Jueves 23 de Noviembre de 2006, Ip nš 180

Selling TV's golden age
Por Steven Rosen

As the children - and adults - of the 1950s and early 1960s learn to use 21st-century entertainment technology, there's an unexpected dividend. TV shows they haven't been seen or thought about for a half-century are coming out on DVD.

As a result, store shelves are devoting increasing space to such titles as "Sgt. Bilko," "Mr. Peepers," "Cheyenne," Edward R. Murrow's "Person to Person," Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life" quiz show, "Rawhide" with Clint Eastwood, Jack Paar's "The Tonight Show" and "The Jack Paar Show," and "Perry Mason," with Raymond Burr. Often, the DVDs are multidisc sets and include newly discovered footage and/or commentaries as special features.

"They've gotten the DVD," says Paul Brownstein, an independent executive producer of TV-show DVDs, of the targeted fans of these shows. "They may not know how to download movies on the Internet yet or program their

iPods, but the DVD is reaching this audience."

The releases also appeal to a sizable niche market of younger fans devoted to the "retro culture" they've learned about through websites like TVParty.com and fiftiesweb.com, plus cable-television networks like TV Land.

"There are so many niches out there now that our job as a marketer is just to figure

them out and go deeper down to reach them," said Lorrie Shapiro, who handles DVD releases for the retro-oriented Shout! Factory company. She has released DVD sets devoted to "You Bet Your Life" and Paar, and is working on ones for the 1963-1964 ABC folk-music variety show "Hootenanny" and classic ABC sitcom "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet," which ran from 1952-1966.

Today, Brownstein's latest project - the three-disc "Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection" - will be released by Paramount Home Video. This is the third "Gunsmoke" multi-disc DVD set Brownstein has supervised. The adult-Western series has an especially devoted audience because it ran so long on CBS, from 1955-1975.

"The Directors Collection" features 15 episodes of "Gunsmoke" helmed by important Hollywood directors or actors. As much as possible, he has gotten those directors to offer audio commentaries. It was the last project that Colorado resident Dennis Weaver, who rose to fame playing Marshal Matt Dillon's (James Arness') limping deputy Chester, participated in before his death in February. In 1961, Weaver directed an episode of "Gunsmoke" called "Love Thy Neighbor," included on "The Directors Collection."

"He talked about how disappointed he was nobody asked him to do this with the 'McCloud' DVD release," Brownstein said of a 1970s detective series Weaver starred in. "When you have a living artist from these series, it's sad not to involve them."

"Gunsmoke: The Directors Collection" is a textbook example of the kind of sleuthing undertaken by producers to make vintage TV shows released on DVD special. Brownstein secured rights to an old interview with Amanda Blake, who played Miss Kitty, from a Mike Douglas talk show. And he included broadcasts from the original "Gunsmoke" that ran on CBS radio from 1952-1961 and starred William Conrad as Matt Dillon.

Old TV shows sell modestly - in the thousands - compared to the millions of units a hit contemporary series can sell on DVD. But sales often fall off quickly for these trendy hits while older series keep on slowly selling, especially as gifts.

But there are challenges in putting out vintage series. It can be hard to find existing footage in good condition. Not all shows survived.

But such programs now are being recognized as extremely historic, which is fueling their re-release. Both "The Jack Paar Collection" and the new "Edward R. Murrow: The Best of Person to Person" from CBS News/Koch Vision include interviews with Robert Kennedy. Paar's is from early 1964, Kennedy's first after the 1963 assassination of his brother, President John Kennedy. Murrow's, amazingly, is from 1957, when Kennedy was chief counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Labor Management.

As DVD releases of the most enduring 1950s and early 1960s series have performed well in the marketplace, companies are taking chances with more obscure ones. Sometimes they luck into something of great value that's gone virtually unseen.

Shout! Factory's Shapiro said she has discovered and is planning to release a short-lived 1956 CBS variety series starring Johnny Carson, who at the time was a writer for comedian Red Skelton's series. "It's really cute," she said. "He does a great impression of Edward R. Murrow and he plays a roving reporter in oddball settings, just like 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' now."

Last year UCLA's Film & Television Archive - a preservation-minded unit of the university's School of Theater, Film and Television - partnered in selling a four-disc DVD of the obscure but wonderful "Mr. Peepers." The Emmy-winning '50s sitcom starred Wally Cox as a mild-mannered science teacher; Tony Randall and Marion Lorne were in supporting roles. So far, sales are creeping toward 10,000 units and UCLA is planning a second volume.

UCLA also owns intellectual rights to "The Shari Lewis Show," a beloved 1960-1963 Saturday morning puppet show on NBC that featured such enduring characters as Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse. But it can't decide on a DVD release because, while the show was broadcast in color, the surviving kinescopes are black and white.

For the surviving actors and personalities who starred in these early shows, the renewed interest from DVD releases can be very satisfying. For instance, Clint Walker, 79, who starred as the tall, quietly authoritative star of the first hour-long TV western, ABC's 1955-1963 "Cheyenne," now finds himself busy autographing copies. Warner Home Video this year released a five- disc package of the show's first season.

"I'm still amazed at all the fans I still have," Walker said, from his northern California home. "I think a lot of my fans want to go back to those shows. I know I get a lot of letters from people who say, 'Now I want my grandchildren to see the heroes I had.' It's very rewarding, very flattering."


  13/11/2006. DenverPost.com.