Saturday, April 17, 2010

Digital Digest: Ally McBeal - The Complete Second Season; DVD Packaging Changes on Older Releases

It's time for Digital Digest, your weekly roundup of news, reviews, and more about TV on DVD! Luckily, we don't have any bad news to report this week, a refreshing change from last week! We have news about newly announced series on DVD, a major update (with excellent news) about Leave it to Beaver - The Complete Series, an update about Big John, Little John on DVD (a slight bit of good news to counteract last week's announcement of a delay), and a preview of next week's home media releases. Plus, we have a review of Ally McBeal - The Complete Second Season and we're going to take a look at packaging on some of our favorite DVDs, specifically how some DVDs released several years ago are now being repressed with new (and often lower quality) packaging. So enough with the introductions... let's get going!

DIGITAL NEWS

We are finally getting some details in on Shout! Factory's upcoming release of Leave it to Beaver - The Complete Series (June 29), and one thing is for sure: it is going to be one of the most amazing DVD releases ever. Some of the features announced include:
  • Never-before-seen footage of the cast, as shot by the cast, including Barbara Billingsley, Tony Dow, and Jerry Mathers.
  • Six radio episodes of Stu's Show from Shokus Internet Radio featuring the cast of the series.
  • Featurette focusing on Ken Osmond and Frank Bank.
  • Original promos from the series.
  • Original pilot from the series.
  • Savings bond promo film from the United States Treasury featuring Leave it to Beaver.
  • Physical recreation of the Leave it to Beaver board game, manufactured by Hasbro in the 1950s.
Wow! That is simply an amazing list of special features, particularly that physical recreation of the board game! Aside from the radio interviews from Stu's Show, all of these special features will only be available on the Leave it to Beaver - The Complete Series set (they will not be on the individual season sets). The pilot episode of the series was previously released as part of Universal's Leave it to Beaver - The Complete First Season, but this new release appears to be much more worthwhile. It comes at a $199.98 MSRP, which sounds expensive, but in actuality is less than $34 a season, and of course lower prices can be found. You can buy this excellent set now on Amazon.com!

We still have more news from Shout! Factory, though! Special features have been announced for the May 4 release of The Facts of Life - The Complete Fourth Season. It isn't a long list, but both are very nice, and include the movie The Facts of Life Goes to Paris and an interactive trivia game. It comes at a $39.97 MSRP. Also, some details have emerged about the June 29 release of Mad About You - The Complete Fourth Season, specifically in regard to special features. It will contain episode introductions on "select episodes" from Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt. Hopefully we'll have more details and be able to follow up on that in the future.

Last week, we reported that Virgil Film's release of the series Big John, Little John had been delayed on DVD, and that a new date had not been announced yet. That has not changed. But, we have found out, thanks to a member of our message boards, that the entire series has been released on a legitimate DVD release (not a bootleg) in Australia, and that it has been released in a region-free format! Your best bet is to just wait for Virgil Film's release (it should come eventually), but if you just can't wait to see the series, you can order it now, directly on Amazon.com.

There have been several--at least a dozen--reports of various current network and cable series coming to DVD soon in the past week. After all, DVDs are typically announced about 3 to 4 months in advance, and most of the studios want their product on the shelves just in time for the new season to kick off. We won't even discuss all of them, because there are just way too many of them and most are beyond the general scope of our website. But as far as the sitcoms are concerned, Amazon.com has made available for pre-order DVDs of ABC's The Middle - The Complete First Season and NBC's action-comedy series, Chuck - The Complete Third Season (also for Blu-ray). There are absolutely no details about these releases yet, but you can pre-order them. Other current series that have popped up for pre-order on Amazon.com in the past week include C.S.I. - The Complete Tenth Season, C.S.I.: Miami - The Complete Eighth Season, Criminal Minds - The Fifth Season, The Good Wife - The First Season, NCIS: Los Angeles - The First Season, and Numb3rs - The Sixth Season. Wow! That is a long list of series from CBS! I'm sure that nursing homes nationwide are overflowing with joy with this news... we're only kidding, we love CBS.

Finally, we end our news with some excellent news about MPI's long-anticipated release of The Mothers-in-Law - The Complete Series. MPI has been talking about this series for well over a year now, but they have finally set a street date (July 27). The set is going to contain all 56 episodes of the series and a ton of special features, including interviews, the original pilot, unaired pilots of related series, and more at an incredibly low $39.98 MSRP! We encourage you to check out this report from TVShowsOnDVD.com which gives the rather lengthy list of special features. The set doesn't appear to be available for pre-order just yet, but we'll let you know when it is!

