Saturday, July 14, 2012
Digital Digest: More Carsey-Werner Sitcoms from Mill Creek; Father Dowling Mysteries - The Second Season DVD Review; 87th Precinct - The Complete Series DVD Review
This week, Universal announced a few more DVD releases, essentially finishing up their slate of releases of returning series on DVD from the 2011-2012 season. Announcements this week came for 30 Rock - Season Six and Whitney - Season One. Tentatively, 30 Rock is scheduled for September 11, and Whitney is scheduled for October 9.
Several October releases from Shout! appeared on amazon.com this week. First up, on October 9, is Webster - 20 Timeless Episodes, containing 20 fan favorite episodes of the '80s series starring Emmanuel Lewis. October 23 brings more of Mr. Roarke and Tattoo with Fantasy Island - The Complete Third Season. Finally, on October 30, Shout! brings fans of All in the Family the entire series with All in the Family - The Complete Series. The set will contain every episode of the series, but we don't know what (if any) special features it will include just yet.
Mill Creek is moving ahead with more releases from the Carsey-Werner library on September 4, but as usual, all of these are just re-releases of DVDs previously released by Anchor Bay and Fox. Roseanne continues with Roseanne - The Complete Fifth Season and Roseanne - The Complete Sixth Season, while That '70s Show continues with That '70s Show - The Complete Fifth Season and That '70s Show - The Complete Sixth Season. Fans of Grounded for Life won't get any new season releases on September 4, but instead will get much more with Grounded for Life - The Complete Series. There is no word on any new re-releases for 3rd Rock from the Sun yet, but we'll let you know if we do hear something.
Finally we mentioned in early June, the '70s detective drama Harry O would be coming soon from Warner Archive. Now, it is no longer just "coming soon," it is already released! This past Wednesday (all Tuesday releases from Warner Archive were pushed back a day this week), Harry O - The Complete First Season was made available to order from Warner Archive. We had hoped to have a review of this today, but we did not receive our copy in time... so look for our review of it next week in Digital Digest.
BLOG FEATURE REVIEW
Father Dowling Mysteries moved to ABC for the second and third seasons. It aired on Thursdays at 8pm for the second season. The season premiere was broadcast on January 4, 1990. Here are the episodes included in this release.
"The Visiting Priest Mystery" (1/04/90) (48:55) - Father Dowling and Sister Steve are suspicious of a visiting priest, who turns out to be a hit man out to kill an ex-mobster turned informant.
Notable Guest Star: Anthony LaPaglia
"The Exotic Dance Mystery" (1/11/90) (48:36) - To solve the murder of an exotic dancer, Father Dowling sends Steve undercover as a dealer in a backroom, high-stakes poker game.
Notable Guest Star: Xander Berkeley
"The Santcuary Mystery" (1/18/90) (48:30) - Sister Steve's troubled younger brother witnesses a murder. But when the killer turns out to be a police captain, little brother ends up being framed for the crime.
Notable Guest Star: Stephen Dorff
"The Stone Killer Mystery" (1/25/90) (48:26) - An ex-con who Father Dowling helped put away is out on parole and gunning for vengeance...hoping to give Frank a death sentence.
Notable Guest Stars: Yaphet Kotto, Paul Gleason
"The Woman Scorned Mystery" (2/01/90) (48:20) - Scandal erupts when Father Dowling is mistaken for his evil twin brother, who is seducing and swindling young women. But when the scam takes a murderous turn, Frank must clear his name.
Notable Guest Star: Steven Culp
"The Ghost of a Chance Mystery" (2/08/90) (47:36) - When a young woman believes her house is haunted, Father Dowling and Steve spend the night in her home to get to the bottom of the supernatural happenings.
"The Blind Man's Bluff Mystery" (2/15/90) (46:20) - Sister Steve falls for the scam of a "blind man" who in reality is a con man out to blackmail a parishioner.
"The Falling Angel Mystery" (2/22/90) (47:50) - Frank receives a visit from an "angel," who warns him that one of his parishioners is in grave danger. Now, Father Dowling steps in to try and save a life.
