Saturday, March 05, 2011

Digital Digest: Pioneers of Television - Season 2 DVD Review

It's been a busy news week for Charlie Sheen, but for us, it hasn't been in the world of home media news. The world of DVD and Blu-ray gets a little slower each and every week, but that doesn't stop us from being here, no matter what! This week, we've got a review of the PBS series Pioneers of Television - Season 2, the series that gives a retrospective of the earliest days of television. Let's get going!

DIGITAL NEWS

A few months ago, TMG released a two-disc set of the classic Betty White series Life With Elizabeth, but they aren't stopping there! Now, they are preparing a two-disc set of Betty White's other series from the 50s, Date with the Angels. The 12-episode set will be released on April 26 at a very low $9.98 MSRP.

A few weeks ago, Shout! Factory announced that they would be releasing the first season of the Nickelodeon series The Wild Thornberries. We didn't mention it because it is a bit beyond the scope of our website, but something that didn't catch our eye was this post from Brian Ward on the Shout! Factory Community message boards mentioning that other Nickelodeon series are in the works from Shout! Factory. Now, as to what they'll be or when they'll be announced, there is no telling, but hopefully this will include some sitcoms from the Nickelodeon library.

BLOG FEATURE REVIEW

Pioneers of Television - Season 2

DVD Review: Pioneers of Television - Season 2
by Todd Fuller

Pioneers of Television - Season 2 (PBS Direct, $24.99)

Nearly 100 stars from TV's formative years bring their stories to PBS in season two of the Emmy-nominated documentary series Pioneers of Television. Narrated by Kelsey Grammer, each episode melds compelling new interviews with irresistible archival clips to offer a fresh take on TV's founding celebrities. This season's four new episodes profile science fiction, crime dramas, local kids' shows, and westerns. Featured stars include James Garner, William Shatner, Angie Dickinson, Fess Parker, Linda Evans, Robert Conrad, Mike Connors, Leonard Nimoy, Bill Cosby, and many others.

These specials began in November 2005 on PBS with The Pioneers of Primetime which focused on vaudeville headliners, radio superstars and television legends. In 2008, four one-hour specials were made that profiled late night, sitcoms, variety and game shows. Season two premiered in January and February 2011 and took a look at science fiction, westerns, crime dramas and local kids' tv.

The cover art features a montage of black and white photos of James Arness, James Garner, Barbara Stanwyck, Linda Evans, Angie Dickinson, Rod Serling, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Chuck Connors, Johnny Crawford and Jim Henson. The episodes are presented in widescreen format. The recent interviews look excellent, but some of the vintage show clips vary in quality. The main menus features the same montage of black and white photos as the cover art. There are options for Episode Selection, Scene Selection and Set Up. Subtitles are available for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. The set has a running time of approximately 220 minutes.

Here is the breakdown of the four episodes, including the original airdates and runtimes:

Science Fiction (01/18/11 - 55:09) - Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, and Nichelle Nichols reflect on the birth of Star Trek. Lost in Space is remembered by Bill Mumy and Angela Cartwright. And a lost interview with Rod Sterling highlights a look at The Twilight Zone.

This episode focuses on three key science fiction series: Star Trek, Lost in Space and The Twilight Zone.. A surprising connection between Star Trek and Lost in Space is uncovered. Star Trek topics covered include Gene Roddenberry's story and the development of the show, William Shatner and how he was cast, Leonard Nimoy and the development of Spock's ears, and Nichelle Nichols and TV's first interracial kiss. Lost in Space topics include Irwin Allen's story and the development of the show, Jonathan Harris' portrayal of the Zachary Smith character, Irwin Allen's creation of The Time Tunnel, and the classic The Great Vegetable Rebellion episode. The Twilight Zone section details Rod Serling's early days, memorable episodes with guest stars William Shatner and Bill Mumy, Rod Serling's favorite episode, the special effects on the show, and the end of the show and Rod Serling's later projects. Others interviewed include Marta Kristen, Veronica Cartwright, Peter Graves, Lee Meriwether, Adam West and Martin Landau. Some bonus pioneering moments in science fiction are shown in the closing minutes.

Westerns (01/25/11 - 55:08) - James Garner (Maverick), Robert Conrad (Wild Wild West), and James Arness (Gunsmoke) are just three of the pioneers who talk about their experiences in this episode -- which also includes Linda Evans (Big Valley) and Fess Parker (Daniel Boone). Classics like Bonanza and The Rifleman are also featured.