UPCOMING WEEK PREVIEW
There is only one lonely sitcom scheduled for release for next week (April 20), and that is Shout! Factory's long-awaited The Bill Cosby Show - Season Two. It is one of their direct-to-consumer titles, although as is the case with the rest of these titles, it can be purchased on Amazon.com. We haven't received a review copy of it yet, and we aren't sure when/if we will receive one. Also, Warner Home Video is bringing out Falcon Crest - The Complete First Season and CBS DVD has Perry Mason - Season 5, Volume 1. We will cover both of these titles sometime soon, but you can pre-order all of them now.

BLOG FEATURE REVIEW

In 1997, a new legal drama hit the air that was nothing like anything that preceded it. This one contained a lot of humor, sexual innuendo, hallucinations (anybody remember the dancing baby?), and many other unique elements in a series about a woman trying to balance her romantic life and her life at work. Ally McBeal - The Complete Second Season is the second of five seasons of this unique series.

DVD Review: Ally McBeal - The Complete Second Season
by Pavan

Ally McBeal - The Complete Second Season
(Fox, $39.98) is back on DVD in an individual set featuring all 23 episodes from the series' excellent (and most popular) second season. The series premiered in 1997 on Fox and lasted five seasons, becoming one of the most talked about shows in the late '90s. The series was created by David E. Kelley The cast was brilliant led by Calista Flockhart in the title role as a young lawyer working in the Boston law firm Cage, Fish and Associates with other young lawyers. Also starring on this show are all recognizable names: Gil Bellows as Billy, Courtney Thorne-Smith as Georgia, Greg Germann as Richard Fish, Lisa Nicole Carson as Renée, Jane Krakowski as Elaine, with Peter MacNichol as John Cage and Vonda Shepard as Herself. Portia de Rossi as Nelle and Lucy Liu as Ling Woo join the cast this season.

The second season begins with the episode "The Real World," where Fish and Cage hire a new associate, Nelle "sub-zero" Porter (Portia de Rossi) and Cage tells Ally about his attraction to Nelle. In the very next episode, "They Eat Horses, Don't They?," Lucy Liu joins the cast as Nelle's friend and client, Ling Woo, who sues a radio DJ for making sexually explicit comments on air and to the disgust of Ally, drops the case as a legal tactic. In "It's My Party," Ally defends George Madison (special guest star John Ritter), editor of a feminist magazine fired for his religious views on women and Ally finds herself attracted to George, but Elaine implies that she and George are an item. Later, Ally is told to stop wearing miniskirts in court and when she refuses, she is held in contempt and taken into custody. This is one of the best episodes in the entire series! In the very next episode, "The Story of Love," Ally is arrested after a fight with a young woman angry with her best friend for stealing her boyfriend, meanwhile George (John Ritter) begins to show an interest in Ally, and Elaine begs her not to date him. Cage brings in his pet tree frog, Stefan, whom he is training for a competition. And the frog popularity begins after this!
In "Pyramids On the Nile," Fish agrees to hire Ling, to the annoyance of the firm except Nelle, while Ally and Billy defend a couple fired because they were dating and then Billy admits, after the trial, he still has feelings for Ally and they share a kiss. In "Sex, Lies, and Politics," Cage and Ling help a bookstore owner sue a senator after he falsely accuses her of selling pornography, causing her to lose business, while Ally obsesses over the kiss with Billy, and struggles with the urge to tell Georgia. In "Civil Wars," Georgia finds out about the kiss, and rumors spread through the office, while Ally and Cage oppose Fish and Georgia in court over a date rape case, but as tension increases between Georgia and Ally, the two get into a fight in the bathroom with Ling and Nelle, with Elaine filming. In the season finale, "I Know Him By Heart," Ally becomes increasingly depressed about her love life, until Fish gives her a pep talk, while Ally and Renee decide to go on as many dates as possible until they find the right man. Notable guest appearances for this season include, the aforementioned John Ritter (who was nominated for an Emmy), Wayne Newton, Rob Schneider, Jennifer Holliday, Lara Flynn Boyle, Bruce Willis, Anna Nicole Smith, Barry White, Rosie O'Donnell, Jesse L. Martin, Larry Green, and the Emmy winning performance by Tracy Ullman.

