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HTF REVIEW: MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN (VOL. 1)

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#1 of 40 Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 22 2007 - 06:56 AM

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Studio: Sony
Year: 1976
Rated: Not Rated
Length: 564 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Languages: English
Subtitles: None


The Program

Waxy yellow buildup, the Fernwood Flasher, a mass murder (including goats and chickens), a car crash with a busload of nuns – these are just a few of the iconic images of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, Norman Lear’s satirical take on soap operas which made its television debut on January 6, 1976.

Lear developed the series in 1974, but after the networks rejected it as too controversial, he put it into syndicated release. The show aired on local television stations in late-night time slots and was an immediate sensation. It aired five nights a week, and fans became addicted to the increasingly desperate life of Mary Hartman (Louise Lasser), a “typical” housewife in Fernwood, Ohio.

Mary is married to Tom Hartman (Greg Mullavey), an assembly-line worker at the local automobile plant. Tom has lost interest in Mary (physically, at least), and Mary cannot figure out where she has gone wrong. Grandpa Larkin (Victor Kilian), Mary’s grandfather, has been arrested for indecent exposure. The Lombardi family (including the Lombardi’s goats and chickens) has been wiped out by a mass murderer, and Mary’s younger daughter Heather (Claudia Lamb) may know who the murderer is. Mary’s best friend, Loretta Haggers (Mary Kay Place) is an aspiring country singer whose husband Charlie (Graham Jarvis) is working overtime at the plant so he can pay for the demo record which Loretta plans to record in Nashville. Also on hand are Mary’s parents, George and Martha Shumway (Phil Bruns and Dody Goodman), and Mary’s uninhibited sister, Cathy (Debralee Scott). As the series progressed there were notable additions to the cast, including Dabney Coleman, Martin Mull, and Ed Begley Jr.

Volume 1 includes the first 25 episodes, a full season for a sitcom today but just the first five weeks of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. It’s a bit unclear how many episodes actually aired. TV.com lists 307 episodes, while other sources I have seen show 325 episodes. Some of the confusion may stem from the fact that Louise Lasser left the show early in 1977, citing exhaustion. The show continued for a while under the name Forever Fernwood and led to a spin-off called Fernwood 2-Night (which itself was subsequently re-named America 2-Night). The 25 episodes on this DVD set were originally televised between January 6, 1976 and February 7, 1976. Each episode appears to be complete, including the full closing credits and a preview of the next episode.

I was a big fan of this show, and it holds up very well. Although it is very funny at times, there is no laugh track and no studio audience. Norman Lear had a lot of respect for the intelligence of his viewers, and he figured that people would get the joke without any prodding from him. The show has the look and feel of a real soap opera, albeit one taken to extremes for satirical purposes. It is a television classic and a welcome addition to DVD. The only question in my mind is whether Sony will release the entire series, which at this rate would require at least a dozen volumes.

The Video

These shows were recorded on videotape, and the images here are quite satisfactory. The picture is a bit on the soft side at times, but that may be how it originally looked. In general the colors appear to be accurate, although some of the flesh tones seem to me to be slightly oversaturated. Given the source material, however, that is a minor quibble and I would have to say that overall Sony has done a nice job with this. By way of comparison, these episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman look significantly better than what we have seen thus far of All in the Family.

The Audio

The audio is nothing special, but nothing to complain about, either. The mono sound is clear and intelligible, which is pretty much all that you can ask of a 30-year-old television show.

The Supplements

There are no supplements. Some things that I could suggest would include information about the cast and perhaps commentaries from the likes of Louise Lasser and Mary Kay Place.

Other Features

The main menu allows viewers the option of playing all episodes or individual episodes. Disc 3 includes promos for other television series which have been issued on DVD by Sony.

The Packaging

The 25 episodes are spread over three discs which come in two slimcases inside a slipcase. Discs one and two each contain nine episodes; disc three contains seven episodes and the Sony promotional materials.

The Final Analysis

Fans of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman will be thrilled to see the show look so good on DVD. I only hope that it sells well enough to convince Sony to release future volumes. For those who have never seen the show, be aware of the fact that this is not a typical sitcom. Much of the humor is deadpan, and it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, it’s well worth viewing, if only to see what all the fuss was about.

Equipment used for this review:

Cambridge Audio DVD-89 DVD player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: March 27, 2007
Rich Gallagher

#2 of 40 pitchman

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Posted March 22 2007 - 11:46 AM

Thanks for a great review, Richard! I have been very curious about this release because I greatly enjoyed Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman during its initial syndicated run. I am still a bit on the fence about collecting this series on DVD, but after your review, I plan on getting volume one.

The BIG issue for me is episode count per release and Sony's current TV on DVD track record. At 25 episodes per set and one set per year, it will take Sony around 13 years to release all 325 episodes! Posted Image Even if they miraculously manage to get out two sets per year, we're still looking at 7 years. When you consider how many (much more popular and accessible) network shows Sony seems to have abandoned, not even the most optimistic fan in the world can seriously think that the complete series will all one day make it to DVD.