From the mid-1940s to the mid-1970s, there were more than 100 different western series. In the 1959 season alone, there were more than 30 on the schedule. Gunsmoke, Bonanza and The Rifleman are among the iconic series profiled in this episode. James Garner talks about how he never wanted to become an actor, how he was picked to play Bret Maverick on Maverick, and his later television roles. Sam Peckinpah created his first TV series, The Rifleman, in 1958 starring Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford. Mr. Peckinpah left after the first season. Bonanza topics include Dan Blocker, Michael Landon, and the lack of female characters on the show. The Big Valley would be the first western with a female in the lead role. Barbara Stanwyck played the matriarch of the Barkley family. Linda Evans played her daughter and offers a touching new perspective on her co-star.

Premiering the same season as The Big Valley, The Wild Wild West was one of the most unconventional westerns. Robert Conrad did many of his own stunts and details the on-set accident that cracked his skull. Gunsmoke's story details the casting of James Arness as U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon, the show's popularity over 20 seasons, and some of the show's other cast members including the break-out character of Chester played by Dennis Weaver. In the last interview with Fess Parker, the star of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, he talks about his effort to cast African-American guest stars at a time when that was rare. The High Chapparal featured Henry Darrow as Manolito Montoya and had Hispanic actors speaking in Spanish. Others interviewed include Robert Culp, Ed Ames, Linda Evans, Veronica Cartwright, Rosey Grier, Ernest Borgnine, Johnny Crawford, Darby Hinton, Henry Darrow, Peter Graves, Stephen J. Cannell, Stefanie Powers, Pat Crowley, Mitch Vogel, Adam West, Chuck McCann, Martin Landau, Mike Connors, Dennis Weaver, Angie Dickinson and Buddy Ebsen. A montage in the closing minutes features some other westerns and cast members.

Crime Dramas (2/1/11 - 55:09) - This episode begins with the 1950s Dragnet and the Untouchables; includes 1960s hits Mission: Impossible I Spy and Hawaii Five-0; and wraps with 1970s favorites Rockford Files, Columbo, and Police Woman.

Dragnet began as a radio drama on NBC on June 3, 1949. In 1951, the television series debuted. Topics include an innovation by Jack Webb that made it possible for them to shoot an episode in just one or two days, close-ups to show emotion, and the famous "just the facts, ma'am" quote. The Untouchables was one of the most violent shows on television. Another show created by Desilu, Mannix starred Mike Connors. Mike Connors talks about how they sped up the pace of the show with 50 set ups a day. Mission: Impossible stars Peter Graves, Martin Landau and Barbara Bain independently reveal the eerie connection between their series and actual cold war events. They talk about the make-up and how they got to play somebody different each week.

I Spy featured Bill Cosby as the first African American male in a lead role on TV. Bill Cosby talks about his groundbreaking role and the challenges he faced. Co-star Robert Culp also discusses his work on the show. Hawaii Five-O featured Jack Lord as Jack McGarrett. Lord's involvement in the show is detailed. Most of the actors on the show were local Hawaiian actors. Women stars of crime drama included Anne Francis on Honey West, Stefanie Powers on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and Angie Dickinson on Police Woman. Stefanie Powers talks about her outfits on the show. Angie Dickinson explains her conflict with the feminist movement. Columbo starred Peter Falk. He made the character his own and brought his trademark trenchcoat from home and picked out Columbo's car. Stephen J. Cannell discusses the creation of The Rockford Files. James Garner talks about his role and stunt driving on the series. Others interviewed include Leonard Nimoy, Pat Crowley, Veronica Cartwright, Stan Freberg, Gavin MacLeod, Bruce Bilson and Rita Moreno. Some still images and trivia are shown in a montage in the closing minutes.

Local Kids' TV (2/8/11 - 55:09) - Jim Henson, Willard Scott, and Fred Rogers are among the performers who started their careers in local TV. These three icons -- and a dozen others -- are featured in this episode that highlights the clowns, pirates, spacemen, and puppets who made local kids' TV memorable for a generation.