The episodes are unedited and has all the original music! This season was released in the complete series set back in October 2009, so the content is exactly the same as that set. But if you have not gotten that complete set, there is nothing to worry about on this set. Runtimes are as follows:

Disc 1:
1. "The Real World" (45:16)
2. "They Eat Horses Don't They?" (44:56)
3. "Fool's Night Out" (45:25)
4. "It's My Party" (43:21)

Disc 2:
5. "Story of Love" (44:30)
6. "World's Without Love" (42:56)
7. "Happy Trails" (45:25)
8. "Just Looking" (45:18)

Disc 3:
9. "You Never Can Tell" (44:03)
10. "Making Spirits Bright" (45:27)
11. "In Dreams" (45:26)
12. "Love Unlimited" (45:14)

Disc 4:
13. "Angels Over Blimps" (45:21)
14. "Pyramids On The Nile" (44:23)
15. "Side Show" (44:42)
16. "Sex, Lies & Politics" (45:25)

Disc 5:
17. "Civil Wars" (45:26)
18. "Those Lips, That Hand" (45:25)
19. "Let's Dance" (44:51)
20. "Only The Lonely" (44:45)

Disc 6:
21. "The Green Monster" (45:02)
22. "Love's Illusions" (45:01)
23. "I Know Him By Heart" (45:19)

Now I didn't get the complete series set, but the case (and the rest of the packaging) for season two is the same as it was on that set. The cover art has a full body shot of Ally in black with the show logo in the middle in orange and white coloring. The color scheme for the set is orange and white. Also on the cover art we have four small black and white headshots of Cage, Nelle, Billy and Ling Woo. The back of the case has info on the set and series, with a close-up of Ally in black and a strip about five episodic photos. Inside the case are the discs of course. Disc one is on the left panel, while discs two and three are on a plastic holder that you can flip like a book. The same goes true for discs four and five. And disc six is on the right panel. Artwork inside the case is in orange and we have a disc-by-disc breakdown of episode titles on the panels. When we remove discs one and six, there is some cool artwork, that I won't spoil. Each disc has the same artwork, of a frog, the show logo, and it matches the set's color scheme.

The menus on the set are very nicely done, with different artwork on each disc. The main screen has a different shot of Ally on each disc. The submenus have other castmembers. The main menu has the theme song playing in the background. It is so catchy! The main menu have an option for Play All and the episode titles are listed right on the main menu. When selecting an episode, it takes you to another menu that have the options Play Episode, Language Selection, and Scene Selection. Language tracks are available in English, French and Spanish. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish. In Scene Selection, each episode has about 15 different positions you can start at. Chapter stops have the same selections. It is a bit much for an hour-long series.

The video and audio on the set is looks really good. The video is available in a nice widescreen, and if your DVD player upconverts to HD, it looks so nice. The audio is also very good and is presented in Dolby Surround. This season is from 1998-99, so while it is over a decade in age, it is very well presented here in both video and audio. All of the episodes on the set are closed-captioned for those who need them.

One bad thing about this set is that there are no special features available. They should have gave us a seventh disc with some extras. The complete series set had a bonus disc and in that it did have some features for season two. It would be nice if they included the season two material from that on this set. But that would mean more manufacturing for them. So the only way to see bonus features for this season is to buy the complete series set. That is too bad, especially if someone can't afford that or just wanted this season (like me). I basically was a fan for the first two seasons, but I never really watched the show after that much.

This is a good set, but it is exactly the same content that was available for this season in the complete series set. It is good and amazing that all of the original music is intact, though! Kudos to 20th Century Fox for doing that since this show had A LOT of music! Each episode is also unedited in content, so another thing to be grateful for. The packaging and menus are also great. Everything on this set is great, except for the lack of bonus features. It's not like nothing was available. Fox could have given us the same season 2 features on the bonus disc on the complete set, but they didn't. I was hoping they would, because I have not seen those bonus material. Anyway, the episodes are great and this is my favorite season of the show. It has a nice mix of comedy and drama. Ally's short skirts, Cage's frog, wild hallucinations, special guest John Ritter, this season has it all! A must buy if you don't have the complete series set!

