural edition of Sitcoms Online Digital Digest!


DIGITAL NEWS

Rhoda Morgenstern (and Shout! Factory) gives New York a third "last chance" in Rhoda -- Season Three, set for release on July 6. It comes at a $29.98 MSRP and is expected to include all unedited episodes. But Shout! Factory has yet another release of another classic sitcom set for a release on April 20. The Bill Cosby Show -- Season Two contains the second (and final) season of Bill Cosby's early 1970s sitcom on a four disc set. It is available for $39.99, but it is being sold exclusively through Shout! Factory's direct-to-consumer program.

Two of Sunday night's animated sitcoms will have new releases on June 15. Family Guy - Volume 8 will include 15 episodes from seasons seven and eight of the series, and will include deleted scenes and a Family Guy Karaoke featurette. No commentaries have been announced yet, but it is expected that the set will have them, probably on every episode. It comes at a $49.98 MSRP. American Dad -- Volume 5 contains 14 episodes, with commentaries for most episodes, deleted scenes, and a "Power Hour Drinking Game" featurette (we aren't quite sure what that is yet). It comes at a $39.98 MSRP. Both sets are being released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

MPI Home Video has been on a roll lately with their recent announcements of The Honeymooners -- Second Honeymoon and The Honeymooners -- Valentine Special, both being specials from the 1970s and set for a May 4 release. Coming up in just a little over a week, on April 6 (and we will even have a review of it today), is The Lucille Ball Specials -- Lucy Calls the President, a 1970s Lucille Ball special featuring both Gale Gordon and Vivian Vance. But there is even bigger news for Lucille Ball fans with the announcement of Here's Lucy -- Season Three, set for release on June 15. It will include a plethora of special features, including introductions on every episode (from Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr.), home movies, syndication promos, photos, and even a crossover episode from Danny Thomas' series, Make Room for Granddaddy. And the best part? It comes at a low $29.98 MSRP.

MGM has announced some new titles that will be available exclusively through CreateSpace, a DVD-R format where DVDs are created on-demand for customers at Amazon.com. While there are no sitcoms in this batch (which is already available for preorder), Flipper -- Season Two, The New Adventures of Flipper -- Season One, and Highway Patrol -- Season One are among the TV series being included. MGM has very few sitcoms in their library, and much of what they do have aside from The Addams Family (which has been released in its entirety) has been licensed out to Shout! Factory. Hopefully the abandoned series Green Acres could be a potential future release through CreateSpace, but considering that MGM will likely be under new ownership in the near future, it is entirely possible that DVD releases from MGM could go in an entirely different direction.

A&E Home Video has two releases coming up for sitcoms airing on A&E's sister network, Lifetime. Sherri -- The Complete Season One contains all 14 episodes of the first season, along with some special features on a two disc set at a $19.95 MSRP. Rita Rocks -- The Complete First Season contains 20 episodes and special features on a three disc set. Both sets will be released on April 27.

Mill Creek Entertainment has announced several re-releases of action dramas previously released by Anchor Bay, including Hunter -- The Complete Second Season, 21 Jump Street -- The Complete Second Season, The Greatest American Hero -- The Complete First Season, and The Greatest American Hero -- The Complete Series. All are scheduled to be released on May 18, with the season sets having a $14.98 MSRP and The Greatest American Hero -- The Complete Series having a $29.98 MSRP. But if you just can't wait, you may already be able to find some of these releases at some stores at a nice discount! Target has been selling multi-season packs of all of the series mentioned for $15.00 since January (stock seems to be dwindling down now, though), and Best Buy has recently started selling (within the past week or so) The Greatest American Hero -- The Complete Series at the very low price of $19.99. These appear to be available only in stores, and not online.

Finally, CBS DVD is preparing My Three Sons -- The Second Season, Volume Two for a June 15 release. The set will contain the final 18 episodes of the sophomore season of the series.


