The Dick Cavett Show -- Hollywood Greats (Shout! Factory)
By all accounts, Dick Cavett's late night chat show set the standard by which the myriad of similar 'talk shows' that followed were (and are still) measured. This four-disc anthology gathers 12 complete episodes featuring 15 of Tinsel town's biggest and brightest actors, actresses and directors in conversation with the equally witty and urbane Cavett.
Likewise, the humble host also had the uncanny ability to woo some of the most reclusive figures in the motion picture industry onto his program. Among those silver screen icons are legends Marlon Brando, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Mitchum, John Huston and the Godfather of film noir, Orson Welles.
Cinephiles may find the most fascinating of the lot is the roundtable discussion about the state of Hollywood in the early 1970s as discussed by then up-and-coming directors Robert Altman ("M*A*S*H"), Mel Brooks ("The Producers"), Peter Bogdanovich ("The Last Picture Show"), along side the great and prolific Frank Capra. Capra -- whose masterworks include "Pocketful of Miracles," "A Hole in the Head," "It's a Wonderful Life, "Meet John Doe," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "You Can't Take It with You," and "Lost Horizon" -- is particularly insightful. His story about the narrowly-averted tragedy when editing "Lost Horizon" is worth the price of admission alone.
The extras highlight never-before-aired outtakes from Kate Hepburn's September of '73 taping, a featurette hosted by movie critic Robert Osbourne and a handful of short :30 second promotional spots.
The Bill Cosby Show -- Season One (Shout! Factory)
By the time of Bill Cosby's first self-titled situation comedy, the multi-talented and multi-media performer had already scored huge ratings success alongside co-star Robert Culp on the primetime drama "I Spy" as well as charted several spoken word albums of his stand up act. Although it lasted a mere two seasons, "The Bill Cosby Show" set many standards that would follow him through the creation of "Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids" as well as the definitive '80s sit-com "The Cosby Show".
One of the most prevalent reoccurring themes -- especially during the racially-touchy early '70s -- was that Cosby flat out refused to stereotype any of the characters. Cos plays a young, single physical education teacher Chet Kincaid at the fictitious Richard Allen Holmes High School in urban Los Angeles. Each week, Kincaid found himself in a Murphy's Law-esque predicament. He might unwittingly become involved in a domestic dispute -- simply by answering a ringing pay phone that he is passing -- or having to go out on a date driving a borrowed garbage truck.
However, the character of Coach Kincaid is at his best when interacting with his students. A personal favorite episode deals with him losing face and learning a valuable life lesson during a one-on-one basketball game with a student that the coach initially considered 'too short' to play for the team. Or dealing with a young girl from a local neighborhood community centre that refused to talk, but insisted on following Kincaid home. Even after losing his cool, he rectifies the situation in a real (as opposed to made-for-TV) way.
The sole bonus is a behind-the-scenes mini documentary with Cosby in 2006. He gives viewers background on who inspired the various characters, as well as events and locations in the show. Above all, he stresses the importance of education throughout his life's work -- a motif that continues in Cosby's life to this very day.
The Kids In The Hall -- The Complete Series Megaset (A&E Home Video)
Just in time to put on our holiday wish lists is this all-inclusive 20 DVD boxed set featuring every single one of the nearly 800 sketches aired during the Kids In The Hall's five year run ('89 - '94). The aptly-monikered Megaset contains over 42 hours of the Kids innovative and ingenious wit, peculiar parodies and just plain ol' funny business with every one of the classic characters that Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson brought into our living rooms.
Canadians have always had an off-the-wall (to put it mildly) comedic sensibility and these Kids were most certainly not right -- in the head, that is. For many, like yours truly, the series became the Canuck equivalent of 'Must See TV' and enthusiasts would keeps our eyes and ears peeled for visits from favorite reoccurring characters, such as Thompson's portrayal of the flaming Buddy Cole, McKinney's unapologetically uncouth and sexually repressed Chicken Lady, McCulloch's intimacy-deprived Cabbage Head and the everyday antics of McDonald's Bearded Lady. Plus, who could forget the appearances of Thirty Helens as they stand in the middle of a baron field agreeing and disagreeing on a myriad of topics.
Some of the one-off scenes are equally as memorable -- such as McCulloch's music video for the song "Dave's I Know", the odd '" I had the pear dream again …" sequence or Foley's first season 'forcing' of McCulloch to apologize for causing all the cancer in the world.