(4/5 stars)

To purchase this DVD, click below and help support SitcomsOnline.com:
Amazon.com

Related links:
SitcomsOnline.com DVD Reviews Page
Ally McBeal on TV.com

BLOG FEATURE STORY

DVD Packaging Changes on Older Releases
by skees53

About a month or so ago, Target had a really nice deal on the season sets of the series Saturday Night Live that I couldn't resist. I had always liked the series, but never bothered to pick up the DVDs because the MSRP was more than I wanted to pay. I picked up all of the first four seasons without really looking at the packaging, but when I got home, I noticed that the first season had been placed in a newer (and cheaper) standard digipack inside of a slipcase. I hadn't yet opened the set, but was wondering what exactly was going on with this different packaging. As I later found out, the older releases of the series were no longer being printed with the special limited packaging, and I had to go on a hunt all over town to find a USED (yes, USED) copy of the first season in the original packaging--which ended up costing me about $10 more than my new copy from Target in the new packaging.

At the time, I didn't realize that the studios were repackaging TV series on DVD, but in the past few months, it has become a very common practice. In most cases, the original packaging is being shoved aside in favor of the newer Viva packs--you know, the standard plastic DVD cases that can hold multiple discs. Nobody is publicly saying why this practice is occurring, but there are many potential reasons, including cheaper cost of production (perhaps the main reason), lower package weight, smaller package size (beneficial for storage warehouses and store shelves), or perhaps to just make older releases more consistent with newer releases (which are more often than not being released in Viva packs).

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and ABC Studios seem to be spearheading most of these "evolving packages." As I have discovered, 20th Century Fox began the practice with repackaging older releases of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Arrested Development, and How I Met Your Mother, all of which were previously released in slimcases, in the regular Viva packs. Now, some other older releases series are starting to show up on store shelves in the new packaging, including American Dad!, Family Guy, King of the Hill, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Remington Steele, and even MGM's releases of The Addams Family and Green Acres. All of the 20th Century Fox titles have the same UPC as the original release, same disc content, same disc artwork (sometimes with a few minor changes), but different packaging. Unfortunately, on some of the sets, the different packaging means losing some very nice things included on the original releases, such as detailed episode descriptions. Even more frustrating is Fox's DVDs of The Simpsons, which, even though they have not changed the packaging itself on these sets, they are no longer including the very nice and detailed episode booklets on older releases, instead opting for an empty pocket where the booklet should be.

ABC Studios has been reissuing many of their older titles that were previously released under the Buena Vista Home Entertainment brand, replacing all references to BVHE with ABC Studios. But that isn't all. They have been repackaging many series in their library in the same standard plastic DVD cases as 20th Century Fox, only there is one exception with the ABC Studios products: they are including cardboard slipcovers for most of the products. Packaging has been updated for series including Alias, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, and more. You can also determine which of these sets are the newer ones, as they have the disc count as a banner on the top of the front of the packaging. Just like 20th Century Fox, these sets carry the same UPC as the original releases. ABC Studios has, in the past, had some of the most unique and creative packaging for a lot of their sets, and these newer packages take away what made a lot of these older sets special. You can even see a comparison of the old vs. new packaging for Scrubs - The Complete Fourth Season below. It was originally packaged in a digipack, but has since been replaced with a standard plastic DVD case. Note that the disc artwork (not shown) is the same in both versions.

Old Packaging:


Outside of old packaging for Scrubs - The Complete Fourth Season.



Inside of old packaging for Scrubs - The Complete Fourth Season.

New Packaging:


Outside of new packaging for Scrubs - The Complete Fourth Season.


Inside of new packaging for Scrubs - The Complete Fourth Season.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and ABC Studios aren't the only studios making these changes. HBO Home Entertainment has been re-releasing several older releases of series, including Da Ali G Show and Entourage, in newer (and cheaper) packaging. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is doing the same thing with All in the Family and Soap, releasing them in the cheaper black spindle cases that everybody seems to hate about Sony. One positive note about Sony, though, is that they are at least changing the UPC so that consumers are aware of what they are getting. And Lionsgate, while not making any packaging changes quite yet (that I'm aware of, anyway) has been excluding episode descriptions/booklets and cardboard slipcases on newer copies of older releases. Warner Home Video hasn't changed a whole lot, but some sets (such as The Flintstones) that were originally released with transparent plastic slipcases are being replaced with standard cardboard slipcases. So far, aside from the Saturday Night Live season sets (which were only supposed to be produced in limited numbers for the special packaging anyway), Universal and CBS DVD products haven't been affected... yet.