So, I am torn. On the one hand, I want to show my support and encouragement to Sony for releasing this program on DVD. But, by the same token, I am really tired of starting to collect another favorite series on DVD only to have the studio pull the plug on it.

I honestly do not know what the answer is. Maybe a strip series like this (5 episodes per week) is just not a good candidate for the TV on DVD format. Or, you perhaps you release a larger, more expensive set, like say 100 episodes with a $99.99 MSRP. This option greatly appeals to the die-hard fan in me and also hints at a light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of 13 sets, Sony only has to release 4. Way more do-able and likely, IMO.

Getting back to your review. IIRC (and it's entirely possible that I don't! Posted Image ) my recollection is that Fernwood 2-Night started out as the summer replacement for MHMH, with the idea being that Fernwood 2-Night was a program that aired locally in the MHMH universe. Since MHMH was syndicated, stations that aired it still had to fill the 11:00pm timeslot with something when MHMH went on hiatus. With MHMH being patterned after daytime soap operas, the concept of airing repeats all summer was problematic. Fernwood 2-Night turned out to be a surprise hit and when MHMH's ratings faded, they re-tooled Fernwood 2-Night and transformed it into America 2-Night, and thereby at least for a while, were able to hold on to the late-fringe timeslot that MHMH occupied.
Gary

#3 of 40 Ethan Riley

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Posted March 22 2007 - 12:00 PM

I'm going to get it anyway. I know there's no commitment to releasing the other 300 episodes, but we'll never see them at all if we don't buy this one. That I know for a fact. I usually don't have this attitude, but in MHMH's case, I never expected to see it at all. I encourage everyone to get it, but be satisfied with it if there's never any more. This show is just a special case, I think.
 

 


#4 of 40 Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 22 2007 - 07:23 PM

Gary,

Fernwood 2-Night was indeed a summer replacement, sort of.

As I understand it, the last episode of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in which Louise Lasser appeared aired in March, 1977. At that point some stations, those which were late to pick up the show, were still airing older episodes. In any event, the show continued to be aired through the spring and early summer of 1977. In July it was replaced for the summer by Fernwood 2-Night, but in the fall of 1977 Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman returned as Forever Fernwood with most of the original cast, but without Louise Lasser. America 2-Night, which was Fernwood 2-Night transplanted to California, debuted in April, 1978.

I think that fans of the series need to pick up Volume 1, regardless of misgivings, so that Sony will at least be encouraged to release Volume 2.
Rich Gallagher

#5 of 40 AndyMcKinney

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Posted March 23 2007 - 01:20 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gallagher
Gary,

Fernwood 2-Night was indeed a summer replacement, sort of.

As I understand it, the last episode of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in which Louise Lasser appeared aired in March, 1977. At that point some stations, those which were late to pick up the show, were still airing older episodes. In any event, the show continued to be aired through the spring and early summer of 1977. In July it was replaced for the summer by Fernwood 2-Night, but in the fall of 1977 Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman returned as Forever Fernwood with most of the original cast, but without Louise Lasser. America 2-Night, which was Fernwood 2-Night transplanted to California, debuted in April, 1978.

I think that fans of the series need to pick up Volume 1, regardless of misgivings, so that Sony will at least be encouraged to release Volume 2.

I, for one, would like to see sets of Fernwood Tonight and (especially) America Tonight! All I've seen so far are the 35 episodes of the former that TV Land licenced from Sony, but would love to see more.

#6 of 40 Scott_F_S

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Posted March 23 2007 - 06:09 AM

Fernwood 2Night was a riot. I still remember Tom Waits being a guest -- he became available when his van broke down in Fernwood on the way to a gig in Cleveland.

#7 of 40 pitchman

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Posted March 23 2007 - 06:15 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott_F_S
Fernwood 2Night was a riot. I still remember Tom Waits being a guest -- he became available when his van broke down in Fernwood on the way to a gig in Cleveland.
Classic Waits quote from that episode: "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy." Posted Image Posted Image
Gary

#8 of 40 Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 23 2007 - 06:45 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by AndyMcKinney
I, for one, would like to see sets of Fernwood Tonight and (especially) America Tonight! All I've seen so far are the 35 episodes of the former that TV Land licenced from Sony, but would love to see more.

I'v never seen America 2-Night. I was living near Phoenix at the time, and as I recall none of the Phoenix TV stations picked it up. I'm sure it's just as good as Fernwood 2-Night. Who can forget Happy Kyne and his Mirthmakers?
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#9 of 40 pitchman

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Posted March 24 2007 - 12:21 AM

Uh, oh.

In this review of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, pretty compelling evidence is preseneted that some of the episodes in this set are EDITED. And, we are talking about significant omissions of content! You have to scroll down several paragraphs to reach the sobering news. If true, this is definitely a deal-breaker for me. Posted Image
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#10 of 40 MatthewA

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Posted March 24 2007 - 03:46 AM

Someone said this was the number at which to call Sony:

1-800-860-2878

#11 of 40 Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 24 2007 - 01:03 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by pitchman
Uh, oh.

