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DVD UPDATE: Finally, goodies from the archives!
June 22, 2010  | By Diane Werts
 
dvd the goldbergs.jpgYou know how it is. The more there is to watch on TV -- the more channels, the more shows -- the harder it gets to find the little that's actually worth watching. But that problem is magnified on DVD. Either you can't find the quality shows worth buying, or those gems have such an "exclusive" (read: small) audience that they don't even get released on disc.

What's a discerning viewer to do?

Turn to the internet. That's where we here at TV Worth Watching try to point you toward the best viewing on TV and, increasingly, online. The web is also where more and more DVD distributors are selling obscure goodies and collectors' items direct to consumers, bypassing the retail middleman. That enables the studios to finally make their less commercially viable titles available to the connoisseurs chomping at the bit to to buy them.

Online is where you'll find not-in-stores DVD releases of classics like the pioneering '40s sitcom The Goldbergs and 1983's prescient hostage-coverage TV movie "news report" Special Bulletin. Recent series, too -- Rufus Sewell's Eleventh Hour and Dylan McDermott's Dark Blue. You'll find subsequent seasons of shows discontinued in stores, along with vintage TV movies and miniseries you thought you'd never see again.

Direct-to-consumer titles also range into Christmas specials, cartoons, and the old-time movies you've seen on Turner Classic Movies -- even the short subjects that often seem more delightful than the feature films they fill time between.

Below you'll find a rundown of the distributors now selling direct online. We hope you'll choose the convenient option to click on our links to buy. Then TV Worth Watching will share in a tiny slice of the revenue, to help us pay our bills and keep news like this coming your way.


WARNER ARCHIVE

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Warner Archive is an online pioneer that now offers more than 500 titles direct to consumers. This venerable studio's TV output encompasses everything from last season's TNT drama Dark Blue to the '80s miniseries Lace (with its then-shocking, now-camp key line "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"). And Warner's unparallelled movie archive (also encompassing golden-age MGM product) reaches all the way back to Hollywood silents starring Greta Garbo.

The Archive discs are manufactured on demand, which means when you order, the studio burns a disc especially for you, onto the DVD-R discs used in home recorders (the ones with the purple recording surface). These MOD discs don't always play well with home recorders or computer drives, but mine have always worked on standard DVD/BD players. Most titles cost $15-$20 (via DVD and/or Windows Media download; sorry, no Mac), with some multi-disc sets costing more. But Archive goodies frequently go on sale.

I've viewed a half-dozen Warner Archive releases, and the quality is good. Source materials are generally not remastered for DVD, but the film prints are usually clean and, in some cases, indistinguishable from similar retail releases. (Warner's web site offers video excerpts to preview the video quality.) Though few special features are offered, the Archive titles have regular DVD menus and case packaging.

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TV titles rescued for release by Warner Archive include Gene Roddenberry's two unsold post-Star Trek TV pilots Genesis II and Planet Earth. Also available are TV movie pilots you never thought you'd see again -- the Vietnam-era "find myself" motorcycle odyssey of Michael Parks in Then Came Bronson, the '60s Medical Center starter Operation Heartbeat with Chad Everett, and Patrick Duffy's 1977 pre-Dallas amphibean adventures in The Man From Atlantis.

Special Bulletin is a must-see -- the 1983 Emmy magnet with its stunning "breaking news" video recreation of a terrorist hostage situation, starring Ed Flanders (St. Elsewhere), David Clennon (thirtysomething) and David Rasche (Sledge Hammer). This searing original was made by the team soon to create thirtysomething, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, whose portrait of TV news isn't pretty but sure is sharp, right down to the "event" logos and catchphrases that package horrifying news like some tiltillating melodrama. (Special Bulletin is also available from Amazon.com, as are some other Warner Archive titles, generally at a higher price than direct purchase.)

Other vintage TV goodies showcase Jamie Lee Curtis in the 1981 docudrama Death of a Centerfold, Ann-Margret in the 1987 Dominick Dunne murder hit The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, and Gene Rowlands as the troubled First Lady of 1987's The Betty Ford Story. dvd dark blue.jpgOr get more recent with Sewell's short-lived CBS suspenser Eleventh Hour and the first run of McDermott's TNT copfest Dark Blue, which starts its second cable season Aug. 4.

TCM addicts will love Warner Archive's range of movie releases. Silent films unavailable in stores include Garbo's Love and The Temptress, Norma Shearer's Lady of the Night, John Barrymore's Beau Brummel, and Marion Davies' The Patsy. There's also the early talkie all-star showcase Hollywood Revue of 1929, capturing the fascinating growing pains of an industry morphing almost overnight from artsy pantomime to spell-it-out dialogue.

Showbiz portraying showbiz is all over Warner Archive -- Will Rogers Jr. inhabits his folksy father in 1952's The Story of Will Rogers, Danny Thomas remakes Al Jolson in 1953's The Jazz Singer, and late-in-life Errol Flynn plays John Barrymore in 1958's lurid Hollywood biopic Too Much, Too Soon. There's also Chevy Chase riding herd on Munchkins in 1981's Under the Rainbow.

