Ever since the advent of home video, fans of early TV have had to make do with dubs of 16mm prints — if not dubs of dubs that were earlier dubbed from some other dub. Meaning, several generations later, the only copies of these shows in bootleg circulation are grainy, have muffled sound and are difficult to watch.
But lately, such vintage programs as "Studio One" and "Omnibus" have made their way to DVD, opening the door for more, including a cult favorite that leads this collection of newly released TV shows.
"Evening Primrose" (eOne, 1966, b/w, $29.98). This is, by all accounts, the best episode of the single-season anthology series "ABC Stage 67." An hourlong musical, the show features four lovely songs from composer Stephen Sondheim and boasts a teleplay by James Goldman ("The Lion in Winter").
Anthony Perkins, six years removed from "Psycho" and still trying to break out of that stereotype, plays the hero, a naive poet who decides to move into a Manhattan department store and live there after hours, writing without interruption and not having to raise rent.
But to his surprise, he discovers an entire community already living there, made up largely of seemingly benign elderly folk. Then, he meets a young woman who is their servant, the two begin to fall in love, and things turn sinister.
(That's "sinister" in the "Twilight Zone" fashion, and this show may remind "TZ" fans of a 1960 episode, "The After Hours," with Anne Francis discovering that department-store mannequins come alive at night.)
If you can forget about Norman Bates, Perkins is actually quite good, and his singing voice may surprise those unfamiliar with his early recording and musical-stage careers.
And especially enchanting is Charmian Carr as the young woman who has lived in the store most of her life but yearns to see the outside world. Her heartbreaking renditions of Sondheim's "I Remember" and "Take Me to the World" will stay with you.
Most of the way, this is a nicely modulated piece, very well-acted and with some directing flourish, but despite being filmed instead of live, it's more like a stage play than a movie, especially with a couple of violent moments near the end. Still, charm wins out.
Extras: full frame, interview with director Paul Bogart, audio interview with Carr, color (albeit silent) location test footage with Perkins; 28-page booklet (with an introduction by Sondheim)
"On the Road With Charles Kuralt: Set 3" (Acorn, 1967-87, three discs, $39.99). Kuralt, a longtime journalist for CBS, is best remembered for these charming, eccentric and funny "On the Road" pieces, short video featurettes about a wide variety of people and places around the country.
This set includes a priest on an Alaska glacier, a horse trader, a singing mailman, someone who makes sorghum, bell ringers, the "goose lady," unique tombstones, the "skill" Olympics and much more.
Extras: full frame, 14 episodes (57 stories), featurette, text biography
"Poldark: Series 2" (Acorn, 1977, four discs, $69.99). Captain Ross Poldark (Robin Ellis) goes home after being dismissed with marsh fever, only to find his home life and local politics in upheaval. This series, set in 18th century Cornwall, has been called a British "Gone With the Wind" for its scope and memorable characters well played by a sterling cast.
Extras: full frame, 13 episodes
"Surviving the Holidays with Lewis Black" (History, 2009, $19.95). Who better than Scrooge-like comic Black to host this 90-minute special on the title subject, specifically the days between Thanksgiving and New Year's? The range of holidays includes Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, along with specifics about each, lighting candles, exchanging gifts, Christmas cards, etc.
Black interviews experts on these subjects but most of the show is spent on stand-up wisecracks from his fellow comics — a wide array that includes Shelley Berman, Craig Ferguson, Joy Behar, Bob Saget, David Alan Grier, Richard Belzer and many more. They are all funny (albeit sometimes naughty) but the annoying quick-cut editing in a show this long quickly wears out its welcome and undermines the comedy.
Extras: widescreen, deleted sequence
"Earth and Space" (History/Blu-ray, 2007-09, six discs, $79.95). This set is comprised of episodes from both "The Universe" and "How the Earth Was Made," a pair of miniseries that employ, respectively, NASA and location footage, as well as eye-popping computer graphics to speculate about the cosmos beyond our sphere, and the birth and evolution of the planet.
Extras: widescreen, 26 episodes, documentary: "Beyond the Big Bang" ("How the Earth Was Made" is also available separately on Blu-ray, three discs, $49.95)
"World War II 360" (History/Blu-ray, 2008-09, five discs, 13 episodes, $79.95). Computer graphics and more of the latest technology combine with archival footage of World War II battles to bring an unusual armchair experience to this overview of the conflicts in the air, on the ground and under the sea, throughout the Pacific Theater and across Europe.
Extras: widescreen, 10 episodes, bonus footage
"Dog the Bounty Hunter: The Wild Ride Megaset" (A&E, 2004-2010, eight discs, $39.95). Fans of this "reality show" about the Dog and his crew will enjoy this best-of collection, which includes shows about Dog and his common-law wife heading to Hawaii for a wedding and an episode about Dog being arrested.
Extras: widescreen, 45 episodes, deleted scenes, full-length special: "Year of the Dog," featurettes, promos, photo gallery, interactive quiz, text biographies, episode of "Take This Job": "Catch Em If You Can"
"Have a Laugh! Volume 1" (Disney, 1937-2007, $19.99)."Have a Laugh! Volume 2" (Disney, 1937-1950, $19.99). These two collections each feature five intact Disney cartoons (vintage efforts with Mickey, Donald and Goofy, as well as Pluto, Chip 'n' Dale, etc.), along with "Re-MICKS" and "BLAMs," mash-ups of cartoon clips set to pop songs (as seen on "Playhouse Disney").
Extras: full frame/widescreen; each disc has five cartoons, three "BLAMs" and one "Re-Micks"; trailers
"The Halloween Stories Collection" (Scholastic, 2010, three discs, $24.95). Among the "slightly scary" stories animated for children ages 3-9 are "The Teacher From the Black Lagoon," "A Very Brave Witch" and "Where the Wild Things Are." Narrators include Elle Fanning and Calista Flockhart.1 comment on this story
Extras: full frame, 18 stories, featurettes, read-along
"Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics 2" (Scholastic, 2010, 17 discs, $99.95). "Goodnight Moon," "Red Riding Hood" and "The Night Before Christmas" are among the stories here, animated for kids 2-9. Zach Braff, Stockard Channing, John Lithgow, Abigail Breslin, Mia Farrow and Cyndi Lauper are among the narrators. (Two of the "Halloween" discs are also here.)
Extras: full frame, 100 stories, featurettes, read-along, nine stories in Spanish, quizzes/discussion questions, sign-language vocabulary