"The Perfect Couple Mystery" (3/08/90) (47:13) - When one of their parishioners suspects her husband of infidelity, Father Dowling and Sister Steve are embroiled in a case that escalates into a matter of national security.
Notable Guest Stars: Brenda Strong, Stacy Edwards
"The Confidence Mystery" (3/15/90) (47:22) - Father Prestwick is in charge of returning a valuable chalice to Romania, but a con artist is looking to steal the sacred item...unless Father Dowling and Sister Steve can thwart the con man's plan.
Notable Guest Stars: Ed Lauter, Stanley Kamel
"The Solid Gold Headache Mystery" (3/29/90) (47:50) - A wealthy parishioner names Sister Steve as the administrator of his $6 million trust. But the late man's grown and greedy children go to dangerous lengths to keep the money in the family.
Notable Guest Stars: Eric Christmas, Valerie Mahaffey
"The Legacy Mystery" (4/12/90) (47:52) - Someone has been stealing art objects that belong to the wealthy Cabot family estate. But Father Dowling suspects that the Cabots' sole surviving son may be to blame.
Notable Guest Star: Robin Thomas
"The Passionate Painter Mystery" (4/26/90) (47:39) - A troubled artist's alcohol addiction may jeopardize his promising future...but not as much as the threat from whoever is trying to kill him.
Notable Guest Star: Roscoe Lee Browne
All 13 episodes run between 46-48 minutes. There's a disclaimer on the back cover that reads: "Some episodes may be edited from their original network versions. Music has been changed for this home entertainment version." This is a standard disclaimer on most CBS DVD releases, so it doesn't necessarily mean any episodes are actually edited. I don't know how much music the show originally used, but hopefully any music substitutions are very minor. The set has a total running time of approximately 10 hours, 23 minutes.
The packaging for this 3-disc set is a clear plastic Viva case. On the cover, we have a photo of Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson, along with the show title and interior church background. A cast photo of James Stephens, Tracy Nelson, Tom Bosley and Mary Wickes is used on the back cover. There are four additional episode snapshots below it. A short synopsis, a listing of the special features and the DVD specs are provided. Tom Bosley is, once again, featured on the spine of the case. Inside, the episode titles, original airdates and short summaries are listed by disc. A tinted photo of the church interior is used as the background. The discs just have gray artwork, with the show logo and episode titles on them. Discs 1 and 2 contain 4 episodes. Disc 3 contains 5 episodes.
Moving on to the menus, they are simple and easy to navigate. Each main menu features a different photo: Tom osley on Disc 1, Tracy Nelson on Disc 2, and Tracy Nelson and Tom Bosley on Disc 3. A church altar and pews are in the background. The show logo is in a red bar at the top of the screen. Below that is a gold bar with the season and disc number. The episode titles are listed vertically in yellow text. When you select an episode, it takes you to another sub-menu where there is a different episode snapshot of Bosley and Nelson for each episode. The episode title is listed in a red banner at the top. There are options to play the episode or the episodic promo. There is no Play All option. The subtitles menu features a photo of the four main cast members. Chapters are placed at the appropriate places. When you first insert Disc 1, there is an option to play previews or go to the main menu. There are about 3 minutes worth of previews for Blue Bloods - The First Season, Hawaii Five-0 - The Final Season and Perry Mason - The 50th Anniversary Edition.
The video and audio quality seems slightly improved over the first season. I don't know how much remastering these episodes received, but they certainly could have used some more cleaning. These episodes were shot over 20 years ago, so they do show some age. They are presented in their original full frame ratio and in their original broadcast order. Father Dowling Mysteries was shot on film. There were many outdoor scenes and different locations used. After the first season was shot in Denver, CO, the show's production was moved to Los Angeles for the final two seasons. The first season episodes looked a bit dark and gritty, but the second season episodes appear brighter. Maybe it was the switch in shooting locations. There is some dirt, debris and other digital artifacts in the episodes, but I didn't see any major problems. The audio is a Dolby Digital English Stereo track. I didn't hear any problems with the audio. This show had a very nice melodic theme and score in the episodes. English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are available on all of the episodes.