So is this all a good thing or bad thing? It depends upon what you are looking for. First and foremost, I find the practice of keeping the same UPC on the repackaged products very shameful, because if somebody orders a DVD online, they have no clue which version they will be getting. This issue has even resulted in Amazon.com being forced to put a disclaimer on some products about the packaging. Aside from that issue, though, let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of new packaging for older sets:
Pros:
  • Thinner and more compact, thus allowing more shelf space.
  • Often less cumbersome than old packaging (particularly folding digipacks).
  • Similar style packaging for all releases of a given series rather than having older style packaging for older seasons and more standardized packaging for newer releases.
  • Plastic cases often show much less wear and tear.
Cons:
  • Plastic cases usually simply look cheaper.
  • Retailer selection of DVDs often includes both older and newer packaging, sometimes meaning only newer packaging available for older sets and only older packaging available for newer sets, thus creating a hodgepodge of packaging between seasons for collectors.
  • Creative packaging designs are usually lost in the transition.
  • Episode descriptions, and in some cases even general lists, are being lost in the newer designs.
All in all, there seem to be about an equal number of pros and cons to the new packaging styles. It really all depends upon what your preferences are. Whenever possible, I've attempted to opt for the original packaging on just about every DVD set that I own, and I have been completely successful in this endeavor so far. Recently, it even meant going to four different Target locations to find the original packaging for the first three seasons of How I Met Your Mother. With a little work (and sometimes scouring used book and DVD stores), you can usually find the version that you are looking for, but using the same UPC certainly does create some confusion.

LOOKING AHEAD

We will, of course, return next Saturday with more news and reviews for you. We're still working on what will be on slate for next week, but we will have reviews coming up of The Unusuals - The Complete Series, Perry Mason - Season 5, Volume 1, Marcus Welby, M.D. - Season One, and who knows what else... sometimes we just review random and unexpected things that we stumble upon (and oddly enough those reviews tend to be the most interesting). We are going to have more feature stories in the next few weeks, and among some that we are working on include stories on out-of-print DVDs, an in-depth look at Blu-ray, a look at some rare (as well as some not-so-rare) finds on public domain DVD, and we will even start talking about the online sources for watching TV shows--the legal ones, anyway. We'll also plan to talk about more special deals on home media as we find them (I didn't mention this anywhere else in the blog today as we aren't fully covering deals yet, but I'll just say that you can find some excellent deals on some rather popular Lionsgate releases at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores). That's it for this week, but remember, we do want to hear your feedback about Digital Digest. Tell us on our message board or Tweet/Facebook us. Until next time, keep it digital!


Sitcoms Airing Tonight

Tuesday, September 2

New Girl - "Cruise" (Fox, 9:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Jess and Nick invite the gang along with them on a cruise they booked while still together as a couple. Coach tries to suppress his fear of boating, Schmidt attempts to win back Cece and Winston tries to mend Jess and Nick’s fractured relationship.

The Mindy Project - "Danny and Mindy" (Fox, 9:30PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Mindy thinks she’s met the man of her dreams after he writes a description of their encounter in a New York newspaper, leading to a surprising reveal.

Sullivan & Son - "A Kiss Is Just Never a Kiss" (TBS, 10:00PM ET/PT)
Steve goes all out to impress an exciting new woman, with the help of Melanie. Meanwhile, Hank's doctor prescribes him testosterone, but a mishap leads to a "juiced up" Hank.

Complete TV Listings


Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of September 1) (All times ET unless noted)

Tuesday, September 2

  • Allison Janney (Mom/Mr. Sunshine) - Catch Allison on Conan at 11pm on TBS.
  • David Koechner (The Office/Hank) - David stops by @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
  • George Lopez (Saint George/George Lopez) - George appears on a repeat of The Arsenio Hall Show, so check your local listings.
  • Albert Tsai (Trophy Wife) - Albert is a guest on a repeat of The Arsenio Hall Show, so check your local listings.
  • Seth Green (Dads/Greg the Bunny) - Seth talks about his new film The Identical on NBC's Today in the 9am hour.
  • Marlon Wayans (The Wayans Bros.) - Marlon appears on a repeat of The Queen Latifah Show on your local station or at 3am on BET.
  • Brooklyn Decker (Friends with Better Lives) - Tune in to see Brooklyn on a repeat of The Queen Latifah Show on your local station or at 3am on BET.
  • Keke Palmer (True Jackson, VP) - Keke is a guest on The Wendy Williams Show at 12am on BET or on your local stations.