UPCOMING WEEK PREVIEW

Next week (March 30) brings us a couple of DVD releases of interest to sitcom fans. The Abbott and Costello Show -- The Complete Series Collector's Edition from E1 Entertainment contains every episode of a series that often ranks as one of the greatest series of all-time. Shout! Factory has two sitcom releases, including Sports Night -- Season One (which has actually already been released as part of their previous Complete Series compilation) and Rhoda -- Season Two. The best part about the Rhoda set is that every episode is unedited and presented in much higher quality than the release of Rhoda -- Season One. You can read our review of Rhoda -- Season Two by clicking here. At the time of this edition of Digital Digest, we had not yet received review copies of the other two releases, but you can read our review of Sports Night -- The Complete Series by clicking here. Check back on our DVD Reviews page for reviews of these two sets coming shortly.


BLOG FEATURE REVIEW:

This week, we are going to take a look at another DVD of The Lucille Ball Specials. After Here's Lucy left the air in 1974, Lucille Ball began a series of specials for CBS where she played characters similar to her roles in her previous series. In July, we took a look at the first release by MPI Home Video, The Lucille Ball Specials -- Lucy Gets Lucky/Three for Two. Now, we are going to take a look at Lucy Calls the President, a special from 1977 co-starring Vivian Vance, Gale Gordon, and Ed McMahon.

DVD Review: The Lucille Ball Specials -- Lucy Calls the President
by skees53

The Lucille Ball Specials -- Lucy Calls the President (MPI, $14.98) is one of Lucille Ball's specials from CBS that aired following the conclusion of Here's Lucy. Airing in 1977, Ball plays Lucy Whittaker, a housewife from a small town named Bundy in Indiana, who calls President Jimmy Carter, and before she knows it, she finds herself planning for him to have dinner at the Whittaker house.

This special is one of the best of the series of specials, featuring a cast that reunites several of her former co-stars from previous series, as well as Ed McMahon and Steve Allen. Ed McMahon plays Floyd Whittaker, Lucy's husband, while Gale Gordon plays his father, Omar Whittaker, a staunch Republican who is less than pleased with the idea of a Democrat coming to dinner at the Whittaker house. Vivian Vance plays Lucy's best friend and neighbor Viv, who insists upon coming to dinner. Rounding out the cast is Mary Wickes as Lucy's Aunt Millie, and James Broadhead and Mary Jane Croft as the mayor and his wife. Steve Allen appears as himself, taping an interview with Lucy as she prepares for the visit from President Carter. Unlike the previous release of The Lucille Ball Specials, this one is more like a standard sitcom, being shot with multiple cameras and containing a live studio audience. It was also shot on videotape as opposed to film, and has the distinction of being the only thing that Lucille Ball ever starred in on tape.

The special begins with Lucy making a call to the White House to speak to the president, none other than Jimmy Carter. During the phone call, however, one thing leads to another, and before she knows it, President Carter decides that he will personally come to Bundy and have dinner at the Whittaker house. Of course, in the typical style of any Lucille Ball comedy, chaos and hilarity ensues as Bundy prepares for Mr. Carter's visit. Word spreads in Bundy like wildfire, and Viv insists upon coming over, using her friendship with Lucy as a reason to be invited. When Lucy's Aunt Millie wants to come, Viv tries to tell her that she isn't invited, which backfires when Millie threatens to have Viv's home foreclosed upon (and thus Millie is invited). The mayor insists upon being invited as well, and before Lucy knows it, everybody has invited every single person in town to dinner.

Now planning a dinner for 42 people (as opposed to the ten that she had initially planned to have), Lucy has her hands full preparing for the visit. Steve Allen drops by for an interview where everything goes wrong (including the sprinkler system going off in the lawn while taping the interview). The Secret Service makes a visit to the Whittaker house to make sure that everything is fine at the Whittaker house while Lucy and Floyd are at the grocery, which creates a serious problem when they return home and see the "prowler" roaming their living room. More shenanigans ensue, leading up to the big moment, which actually turns out to be a major disappointment at first, at least until Lucy gets a very special phone call from President Carter's mother, playing herself. The special appears to be completely unedited, running at 51 minutes and 3 seconds.