Original episodic promos are included as a special feature. These are 35-40 second previews that tell you what's happening "next on Father Dowling". The video quality of these promos isn't as good as the episodes, but they are fun to see. They give you a good idea of what each episode is about. Every episode includes one this time. It would have been nice to have some other additional material like cast and crew interviews or audio commentaries.
Everyone's favorite mystery-solving priest is back on DVD. I wasn't sure how well the first season would sell, but it apparently did well enough for the second season to be released. It was only about a five month wait between seasons, which isn't too bad these days. Shows like Murder She, Wrote, Diagnosis: Murder and Matlock have many fans and are popular on DVD. Father Dowling Mysteries falls into the same genre. Everyone enjoys a good mystery.
Season two was notable for a couple of reasons. Production was moved from Denver to Los Angeles. They also switched networks from NBC to ABC. Some notable guest stars this season included Anthony LaPaglia, Xander Berkeley, Stephen Dorff, Yaphet Kotto, Paul Gleason, Steven Culp, Brenda Strong, Stacy Edwards, Ed Lauter, Stanley Kamel, Eric Christmas, Valerie Mahaffey, Robin Thomas and Roscoe Lee Browne. If the release pattern holds, we should see the third and final season sometime later this year or early next year. The third season had a full order of 22 episodes, so let's hope they release them all together in one release and don't split them into two volumes.
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The TV series featured a group of detectives and even their families, starring Robert Lansing as Steve Carella (not to be confused with Steve Carell, of course) and Gena Rowlands as Teddy, his wife. Ron Harper filled the role of the rookie detective Bert Kling, Gregory Walcott was the long-time veteran Gregory Walcott, and then there was the wryly philosophical character Meyer Meyer (that isn't a typo, it's a same first and last name), played by a man who was very much just at the beginning of what would be a much larger television career: the one and only Norman Fell. The TV series only lasted one year on NBC, mostly due to facing time slot competition from the second season of a more lighthearted sitcom about a police officer on CBS: The Andy Griffith Show.
The set begins with "The Floater," where Carella is on the hunt for a sadistic man (played by Robert Culp) preying on lonely women. In "Lady in Waiting," a woman decides to wait for her husband's release from prison by bringing a gun into the precinct and threatening to use it. The detectives follow up on an anonymous note about a death threat in "Lady Killer." A disgruntled ex-cop keeps committing the perfect robberies in "The Modus Man." In "Line of Duty," Kling is forced to shoot (and kill) a suspect, and can't help but to feel badly about it. A pregnant wife keeps a man from cooperating with the police in "Occupation, Citizen." Beverly Garland and Jack Albertson guest star in "Killer's Payoff," where a blackmailer is murdered. Meyer arrests an old friend for a robbery in "The Guilt," but things get worse for the man when he escapes police custody. In "The Empty Hours," a woman (Pat Crowley) decides to pretend to be a deceased friend for financial gain, unaware that the friend is wanted by a killer. A young man is suspected of murdering a coed in "My Friend, My Enemy."
Leonard Nimoy guest stars in "The Very Hard Sell," where a used car salesman is found dead, slumped over a steering wheel. In "'Til Death," an about-to-be-married couple is getting some anonymous threats. A crook (played by Robert Vaughn) sets off false alarms everywhere to commit a more serious crime, hopefully unnoticed, in "The Heckler." In "Run, Rabbit, Run," a condemned gangster has much more planned beyond his death. The detectives investigate death threats toward a boxer in "Main Event." In "Man in a Jam," a man arrested for murder has some creative ways of trying to get out of trouble. A hand found in a dumpster leads to a murder investigation in "Give the Boys a Great Big Hand." Dawn Wells guest stars in "Out of Order," where telephone booths (what are those, again?) are the target of explosions. In "The Pigeon," a man (played by Peter Falk) is a smalltime criminal but wants to pretend to be bigger... making him the perfect fall guy for some serious criminals. Frank Sutton also guest stars. A 10-year-old may be helpful in solving a murder in "A Bullet for Katie."
