A TV adaptation of a classic Broadway show leads this look at television programs new to DVD.
"Anything Goes" (eOne, 1954, b/w, $29.98). A remarkably high-quality kinescope marks this episode of the popular variety show "The Colgate Comedy Hour," which was broadcast live and featured rotating weekly stars (most frequently Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis, Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante).
On one Sunday night in 1954, the comedy-and-music format was shifted to accommodate a revival of Ethel Merman's 1934 Broadway hit "Anything Goes" (which, coincidentally, is in another Broadway revival right now). As performed here, the Cole Porter musical co-stars Frank Sinatra (just before he won the supporting-actor Oscar for "From Here to Eternity") and Bert Lahr (best known as the cowardly lion in "The Wizard of Oz").
The story has Merman as a nightclub singer aboard a cruise ship during the Roaring '20s. Sinatra stows away to pursue her and Lahr, as a gangster masquerading as a missionary, provides comic relief. The show was truncated to run a scant 50 minutes (sans commercials), but the good news is that it required the emphasis to be put on the songs — and what songs they are.
Each is a classic from the Porter songbook, with Merman belting and Sinatra crooning such memorable hits as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Just One of Those Things," "You're the Top" and the title tune. There's also a delightful comic duet of "Friendship" with Merman and Lahr.
Again, this was broadcast live, so there are minor glitches and hesitations, but that only adds to the excitement of the show. Merman is in great voice, Sinatra is relaxed and at the peak of his singing game, and it's a real treat to see old-pro Lahr practice his stage-trained comic timing.
Extras: full frame, featurette; 20-page booklet
"Upstairs, Downstairs: Complete Series: 40th Anniversary Edition" (Acorn, 1971-75, 21 discs, $199.99). This is one of the great British television series, with a terrific ensemble cast in the ultimate soap opera about the lives of the upstairs aristocrats and the downstairs servants in a posh London townhouse during the first 30 years of the 20th century.
The various distinctive characters, the changes in political climate, the horrors of World War I, and all sorts of major and minor scandals and life-changing events are shown equally through the eyes of both classes.
Jean Marsh, Pauline Collins, Lesley-Anne Down and Gordon Jackson are among the cast, creating memorable characters the audience comes to care about as if they are family members.
Extras: full frame, 68 episodes, audio commentaries, documentary on the series, retrospective featurettes, text essay by star/co-creator Jean Marsh
"Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season One" (A&E, 1993, five discs, $29.95).
"Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season Two" (A&E, 1993-94, seven discs, $29.95).
"Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman: The Complete Season Three" (A&E, 1994-95, eight discs, $29.95). The beloved Western series starring Jane Seymour as a frontier doctor was canceled after six episodes but revived following a huge fan write-in protest, which led to a complete six seasons.
These single-season sets are being reissued at a much better price than in the past, each with bonus features. Guests include Diane Ladd, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and Tom Poston.
Extras: full frame, "Season One": 17 episodes, A&E "Biography" of Seymour, photo gallery, interactive tour, text biographies/filmographies; "Season Two": 24 episodes, audio commentary, featurette, text biographies; "Season Two": 25 episodes, audio commentary, text biographies
"Highway to Heaven" Season One" (A&E, 1984-85, seven discs, $29.95). As with "Dr. Quinn," this series — something of a precursor to "Touched By an Angel" — stars Michael Landon as a probationary angel who travels the country touching the lives of people with problems. It's warm and uplifting, with gentle humor. Guests this season include Helen Hayes, Jonathan Frakes, Wil Wheaton, Ned Beatty, Trish Van Devere and Helen Hunt.
Extras: full frame, 24 episodes, documentary on Landon, outtakes, text biographies
"Charlton Heston Presents The Bible" (Warner, 1997, four discs, $34.92). This A&E series finally comes to DVD, as Heston reads directly from King James scripture in biblical settings, also offering historical context. Powerful imagery helps move things along, and Heston's impressive dramatic readings are lively as he relates the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses and the life of Jesus, among others.
Extras: full frame, four episodes, featurettes, trailers
"Vega$: The Second Season, Volume 2" (CBS/Paramount, 1980, three discs, $39.99). Robert Urich, as private eye Dan Tanna, continues to take on crime in Sin City. Guests in this set include Louis Jourdan, James Darren, Robert Loggia, Tanya Roberts and Michelle Phillips.
Extras: full frame, 11 episodes, promos
"Big Time Rush: Season One, Volume One" (Nickelodeon/Paramount, 2010, two discs, $16.99). Four Minnesota pals travel to Los Angeles, hoping to make it in the music business.
Extras: full frame, 11 episodes, featurette, photo flipbook
"Our Planet: The Past, Present and Future of Earth" (History, 2011, three discs, $19.95). This documentary looks at the planet's history and the potential for disaster due to human behavior.
Extras: widescreen, three episodes, deleted scenes, documentary: "Inside the Volcano"
"Gangland: The Final Season" (History/Blu-ray, 2010, $49.95). The seventh season of this documentary series about gangs in various cities across the country wraps up with violence in Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Ohio, among other places. (One episode is hosted by Ice-T and Snoop Dog.)
Extras: widescreen, 15 episodes
"The Cosmos: A Beginner's Guide" (Athena, 2007, two discs, $39.99). This British series looks at technology's place in changing our understanding of the universe, using 3-D re-creations.
Extras: widescreen, six episodes, photo gallery, text discussion questions/timeline of space exploration; 12-page booklet
"The Genius of Design" (Athena, 2009, two discs, $49.99). This BBC documentary series explores the history of design, the discipline that shapes our environment, economy and culture from the Industrial Revolution forward.
Extras: widescreen, five episodes, text biographies/discussion questions; 12-page booklet
"Apocalypse: World War II" (eOne, 2011, three discs, $34.98). The documentary draws from archival footage, including soldiers and civilians' home movies, to offer a human look at World War II.
Extras: widescreen, six episodes, deleted scenes, featurette
"Happiness Is a Warm Blanket" (Warner, 2011, $19.98). New straight-to-DVD "Peanuts" feature (45 minutes) has Linus upset that his grandmother wants to break his attachment to his security blanket. Charlie Brown tries to help, but Snoopy wants the blanket for himself.
Extras: widescreen, deleted scene, featurettes