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TV DVD: Cool Late-Season Extras
February 14, 2011  | By Diane Werts

You see this headline and you're thinking what late-season extras? Many TV DVD releases, especially for vintage shows, seem to give up on goodies after Season 1.

But not all of them -- take The Lucy Show Season 3. When I finally got around recently to checking out this fall release, I found a slew of cool features that made me sorry I'd waited so long to look at the back of the box and into the discs themselves.

One of the features is simply a nice presentation option. This 1964-65 season of Lucille Ball's first post-I Love Lucy solo vehicle was broadcast in CBS' Monday night anchor slot in TV's then-prevalent format of black-and-white. But with color TV clearly tending toward dominance, Desilu studio president Lucy had the sense to shoot the show in color -- just as she and then-husband Desi had smartly filmed their '50s hit rather than perform it for live broadcast in early TV's pre-videotape days. That allowed them to reap later millions in syndication -- and to become legend, with future generations able to savor I Love Lucy when other early '50s series had been lost to posterity. The Lucy Show Season 3 DVD set lets users watch episodes in either tint: Vote with a remote click for monochrome nostalgia or multihued modernity.

Other extras put The Lucy Show in the context of its TV times. Variety hours were big then, mixing sketches with song and dance. Thus, here's Lucy in a bonus skit from CBS' hit The Danny Kaye Show (Bing Crosby's White Christmas costar), a sort of guest appearance trade-out with the network's top male red-headed star. (Too bad it's in B&W.) Their long two-hander conveys the leisurely pace of that era's TV entertainment in a three-channel universe, with Lucy and Danny on stools in a black "limbo" setting as a husband and wife oddly unable to fire their maid.


Pop culture circa 1964 is captured, too, in a wonderful half-hour of Lucy, her mom and new husband Gary Morton touring the vast World's Fair in New York's Flushing Meadows. Vintage film footage is fleshed out by an interview with a former fair official, who narrates "Lucy day at the Fair" by recalling the star's meet-and-greets with representatives of world nations and bands of American schoolkids in bright red wigs. Let's watch Lucy do The Twist, just like this!

The Lucy Show Season 3 set is also crammed with the little extras we've seen on other Lucy releases (of all her 3 CBS series) -- cast commercials, vintage opening/closing sequences, promos, text bios and production notes, even clips translated into French and Japanese.

It's all here because, of course, we do love Lucy, still. But also because her family and estate keepers insist, I'm sure. Lucy shows might likely sell just as well without every little bonus feature. But somebody cares.

We can't assume it's the home video distributor, because that same CBS Home Entertainment operation managed to release the entire eight-season run of the equally beloved Andy Griffith Show with a shocking scarcity of extras -- no commentaries, no new interviews -- even though the show's main stars were all still alive when releases began in 2004. Don Knotts has since died, and Andy Griffith is decidedly less chipper, and CBS still hasn't made the effort to make up for lost time on its other Monday night essential from the network's '60s glory years.

Before I hear the usual reason, yes, I know, many if not most viewers don't care about the extras, they just wanna see the shows, blah blah blah. Okay, then don't watch the extras. But those of us who want them really want them. And who's to say future fans won't? (We know future critics/historians/scholars certainly will.)

And the fact is, if distributors don't grab the chance to create those bonus features for vintage programs -- to track down and preserve rare elements, to involve original participants while they're still alive and alert -- the chance may in many cases disappear for good. Yes, it can cost money, especially for vintage shows, where the rights owner no longer has a contractual hold on participants, and especially on really old shows made before cast and crew gained the right to down-the-road residuals. Those people didn't make money off decades of reruns. They'd like to make a little off of making bonus features.

And frankly, they should, considering how many millions of dollars an aired-every-day fave like Lucy or Andy has made for the studio.

The issue shouldn't be whether the expense of producing new extras will be repaid in additional DVD sales. The issue should be respect for the something and somebodies who made a TV classic that made the studio rich while also enriching what Nick at Nite used to call "our TV heritage." Our pop culture heritage. Our American heritage, period.

Neglecting extras is downright unpatriotic.

Nice to see Lucy lovers wave that bonus features flag so boldly.

P.S. -- If you're wondering how to find which features a set has to offer, check our friend Gord Lacey's authoritative website TV Shows on DVD.




Jill said:

LOVE this post. I'm one of those people who doesn't look quite that much at the extras, but when I do have some leisure and I'm just checking out some of my dvds, I really enjoy "finding" some of these -- they can be laugh-out-loud hilarious, or just interesting, but either way, they are fun!

I think one of the reasons I haven't been looking at the extras in some of my dvd sets is that there are so many that have lame extras, and I got tired of that. I'll be looking at more of them and trying to find the good ones, now that you've reminded me that some are fascinating.

This post sounds like the makings of a feature piece... :-)

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