A kidnapping doesn't go as planned in "King's Ransom." Both John Astin and Nancy Reagan (in one of her very last appearances as "just another actress" in a TV series) guest star. Meyer needs some rest while feeling ill in "Feel of the Trigger," but he just can't stop working hard. The detectives have a lot of clues to go through in the murder of a beautiful woman in "Killer's Choice." In "Square Cop," one officer is about to retire and the other one is a rookie being trained by the veteran... and one of them is shot by the others son during a burglary. Carella needs extra cash and takes a job as a night security guard at a bank in "Step Forward." A baseball star risks everything by hiding his fugitive brother from the cops in "Idol in the Dust." Havilland's new friend wants to kill a South American dignitary in "Ramon." In "New Man in the Precinct," there is a new guy at the 87th, and isn't quite used to being at such a rough and tumble precinct. Another detective ends up at the precinct after being demoted in "The Last Stop," and he isn't quite well-received after he drives everybody crazy. The series ends with "Girl in the Case," where Havilland becomes attracted to a stenographer who is being threatened.
There is a bit of variance in the episode runtimes, but I believe that they are all unedited... though you'll notice that runtimes can be anywhere from just over 48 minutes up to nearly 51 minutes. Runtimes for each episode are as follows:
1. "The Floater" (48:25)
2. "Lady in Waiting" (49:02)
3. "Lady Killer" (48:59)
4. "The Modus Man" (49:25)
5. "Line of Duty" (49:27)
6. "Occupation, Citizen" (49:28)
7. "Killer's Payoff" (49:00)
8. "The Guilt" (49:05)
9. "Empty Hours" (49:44)
10. "My Friend, My Enemy" (49:00)
11. "The Very Hard Sell" (49:25)
12. "'Til Death" (49:13)
13. "The Heckler" (49:05)
14. "Run, Rabbit, Run" (50:41)
15. "Main Event" (49:19)
16. "Man in a Jam" (49:33)
17. "Give the Boys a Hand" (49:09)
18. "Out of Order" (49:29)
19. "The Pigeon" (49:30)
20. "A Bullet for Katie" (49:41)
21. "King's Ransom" (49:33)
22. "Feel of the Trigger" (49:36)
23. "Killer's Choice" (49:01)
24. "Square Cop" (49:14)
25. "Step Forward" (49:24)
26. "Idol in the Dust" (49:50)
27. "Ramon" (49:40)
28. "New Man in the Precinct" (49:32)
29. "The Last Stop" (49:15)
30. "Girl in the Case" (48:26)
The set comes packaged in a six disc case that is twice as thick as a standard DVD case. The cover art has a color photo of the four male stars of the series with their guns drawn, and on the back, we get a brief description of the series, along with a few photos and a breakdown of episode titles by disc. Inside, you'll find the six discs containing the episodes, all of which have a different photo of one of the stars and the logo from the cover (which is not the logo used in the series, but that isn't a huge deal). Each disc contains five episodes. Oddly enough, you'll find inside the case a seventh "unadvertised" disc inside of a white paper envelope. This contains the unannounced special feature, which we'll discuss a bit later.
This series has largely remained in obscurity since it originally aired 50 years ago. In fact, I'm not sure that it has ever aired anywhere. So it should be no surprise that the video and audio quality is far from perfect. Nothing is too sharp in any of the episodes, and there is grain, debris, and scratches all over the place. But there is also some variance between the episodes. I'm sure that Universal (the rights holder) for the series hasn't really bothered restoring this series at all, so everything was likely left up to TMG to clean them up. With that being said, though, the episodes do not look terrible. They don't look like low-budget public domain episodes (and they shouldn't since this prints are "direct from the Universal vault" as the packaging indicates). The audio is a little low and has some crackle in it, but it won't be enough to bother most people. The episodes are neither closed-captioned nor subtitled.