The Wallace and Ladmo Show began in 1954 and aired in Phoenix, AZ for over 35 years. Bill Thompson, Sharon Kelley and Pat McMahon discuss their work on the show. Stan Freberg talks about a Time for Beany which aired in Los Angeles for 5 years. Jim Henson got his start on Sam and Friends in Washington, DC. His innovations in puppetry are discussed. Joan Ganz Cooney talks about the development of Sesame Street. Fred Rogers disusses his early work on television off camera and the start of his own show where he would appear on camera. Chuck McCann comments on Puppet Motel and later The Chuck McCann Show. Steven Spielberg recounts the Arizona kids' show, The Wallace and Ladmo Show, that shaped his career. Marlene Manderfield discusses Romper Room, which had localized versions across the country. Socorro Serano talks about the strictness and uniformity of the show. Mary Ann King documents the chain of events that led to a lion escaping on the set of Romper Room in Los Angeles. The history of Bozo the Clown is detailed. Willard Scott explains the surprising physical challenges of playing Bozo in Washington, DC. Dan Castellaneta reveals the inspiration for The Simpsons' Krusty the Clown. The Action for Children's Television is briefly mentioned. Bill Cosby, Prof. Gordon Berry PH.D., and Lou Scheimer talk about Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Others interviewed include Ernest Borgnine, Bill Mumy, and Susan Harmon.

This is a very interesting and entertaining series on the pioneers of television. These episodes are well made with many new interviews, vintage clips and still images. It's sad to watch some of the final interviews of Robert Culp, Peter Graves, Fess Parker and Stephen J. Cannell, who we all lost in 2010. They are able to put a lot of information in one-hour episodes, but they could really benefit by extending them to two hours. There are only able to cover so many shows and people in detail with the one-hour format. The science fiction and crime drama episodes were the most interesting to me, since I've always been a fan of those television genres. The local kids' tv episode was fun, but I think it focused a little too much on The Wallace and Ladmo Show, which may have only been familiar to people who live or have lived in Phoenix, AZ.

Season two is a nice follow-up to the first four episodes. I liked the first season with sitcoms, late night, variety and game shows a little more than the second season, but there should be something for everybody to enjoy on this release. It seems like they are taking ideas for more episodes on the Pioneers of Television Facebook page. I would like to see new episodes on network news and live events, Saturday morning kids shows, animated series, medical shows, music shows and reality television. Thanks to PBS for bringing us some quality programming.

(4/5 stars)

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Related links:
SitcomsOnline.com Main DVD Reviews Page
Pioneers of Television Official PBS Site

UPCOMING WEEK PREVIEW

Tuesday (March 8) is mostly a dead day for new releases, although there is one classic TV release that we won't be covering here. VEI is releasing McMillan & Wife - Season Three in Canada at a $39.95 MSRP.

LOOKING AHEAD

This has been a very sad and disappointing week, but we can only give you what we have when it comes to news. But we'll still be back next week with more news (let's hope this stuff starts to pick up) as well as a review of the Canadian hit comedy series, The Red Green Show - The Delinquent Years. Until then, keep it digital!


Sitcoms Airing Tonight

Wednesday, October 16

The Goldbergs - "Animal House" (ABC, 8:00PM ET/PT)
Barry decides to rush a fraternity, but it doesn’t quite work out as he expects. Meanwhile, Beverly and Murray find themselves getting closer to being empty nesters, which means more hobbies and activities for Beverly and more TV for Murray.

Schooled - "Kick Like a Girl" (ABC, 8:30PM ET/PT)
Hoping to improve the football team’s chances at winning the title, Coach Mellor and Principal Glascott recruit star soccer player Felicia to kick field goals. But soon, she is treated like one of the guys, which affects her relationship with fellow player Reza. Meanwhile, CB chaperones an overnight ski trip and hopes to get in some quality time with Lainey but is constantly thwarted by socially awkward Tom Scott.

Modern Family - "Pool Party" (ABC, 9:00PM ET/PT)
Mitch and Cam help Lily overcome her insecurities about wearing a bathing suit to a pool party but discover their own. Meanwhile, now that Gloria’s new internship is taking up so much of her time, Jay is feeling particularly neglected.

Single Parents - "Big Widow Wives" (ABC, 9:30PM ET/PT)
After a house incident leaves Graham in fear of staying in his and Angie’s home, Angie enlists Will to help her get the house back together; however, there is a hiccup in the plan as Angie discovers a possum on the loose that she has to deal with. Meanwhile, Poppy discovers that Douglas is lying to her about a weekly poker game he must attend, as he participates in a weekly widow’s support group instead, causing Poppy to get a little jealous of his emotional vulnerability with the women in his support group.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - "The Gang Chokes" (FXX, 10:00PM ET/PT)
Annoyed that the gang failed to react as he nearly choked to death on an appetizer, Frank decides the waiter, his savior, is the only person who has his back.