The DVD is packaged in a standard DVD case, as would be expected for a single special such as this one. The cover art has a photograph of Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Gale Gordon, and Ed McMahon from the special. The back of the case has two photos, one showing Lucy on the telephone and the other showing a photo of Lucy and Viv. The disc artwork has the same photo as shown on the front cover of the DVD.

The menus are pretty straightforward, with the main menu having the theme music from the special and options of Play with Introduction, Play without Introduction, Special Features, and Subtitles On/Off. These are all pretty straightforward. Special Features takes you to another menu that simply lists the special features. Chapters are placed all throughout the special at all of the usual places.

The video and audio quality of this DVD is excellent, with no real problems to report. There aren't any defects in the video other than some slight aging, and the audio, presented in mono, is loud and clear. English subtitles are available on the main feature.

The DVD includes special features, and plenty of them at that. James Broadhead, who played the mayor, gives a brief introduction (1:42) that can optionally be played right before the beginning of the special. "From Rehearsal to Broadcast" (37:05) is a very lengthy featurette that contains a ton of lost footage from rehearsal of the special. It compares the rehearsal scenes to what we actually see in the special, and is very fun to watch. We even get to see shots from the different cameras used in the multiple camera setup here. "Working with Lucy" (18:39) is an all-new interview with James Broadhead, where he talks about his experiences of working with Lucille Ball. This featurette appears to be something that was intended to be included on one of the Here's Lucy DVD sets, but it is probably more appropriate for this set anyway. He talks a lot about his experiences of working with Lucy, with a lot of attention to her personality on the set. It was very interesting to watch. Perhaps the best feature, though, is "Lucy on The Tonight Show" (12:12), where we get to see a clip of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson from the late 1960s where Carson interviews Lucy. It even includes some rehearsal footage from a Here's Lucy episode that Carson and Ed McMahon guest starred on. This is presented in black and white. "Let's Talk to Lucy" (18:22) is another edition of Lucille Ball's radio show, in a 1965 interview where she interviews Steve Allen. She seems to be very honored to have the opportunity to interview him, which is very much a change from how others would be honored to interview Lucy.

This is an excellent DVD that is a must-own for any Lucille Ball fan. This is the best special that I have seen from this so far, and many fans agree with that, particularly as it includes a final reunion of most of the cast of The Lucy Show. Specials like this wouldn't air on TV these days, but Lucille Ball was clearly such a powerful television star that she was able to get these on the air. It is too bad that more of the specials couldn't be as great as this one. Still, I look forward to seeing the other releases, and hope that MPI continues to do as good of a job on them as they did on this one.

(4.5/5 stars)

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BLOG FEATURE STORY:

American Sitcoms on DVD Around the World
by skees53

Take any DVD that you have out of your collection and look at the packaging. Chances are, if it is a release from any prominent studio, you'll see a little globe somewhere on the package that has the number "1" inside of it. If you are DVD savvy, then you already know what that means. But if not, I'll briefly explain it. It means that the DVD is manufactured such that it can only be viewed on DVD players manufactured to be used in Region 1, which includes the United States and Canada. A detailed explanation of regional coding can be found on Wikipedia.

We all know, however, that many of our favorite American series are popular in other countries besides our own, particularly in Europe. So one might suspect that the DVDs are encoded slightly different and that number "1" on the globe is replaced with another number. That is the case sometimes, but sometimes, the releases are much different than the United States releases, containing different edits of episodes, different special features, different audio tracks, and sometimes even different studios.

One Region 2 (that includes much of western Europe) DVD set that is drastically different from it's Region 1 counterpart is the first season of ALF. In the United States, Lionsgate Home Entertainment released ALF -- Season One in a highly disappointing set that included severely butchered episodes, some even running under 20 minutes. But in Region 2, Warner Home Video Germany released ALF -- Die Komplette Erste Staffel, containing episodes that are all unedited with the exception of one minor edit made for music copyright reasons. Lionsgate claimed that there were video quality issues with the first season episodes of ALF, but in watching the German release from Warner, there didn't appear to be any areas of concern at all.

