Three vintage TV shows from three different genres — and which began airing during three different decades — have been released this week in complete-series DVD sets.
And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve been around long enough to remember all three. Yikes!
First up is “Take a Good Look: The Definitive Collection” (Shout!, 1959-61, b/w, seven discs, 49 episodes).
An eccentric game-show spoof created by and starring Ernie Kovacs, “Take a Good Look” has been somewhat available in random excerpts floating around the internet — but now every single complete episode known to exist has been collected in this set (four are considered lost).
Kovacs, with his prominent mustache and ever-present cigar, was a truly inventive comedian whose style of humor was perhaps ahead of its time. His obtuse and surreal skits might fit quite well with some 21st-century comic sensibilities. It’s really not difficult to picture Kate McKinnon or Kristen Wiig or Will Ferrell fitting into Kovacs’ absurdist stock company.
Kovacs particularly excelled at blackouts, pantomime sketches that last only a few minutes, using skills he experimented with on some no-budget NBC shows from 1955-56, and which he further honed in this off-the-wall two-season quiz show.
He conceived the show as a spoof of such popular quiz programs of the era as “I’ve Got a Secret,” “To Tell the Truth” and “What’s My Line?”
Each episode has a three-celebrity panel, with movie star Cesar Romero, “Dragnet” actor Ben Alexander, comic/voice actor Hans Conried and Kovacs’ wife, singer Edie Adams, as rotating regulars. (Also on hand as fill-ins are Carl Reiner, Tony Randall, Janet Leigh, Mort Sahl, Jack Carson, Jane Wyatt, Jim Backus, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Mormon actress Laraine Day.)
Their task is to identify guests that have achieved a modicum of fame (but whose faces are generally unfamiliar) — ranging from silent-film director Mack Sennett to 1959 Miss America Mary Ann Mobley to jet pilot Scott Crossfield (who shows up in two episodes!) to chess champ Bobby Fischer to former child actress Jean Darling to a lot of baseball players, and many more.
To assist the panel, Kovacs hosts each half-hour episode and introduces several skits (some filmed) that ostensibly offer “clues” to the guests’ identities. And yes, Kovacs fans, his regular characters, such as Percy Dovetonsils and the Nairobi Trio, make appearances. (He also does comic commercials for the show’s sponsor, Dutch Masters cigars.)
Of course, whether the skits actually suggest intelligible hints is up for debate, and it’s amusing to see the panelists scratching their heads or joshing Kovacs about these goofy playlets.
It’s often silly, sometimes hilarious and always an interesting time capsule as early shows are quite primitive and unrehearsed, giving way by the second season to a more polished veneer — even if the skits are no less indecipherable.
Then there’s “Green Acres: The Complete Series” (Shout!/MGM, 1965-71, 24 discs, 170 episodes, audio commentaries on pilot and final episodes, 1966 excerpt of “The Merv Griffin Show,” featurette, photo gallery, six audio episodes of “Granby’s Green Acres” radio show).
This is one of the more popular “rural comedies” of the 1960s — a trend that began with “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “Petticoat Junction.”
But “Green Acres” is unique among them. Adapted from the short-lived radio show “Granby’s Green Acres” (and owing something to the 1947 film “The Egg and I”), "Green Acres" has a lawyer (Eddie Albert) buying a rundown farm near Hooterville (the location of “Petticoat Junction,” whose stars make guest appearances throughout season one).
The expected sitcom formula portrays him as a hapless farmer while his wife (Eva Gabor) never quite adapts to rural life, and eccentrics surround them on every side. But what makes this show stand is its penchant for absurdity, which becomes more pronounced as the series progresses.
Obviously, the best known of these three is “Dynasty: The Complete Series” (CBS/Paramount, 1981-89, 57 discs, 217 episodes, featurettes, 1985 “Entertainment Tonight” excerpt).
The show was conceived by ABC to challenge "Dallas," the juggernaut prime-time soap opera on CBS, and quickly took on a life of its own, developing a fan base that still can’t get enough.
The focus is on the fabulously wealthy but highly dysfunctional Carrington family, headed by oil tycoon Blake (John Forsythe) and his new wife Krystle (Linda Evans) — but it really comes to life with the addition of his former wife Alexis (Joan Collins) in season two (who technically makes a veiled appearance in the final episode of the first season).
Among the stars that came and went during the show’s nine seasons are Pamela Sue Martin, Lloyd Bochner, Heather Locklear, Catherine Oxenberg, Michael Nader, Diahann Carroll, Emma Samms and Rock Hudson. (And there was a two-season spinoff series, “The Colbys.”)
A reboot of “Dynasty" is now airing on The CW with a fairly unknown cast that hopes to recapture the original’s magic.