Family Time - "Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number" (Bounce TV, 9:00PM ET/PT)
Devin starts dating an older woman, which has Tony and Lisa concerned; Ebony's school project inspires her to go vegan.

Complete TV Listings


Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of October 14)

Wednesday, October 16

  • Jennifer Aniston (Friends/Muddling Through/Ferris Bueller/Molloy) - Watch Jennifer on Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
  • Dane Cook (Maybe This Time) - Dane appears on a repeat of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon at 11:35pm on NBC.
  • Whoopi Goldberg (Whoopi) - Whoopi is a guest on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
  • John Goodman (The Conners/Roseanne/Center of the Universe/Normal, Ohio) - John appears on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
  • Ed Helms (The Office) - Ed is a guest on a repeat of The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
  • June Diane Raphael (Grace and Frankie/Burning Love/Players) - June appears on a repeat of The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
  • Thomas Lennon (The Odd Couple/Sean Saves the World/Reno 911!) and Whitney Cummings (Whitney) - Thomas and Whitney are panelists on Lights Out with David Spade at 11:30pm on Comedy Central.
  • Alyssa Milano (Who's the Boss?/Romantically Challenged) - Alyssa chats with the ladies of The View about her book Project Middle School (Alyssa Milano’s Hope #1) on ABC at 11am ET/10am CT-PT.
  • Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly/Samantha Who?) - Melissa visits The Ellen DeGeneres Show, so check your local listings.
  • Michael Rapaport (Awkward/The War at Home) - Michael stops by The Wendy Williams Show, so check your local listings.
  • Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory/8 Simple Rules) - Kaley is a guest on The Kelly Clarkson Show, so check your local listings.
  • Paul Rudd (Living with Yourself/Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later/Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp/Wild Oats) - Paul talks about Netflix's Living with Yourself on CBS This Morning sometime between 7-9am.
  • Ali Wong (American Housewife/Are You There, Chelsea?) - Ali talks about Dear Girls on NBC's Today sometime between 7-9am.
  • William Jackson Harper (The Good Place) - William talks about The Good Place on NBC's Today sometime between 7-9am and on New York Live on WNBC in New York at 11:30am ET.
  • Angela Kinsey (The Office/Haters Back Off/Your Family or Mine) and Jenna Fischer (Splitting Up Together/The Office) - Angela and Jenna talk about the Office Ladies Podcast on NBC's Today in the 10am hour and on the BUILD Series at 2pm.
  • Julie Andrews (Julie) - Julie talks about her book Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years on the BUILD Series at 5pm.


New on DVD/Blu-ray (August/September/October)

Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Season Six Young Sheldon - The Complete Second Season My Three Sons - The Fourth Season - Volume One Modern Family - The Complete Tenth Season Life with Lucy - The Complete Series

08/06 - Caroline in the City - The Third Season
08/06 - Caroline in the City - The Fourth Season
08/13 - I Love Lucy - Colorized Collection
08/13 - Leave it to Beaver - Seasons One and Two
08/20 - Brooklyn Nine-Nine - Season Six
08/27 - Baskets - The Complete Season Four
08/27 - It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - The Complete Thirteenth Season
09/03 - Bob's Burgers - The Complete 9th Season
09/03 - Fresh Off the Boat - The Complete Fifth Season
09/03 - The Goldbergs - The Complete Sixth Season
09/03 - Single Parents - The Complete Season One
09/03 - Young Sheldon - The Complete Second Season
09/04 - What We Do in the Shadows - The Complete First Season
09/10 - American Dad! - Volume 14
09/10 - The Jetsons - The Complete Original Series (Blu-ray) (WBShop.com)
09/11 - My Three Sons - The Fourth Season - Volume One
09/11 - My Three Sons - The Fourth Season - Volume Two
09/17 - Friends - The Complete Series (25th Anniversary)
09/17 - Modern Family - The Complete Tenth Season
09/19 - Angel from Hell - The DVD Edition
10/08 - Leave it to Beaver - The Complete Series
10/08 - Life with Lucy - The Complete Series
10/15 - The King of Queens - The Complete Series (Mill Creek)
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