Fans were disappointed with the releases of Roseanne -- The Complete First Season and The Cosby Show -- Season One in the United States, as they included all edited episodes. First Look Studios somewhat rectified the situation with The Cosby Show by releasing the first season unedited on The Cosby Show -- 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition Edition, but that set is now out-of-print, leaving only the edited first season available for purchase. In the United Kingdom, however, Universal Pictures UK has the rights to release both series, and has been steadily releasing both series on DVD with unedited episodes. Other companies have the rights to the series in other countries, and it appears that only the first season of the Region 1 versions have suffered from edits.

Still, it doesn't take a whole other company to produce a better quality DVD set for another country. While Paramount's release of Happy Days -- The Complete First Season was a very nice set, subsequent releases from CBS DVD (Paramount's successor) have been a complete disappointment with music replacements all over the place. However, if you take a look at the later seasons as they were released in Region 2, you'll find the episodes unedited as they were intended to be. The Region 1 release of Married... With Children -- The Complete Fourth Season was a disaster, with more than 1/3 of the episodes being edited episodes. However, in Germany, the series was released by Sony without any edits. There is even a special DVD release for the series in the United Kingdom that includes every episode and a special bonus features disc not available in the United States. There are also Complete Series sets available for Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie in the United Kingdom and Japan.

We have even reviewed a few Canadian titles from the studio VEI, which has released Kate & Allie, Gimme a Break!, Hardcastle and McCormick, and Riptide. The best part about the VEI titles is that their titles are encoded for Region 1, as Canada and the United States are in Region 1. All of these titles were abandoned (or, in the case of Hardcastle and McCormick, never even started) in the United States. The Canadian releases give viewers a chance to see their favorite series on DVD. My Favorite Martian -- The Complete Third Season was even released in Australia (with Region 1 encoding for fans in the United States) after Rhino abandoned the TV-on-DVD business, although MPI is now planning a new Region 1 release for the third season.

All of these series include multiple audio tracks, with English being included on virtually every single international DVD release of an American sitcom that I have researched. The menus are typically in English, but in some cases, the packaging and episode information may be in a foreign language. Still, most viewers can usually figure things out with a little research. In general, it seems that there are fewer special features available on the international DVDs, likely a result of the original series cast and crew being based in the United States and having no deep interest in the international releases. Still, there are many cases where the international releases are better than the Region 1 release.

Due to the regional encoding, you can't just put one of these DVDs in your player and expect it to play. But it is relatively easy to modify your DVD player to make foreign DVDs work on your DVD player. VideoHelp.com has an excellent resource that can be found here that will help you modify your DVD player to play these DVDs (although you have to do this at your own risk, as any errors or mistakes could potentially render your DVD player useless). There are countless other resources available around the internet that can help you modify your DVD player to play DVDs from other regions. You can even look on Amazon.com or eBay to find DVD players that are already modified to be region-free, although you will likely pay quite a bit of money to get something that you can do yourself. There is also a secret that some DVD manufacturers won't advertise on some generic brand DVD players that just cost a few bucks. Many of these are region-free out of the box. They do not advertise this due to legal constraints (it is not illegal to own a modified DVD player or DVDs from another region, but it is illegal to ADVERTISE a DVD player as being modified), so you would have to do your own research to find out which ones are indeed region free.

You can find some of these DVDs for sale on various websites around the internet, but the best places to look are the various websites owned by Amazon.com, particularly Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, and Amazon.de. Note that Amazon.de is completely in German, so you might need to use a translation site such as Yahoo! Babel Fish to translate for you. Before you finalize your order, the total amount of the order will be converted into US dollars, so that you know exactly how much you are spending.


LOOKING AHEAD

We'll be back next Saturday for Sitcoms Online Digital Digest, where we will have more news for you (as we will each and every week!), a review of Battlestar Galactica -- The Complete Series, and a very special review of the international release of ALF -- Die Komplette Erste Staffel (that is The Complete First Season for those who don't know German). You won't want to miss it! In the meantime, we would like to hear your thoughts about this new blog feature. Let us know what you think by posting comments on our message board or Tweet/Facebook us. We are definitely interest in hearing what you think!