All in all, this isn't a perfect set, but considering the rarity of the series, it is surprising that we even got to see it on DVD at all. Really, the only issue is the video and audio quality, but I doubt that anybody could really restore that to "perfection" profitably. The series has been neglected over the past five decades (mostly by just sitting in the vaults), so honestly, I'm surprised it doesn't look worse. Personally, I think those issues are very easy to look past once you see what you have here: an entertaining drama about a police precinct from the early days of television. It is a lot like Dragnet (the original version, anyway, not necessarily the late '60s version), except of course the stories here are not based upon true stories, and are excellent works of fiction. The series really reminds me a lot of something like Perry Mason, only here, things are focused on the precinct angle of the action rather than the attorney in the court room. It is too bad that this series only made it through one season, as there are infinitely many ways to write stories for a series like this. But of course, the competition made it hard to go too far.
It is worth noting that there is a bit of irony in the novel series written by Ed McBain, which by the way were still written all the way up through his death in 2005. By his own admission, he received his inspiration from Dragnet. Over 20 years after the first 87th Precinct novel was published, elements of this novel series inspired another TV show on NBC... Hill Street Blues. And reportedly, this didn't exactly thrill McBain, as he felt that his ideas had been stolen (although he didn't make a big deal over it, because by his own acknowledgment, he, too, had used ideas of others). We probably don't have too many people reading this who actually remember this series from the original airing, but that isn't really a prerequisite to enjoying the stories. I think that fans of those novels are certain to love this series, and also fans of very early police dramas will be pleased.
SITCOMS AIRING TONIGHT (June 19)
SITCOMS AIRING TONIGHT (June 19)
The Middle - "The Name" (ABC, 8:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Frankie's sister, Janet (Molly Shannon), comes to the rescue and offers to help run the Heck household while Frankie studies for her dental assisting school finals. But the sheer amount of disorganization in the house throws perfectionist Janet for a loop. Meanwhile, when Cassidy's ex-boyfriend pays an unexpected visit from college, Axl tries to take the high road and not act like a jealous boyfriend; and Sue wants to legally change her middle name -- which is also Sue -- in order to have a normal name on her driver's license.
Family Tools - "The Big Event" (ABC, 8:30PM ET/PT)
When Jack and Darren get locked in a room at a client's house, their bickering reveals the underlying reasons for their continuous conflict. At home, Jack and Darren's unexplained absence has a ripple effect on Terry, Tony, Mason and Stitch as they prepare for the annual Mapleport Classic Car Parade.
Modern Family - "Open House of Horrors" (ABC, 9:00PM ET/PT) (Repeat)
Claire has overdone it in Halloweens past and the neighbors definitely don't share her enthusiasm, so this year she's being forced to tone it down and keep it "kid-friendly," and Phil has an idea to hold an open house on Halloween night. Meanwhile, Mitch and Cam host a costume party while contending with Lily wondering who her real mom is, and Gloria's pregnancy hormones are on overdrive, making her even more hotheaded than usual.
How to Live with Your Parents (for the Rest of Your Life) - "How to Help the Needy" (ABC, 9:30PM ET/PT)
When Polly is a hit at Elaine's birthday lunch, Elaine is left feeling uninteresting, so Polly gets her an audition for a movie to boost her ego. But Polly soon realizes she's fallen into an old pattern of putting her mother's dream before her own.
Melissa & Joey - "Oh Brother" (ABC Family, 8:00PM ET/PT)
Joe thinks Mel may be related to one of her childhood friends; Lennox learns that her blog sponsor uses unfair labor practices.
Baby Daddy - "The Slump" (ABC Family, 8:30PM ET/PT)
Danny meets with a psychologist to learn why his hockey game is suffering; Riley avoids Fitch in the hope that Danny will make a move; Ben's latest fling competes with Tucker for a promotion.
Hot in Cleveland - "It's Alive!" (TV Land, 10:00PM ET/PT)
Elka and Mamie's illegal business activities endanger the group; a local mobster and his mother offer help.
The Exes - "Toy Story" (TV Land, 10:30PM ET/PT)
The guys try to fix Holly's vibrator before she finds out they have broken it.