The Kids obviously took great pride in their work and their contributions to these DVDs include an hour of recent interviews with the cast and producer Lorne Michaels. They also added audio commentaries to10 'best-of' compilations gathering five hours of fan- favorite sketches. From the vaults, viewers are treated to over an hour-and-a-half of never aired original stage performances shot at Toronto's Rivoli Theater. Among the other supplementary materials are a gallery filled with Kids In The Hall performance artwork, an extensive slide show and text bios of the cast.
SCTV -- Best of the Early Years (Shout! Factory)
Kudos and lauds to those purveyors of visual kitsch over at Shout! Factory for this three-disc compilation. Contained within are over seven hours of primal small-screen Second City Television [aka SCTV] -- chocked full of rare and never-before-available episodes circa their late '70s and early '80s seasons. Years before the Second City troupe hit airwaves Stateside, they were doing their funny business all over Canada's Global and CBC networks.
Much of the SCTV back story as well as many of the unforgettable characters were still being developed during these seminal installments. So, viewers can anticipate regular visits from the likes of network president Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty), the incorrigible Edith Prickley (Andrea Martin), news reporter Earl Camembert (Eugene Levy), and everybody's favorite hosiers Bob (Rick Moranis) & Doug (Dave Thomas) McKenzie. Plus, the core cast is augmented by early regulars Tony Rosato (Chick Monk: Roadie Marriage Counselor) and Robin Duke (Molly Earl). Avid viewers might also recognize that when the show was expanded to 90 minutes, they incorporated some of their best work from these early years. While repeated material is kept to a minimum on this anthology, there is a bit of overlap.
There are no less than four audio commentaries featuring thoughts and reminiscences from executive producer Andrew Alexander, co-producer of the DVD package Scott Dobson, as well as actors Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke. "Looking Back with Andrea Martin" is a 13 minute mini-documentary about Martin and her strong presence on the show. "The McKenzie Brothers: Take Off, Eh!" is a ten minute news featurette first broadcast on the CBC in the early '80s at the height of the Bob and Doug McKenzie craze. "SCTV at the Firehall" provides a quarter-hour tour of the original Second City -- now called Gilda's Place, after the late, great Gilda Radner. The excursion is hosted by none other than the aforementioned executive producer Andrew Alexander. He recalls the specific location of memorable incidences -- like where he got beaten up by John Candy, for instance.
Wonder Showzen -- Season Two (Paramount/MTV Home Entertainment)
For those over 30 who remember a time -- mostly pre-cable -- when public television was dominated by grade school pseudo-educational drivel during the daytime, Wonder Showzen just might be your kind of zoo. However, this acerbic little program -- which has aired for two eight-episode seasons on MTV2 -- is certainly not for anyone under 18. Heck, I'm twice that old and some of the imagery makes me wince.
The premise however centers on the lives of a stereotypical nerd named Wordsworth, a Native American they call Him, the smart-alecky Chauncey, and an odd toothy girl … well, I think it's a girl called Sthugar. There are also segments of puppet-on-the-street interviews featuring a character named Clarence -- whose shtick is to bother, annoy and taunt people. Plus, to add a bizarre sense of surreality, a few real kids are worked into the festivities during the irony-laden delicacy known as "Beat Kids". Here, pre-teens act like roving reporters interviewing butchers, veterinarians and participants of a TV show focus group.
Each show has a theme that is seemingly appropriate for tots. "Body," "Time," "Science," et al. The "Knowledge" episode, quickly disintegrates into the literal 'dumbing down' of TV in the form of a completely different small screen parody. In this case it is a hilariously accurate satire of modern redneck middle America-meets-"Hee Haw" in a take-off called "Horse Apples". It must be seen to be believed.
There are a host of special features -- including commentaries that might seem completely off-topic at first, an extra "Beat Kids" featurette, an exasperating 'game' which acts as the interactive menu on Disc Two, as well as numerous unaired "Q&A" segments. The two DVDs are housed in a hardbound story/activity volume that recalls the innocence of the Golden Books of our youth.
Without question, Wonder Showzen
isn't for everybody -- particularly those closed of mind and devoid of a sense of humor -- especially when the slings and arrows are aimed squarely at the viewer.
Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <firstname.lastname@example.org>.