One of the things that I find myself constantly on about is that there's really no excuse to not have access to classic...well, anything: television, movies, animation--you name it. Once we needed to actually, you know, make stuff. Whether it was Blu-Rays, DVDs or VHS tapes (kids, ask your parents), imagine releasing a complete set of...oh, say The Tonight Show (which has run for fifty-seven years), or Mister Rogers (thirty-three years) or...and this is the example I always use: The Carol Burnett Show. Eleven years and 278 episodes. The prospect of putting that out on actual physical home media is just daunting.
What we're here to talk about is not The Complete Collection of this show.
The point I'm attempting to make is this: even if you were to do the smart thing and let somebody pay for streaming access to the entirety of something like The Carol Burnett Show, there are two things that streaming media haven't figured out how to do. The first, which they'll do eventually, is to figure out bonus bits. And speaking as a guy who's a bonus feature junkie--this can be a showstopper. But most importantly--at least until 3-D printers get really, really cheap--special boxed sets and gift editions and whatnot are going to be hard to replicate.
It is into this gap that Time-Life thrusts the closest thing to satisfying everybody (at least in regards to this show) that we're going to get for some time. Dubbed The Ultimate Collection, it brings you fifty episodes from the run. Only fifty? You might ask. (You might well. I sure did.) However, consider that in order to get those and the bonus bits that accompany them, you're already at a twenty-two disc set. And since we're staring down the barrel at another gift-giving season, you might want to give this some serious consideration.
The "Carol's Favorites" set (which is the part of this that's available separately) has sixteen episodes hand-picked by the lady herself. Among the umpteen guest stars found on these episodes: Roddy McDowall, Steve Martin, Maggie Smith, Carl Reiner, Vincent Price, Betty White, Phil Silvers, and scads more. This also comes with the "Let's Bump Up the Lights" cast reunion special, a featurette about the history of the show, interviews with White, Reiner, Carol, and the duo of Korman and Conway (priceless). You also get the first appearance of the Tarzan yell from The Garry Moore Show and the ridiculous "Dentist" sketch (sadly without the rest of the episode--just the one sketch).
The "This Time Together" set has another cast reunion, more interviews (including Conway, Carol, Vicki and Steve Lawrence), a costume featurette, plus the main event: seventeen episodes, with guest stars like Lily Tomlin, Dick Van Dyke, Sammy Davis Jr., Madeline Kahn, Peggy Lee and The Pointer Sisters.
The "One More Time" set has another seventeen episodes plus another cast reunion, a featurette "Focus on the Family" about those series of sketches and additional interviews. These episodes guest star Joel Grey, Maggie Smith, Jack Klugman, Helen Reddy, Bernadette Peters, Roddy McDowall, Jim Nabors, Ruth Buzzi and again, scads more.
Your additional bonus discs (sans episodes) come with the additional Garry Moore episoes with Carol (including her final episode), additional sketches from episodes not included in this Ultimate set, a chat with different people about Carol's classic Q&A sessions with the audience, a writing featurette, and additional interviews with cast members and guest stars alike.
So now that I've finally gotten at least a decent chunk of what I've been wanting--namely, this show where I'm not having to trawl YouTube to get at some of my favorite bits--what's my reaction? Well, it's not a perfect set. The audio and video aren't incredible, but granted, we are talking about a show that's about as old as I am--and I don't sound or look so hot either. So. It's not anything one can get terribly upset about--a full-on restoration/remastering would be a bit too much to ask for. At least ask for and be able to bloody well afford it. Not all the episodes are uncut, but again, that's not surprising. My thought would be rights issues--that's normally what gets things chopped.
The special features--they're brilliant to have--and anything where we have the late great Harvey Korman on record is priceless--but you do get a lot of the same information over and over again--and occasionally, especially with the interviews, the same footage. In defense of the people putting this together--only the seriously hardcore and people trying to feature boxed sets for websites ever go through all the bonus bits--so this is probably not something that will bother you very much.
Those slight detractions aside, the bottom line is that the content itself--which is what you really turn up for with this--is hit and miss, frankly. The stuff that's funny is damn funny. And some of it falls flat or has lost its context...but the posterity of a set like this is terribly important. Also important is the fact that this is a type of television program that simply no longer exists. So to have it out in the world again is important. Sadly, a lot of younger people don't know just how goddamn funny this ensemble was. And when you find someone who needs schooling, remember to beat them severely, then sit them down and get them watching.
On the gift giving side of things--you could say, Widge, $200? Really? Well, it's $4 an episode not counting bonus bits and bonus sketches. And it's certain to appeal to the right person. And hey, if you aren't made of coin at the moment, the Carol's Favorites is available. And hey, if you are made of coin, there's even a Signature Collection version available from Time-Life. Yes, autographed by Burnett, Conway and Lawrence. Limited to 300 copies. And if you are made of coin, I am available for adoption.
Even with a few warts and wrinkles, this is a step in the right direction for a show I've been dying to see properly released. Time-Life is to be commended for getting this out and it's a definie recommendation for any fan of the show. Click here to go to the Time-Life site.