In this review of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, pretty compelling evidence is preseneted that some of the episodes in this set are EDITED. And, we are talking about significant omissions of content! You have to scroll down several paragraphs to reach the sobering news. If true, this is definitely a deal-breaker for me. Posted Image

After taking a closer look, I don't believe that any of the other episodes have been altered -- I compared the first four episodes on the DVD set with the Avco Embassy home video releases from the mid-eighties, and the only difference is that the Avco Embassy versions omitted the coming attractions from the next episode. However, there definitely do appear to be problems with Episodes 22 and 24. It looks like they replaced the last scene of Episode 22 with the second scene of Episode 23, and in Episode 24 the beginning of the scene of Charlie and Loretta in their car is missing.

I will e-mail my contact at Sony and see what she has to say.
Rich Gallagher

#12 of 40 MatthewA

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Posted March 24 2007 - 01:39 PM

One thing that puzzles me is how they managed to fill the running times on the DVDs.

#13 of 40 pitchman

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Posted March 24 2007 - 02:14 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Gallagher
I will e-mail my contact at Sony and see what she has to say.
Thanks, Richard. I look forward to her response.

Cheers,
Gary

#14 of 40 Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 24 2007 - 02:35 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by MatthewA
One thing that puzzles me is how they managed to fill the running times on the DVDs.

They filled in the running time on Episode 22 by including the kitchen scene from Episode 23. This particular kitchen scene was never aired as part of Episode 22.

As originally aired, Episode 22 ends with Charlie and Loretta on their way to Nashville. Episode 23 opens with a scene of Charlie and Loretta and the two "natives" they met on the road. The second scene of Episode 23 is Mary and Tom in their kitchen. On the DVD set, in Episode 22 the scene of Charlie and Loretta on their way to Nashville is missing. Instead, it ends with the same kitchen scene which also appears in Episode 23.

As for Episode 24, my recollection is that the dialogue between Charlie and Loretta which is missing lasted for only a minute or so. Of course, I last saw it 30 years ago, so I could be mistaken about that.

I e-mailed Sony about this. When and if I get a response, I'll post it here.
Rich Gallagher

#15 of 40 chas speed

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Posted March 24 2007 - 04:25 PM

I remember the same screw up on the Lifetime reruns. I wrote a very angry letter to Lifetime and they yanked the show off the air about 2 weeks later. I can't imagine what is in this missing scene that they would feel the need to cut it in reruns and on dvd. The whole thing is very strange. If they don't fix this problem I will not buy this set. They better start the recall right away.

#16 of 40 Ethan Riley

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Posted March 24 2007 - 05:07 PM

Geez--here we go again. Can't Sony ever do anything right?
 

 


#17 of 40 Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 25 2007 - 09:58 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by chas speed
I remember the same screw up on the Lifetime reruns. I wrote a very angry letter to Lifetime and they yanked the show off the air about 2 weeks later. I can't imagine what is in this missing scene that they would feel the need to cut it in reruns and on dvd. The whole thing is very strange. If they don't fix this problem I will not buy this set. They better start the recall right away.

I suspect that it is more likely a screw-up than a deliberate attempt to censor the show. The missing scene is no more controversial than any other scenes in the show. If they were doing it for censorship purposes, they also would have cut the opening scene in Episode 23.
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#18 of 40 chas speed

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Posted March 25 2007 - 03:51 PM

My point is if it's a screw up wouldn't they have corrected it by now. Those lifetime and nick at night reruns were a hell of a long time ago and they must have got some complaints (other then mine) about such a total screw up airing on major cable stations. They couldn't be that stupid (or could they).

#19 of 40 MatthewA

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Posted March 26 2007 - 03:57 AM

Here is a list of shows they "couldn't have been that stupid" about:

—Charlie's Angels season 2: 1 episode
—Diff'rent Strokes season 1: 2 episodes
—The Facts of Life season 1: 1 episode
—Good Times season 6: 2 episodes
—The Jeffersons seasons 4 and 5: 2 episodes between them
—Married with Children season 4: 7 episodes
—The Partridge Family season 1: 1 episode
—Sanford and Son seasons 2, 3, and 6: 3 episodes between them
—Soap seasons 1 and 4: several episodes between them
—That's My Mama: almost all episodes

And that's only the ones that I can remember off hand.

The torch lady's been holding up that torch for so long that it's been affecting her brain.

#20 of 40 Richard Gallagher

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Posted March 27 2007 - 12:26 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by chas speed
My point is if it's a screw up wouldn't they have corrected it by now. Those lifetime and nick at night reruns were a hell of a long time ago and they must have got some complaints (other then mine) about such a total screw up airing on major cable stations. They couldn't be that stupid (or could they).

The question is whether anyone at Sony knew anything about the prior complaints.

My guess is that whoever at Sony worked on this never saw the show before, and therefore may not have realized that anything was amiss. This show was originally co-produced by Filmways and TAT Communications, then the subsequent distribution channel included Avco-Embassy and then Columbia Tri-Star (which of course is now Sony). Hopefully somebody will investigate this and figure out what happened to the missing scene.

I have yet to hear back from Sony.
Rich Gallagher





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