Other offerings range all the way into the 1990s, and you can use filters on the Warner Archive site to search by decade (or genre) to make browsing easier. More recent titles include Johnny Depp's weird 1994 sleeper Arizona Dream, 1989's Penn & Teller Get Killed, Timothy Hutton with then-wife Debra Winger in 1987's moody romance Made in Heaven, and 1980's comedy performance film Gilda Live.

Even more creative -- and more essential -- Warner Archive is packaging hard-to-find short subjects, which offer different windows on the worlds of both vintage Hollywood and mid-century America. TCM fans will recognize the channel's between-films fillers in the 6-disc Big Band, Jazz & Swing set of more than 60 shorts, featuring the likes of Cab Calloway, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, even erstwhile bandleaders Ozzie Nelson and Desi Arnaz (for just $50!).

To buy from Warner Archive, click here:

Official Shop of Warner Bros


SHOUT SELECT

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Shout Factory has long been the tubehead's best friend in the DVD biz. The pop culture lovers there specialize in preserving touchstones like Freaks and Geeks, Ozzie & Harriet, Peyton Place, SCTV, It's Garry Shandling's Show and thirtysomething in fun-packed sets that fans love finding on store shelves.

Now Shout is offering some shows online-only, especially those perceived to be less commercially viable and more collector-oriented. But Shout goes the full mile with these Shout Direct releases, producing smart booklets that explain historical context, plus as many on-disc extras as they can. In The Goldbergs, writer-producer-star Gertrude Berg virtually invents the TV sitcom, based on her longrunning radio show, and the extras explain that process as well as the social context of its urban immigrant Jewish perspective.

Subsequent seasons of shows that might otherwise remain stalled for distribution also make Shout Direct a wonderful resource. Here's the place to continue collecting not-in-stores seasons of Room 222, Ironside, My Two Dads, Small Wonder and the unsung 1969 teachercom The Bill Cosby Show, an early single-camera half-hour that never gets enough credit for its easygoing innovation. Shout Direct also offers children's content and animation like Bump in the Night and C.O.P.S.

Shout is putting a twist on its own factory store releases by partnering exclusively with Amazon.com on the fourth and final season of thirtysomething, due out Sept. 7.

Buy from Shout Factory Select.


MGM LIMITED EDITION COLLECTION

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MGM's Limited Edition Collection is based at Amazon.com. While the studio's earlier output (1920s-1950s) is owned by Turner/Warner, later movies and TV shows not sold in stores are available to order online as manufactured-on-demand sets.

TV DVD sets from MGM include Luke Perry's Jeremiah Season 2 and Poltergeist: The Legacy Season 2, plus both versions of Flipper (the '60s original Season 2 and The New Adventures Season 1). Preorders are open for Broderick Crawford's no-nonsense '50s fave Highway Patrol.

Among MGM's feature titles are Dick Van Dyke big-screen vehicles Cold Turkey and Fitzwilly, the Henry Fonda political drama The Best Man, Rudolf Nureyev's Valentino, and the underappreciated '70s alternative newspaper tale Between the Lines, stuffed to the gills with stars-to-be (John Heard, Jeff Goldblum, Lindsay Crouse, Stephen Collins, Bruno Kirby and more).

Buy from MGM Limited Edition Collection.


MTV/VIACOM

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Viacom-owned cable channels like MTV and Nickelodeon have also been unearthing treats to manufacture on demand via Amazon. Nick's kid-aimed MOD discs include season sets of Rugrats, Doug and Hey Arnold!

Fans of MTV's trashtastic Jersey Shore have been able to buy the uncensored Season 1 on Amazon exclusively since February, though it won't hit regular release till July 20. Other titles from MTV channels (including siblings like LOGO) include The Head, The Maxx, Coming Out Stories, Shirts & Skins, College Life, and 16 & Pregnant.

Buy from Amazon's MTV store.


UNIVERSAL VAULT

Universal has partnered with Amazon and Turner Classic Movies' Vault Collection to make available releases not sold in stores. Amazon is where you'll find Jack Webb's 1954 Dragnet movie and 1964's The Brass Bottle with Barbara Eden, which turned into her TV series I Dream of Jeannie (where Larry Hagman replaced the original film's Tony Randall).

Universal movie exclusives from Amazon include Ann-Margret's '60s campfest Kitten With a Whip, Lily Tomlin's The Incredible Shrinking Woman, and further back, Charles Laughton's '30s delight Ruggles of Red Gap.

Turner Classic Movies' web site offers its own Universal Vault titles. Collections spotlight teen musical queen Deanna Durbin and the early work of Cary Grant, plus cult horror treats like 1933's Murders in the Zoo and long-lost gems like Barbara Stanwyck's Christmas story Remember the Night. TCM Vault offerings include extras like intros by TCM host Robert Osborne, original publicity materials, and more.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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