Sitcoms Airing Tonight

Wednesday, July 30

The Middle - "The 100th" (ABC, 8:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Marking the 100th episode milestone of "The Middle," the citizens of Orson, Indiana celebrate the Orsontennial - the town's 100th anniversary. During this momentous event, Frankie and Mike find themselves begrudgingly trying to drive a giant cow float in the parade; Axl, Sean and Darrin resurrect Boss Co. and attempt to make some big bucks by setting up a VIP area to view the festivities; Sue, still crushing on Darrin, tries to make him jealous by pretending to be dating Brad again; and Brick tries to earn himself a place in Orson history by entering a contest to come up with the town's new motto, which will be used for the next 100 years.

The Goldbergs - "Lame Gretzky" (ABC, 8:30PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Even though he is terrible, Adam tries his best at ice hockey and hopes to impress Murray. Likewise, Murray works hard to show he enjoys watching Adam make home movies. Later, after starting a fight on the ice during a game, Adam gets suspended from playing hockey and admits to Murray his real intentions. Meanwhile, Beverly drives Erica crazy about her S.A.T.s.

Modern Family - "The Feud" (ABC, 9:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Phil is upset to have lost his elected office of social chair to his nemesis Gil Thorpe, and when he finds out Luke is competing against Gil’s kid in a wrestling match, it becomes his own personal battle. Claire is nervous for a big client meeting but things get extra hairy when Mitch and Cam ask her to pick up Lily from school and conveniently leave out the fact that her class just had a lice scare. Elsewhere, Gloria chaperones Manny’s school field trip to the museum.

The Middle - "Sleepless in Orson" (ABC, 9:30PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Frankie and Mike become concerned about Brick when he starts expressing a host of irrational fears spawned by a constant stream of news alerts showing up on his refurbished iPad. Meanwhile, Sue is both disgusted and intrigued when Derrick Glossner continues to surprise her with spontaneous kisses, and when Darrin attempts his own spinoff of Boss Co, Axl and Sean successfully shut down the new operation but end up having to finish the difficult job that their competition had started.

Young & Hungry - "Young & Punchy" (ABC Family, 8:00PM ET/PT)
Sparks fly between Gabi and a computer genius; Josh's new bathtub interests Elliot and Yolanda.

Mystery Girls - "Sister Issues" (ABC Family, 8:30PM ET/PT)
Holly gets a visit from her overachieving younger sister; Nick plots to boost Holly's spirits.

Hot in Cleveland - "The Animated Episode" (TV Land, 10:00PM ET/PT)
Our ladies go 2-D in a fun-filled animated episode that involves questionable beauty treatments, zombies, and a look at Cleveland had LeBron never left.

Jennifer Falls - "Dads and Dogs" (TV Land, 10:30PM ET/PT)
Jennifer is surprised when Gretchen’s absentee father comes back to town with the news that he’s suddenly become a success.

Wilfred - "Responsibility" (FXX, 10:00PM ET/PT)
Ryan helps his mother adjust to her new life as Wilfred deals with a new nemesis.

Love Thy Neighbor - "The Make-Up" (OWN, 9:00PM ET/PT)
Philip moves on.; Will apologizes to Linda.

Complete TV Listings


Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of July 28) (All times ET unless noted)

Wednesday, July 30

  • Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) - Watch Eric on Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
  • Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation) - Chris visits Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC. He will also be on ABC's Good Morning America sometime between 7-9am and later on LIVE! with Kelly and Michael, so check your listings.
  • Norm Macdonald (The Norm Show) - Norm appears on a repeat of Conan at 11pm on TBS.
  • Kelsey Grammer (Partners/Frasier/Cheers) - Kelsey is part of the guest panel on Chelsea Lately on E! at 11pm.
  • Zach Braff (Scrubs) - Zach visits Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
  • Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) - Aubrey chats with the ladies of The View on ABC at 11am ET/10am CT-PT.
  • Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine/Are We There Yet?/Everybody Hates Chris) - Terry joins the Chew Crew on a repeat of ABC's The Chew at 1pm ET/12pm PT/CT.
  • Wendie Malick (Hot in Cleveland/Just Shoot Me!) - Wendie is a guest on a repeat of The Queen Latifah Show on your local station or at 3am on BET.