Best PD collections of DRAGNET (’50s), ONE STEP BEYOND and JACK BENNY?

I'd say the chances are pretty slim that we'll ever see official releases of Dragnet (1950s version) 4 Stars

At this point, I’d say the chances are pretty slim that we’ll ever see official releases of Dragnet (1950s version), Seasons 2 & 3 of One Step Beyond or more of The Jack Benny Program (apart from Shout’s Jack Benny: The Lost Episodes, which I already own).

Sure, miracles can occasionally happen; perhaps the two remaining seasons of One Step Beyond were quietly remastered, and eventually could get a “definitive” release through Kino Lorber or Shout/Timeless, who knows. Shout has its relationship with Universal, so perhaps more Jack Benny might arrive someday (as has happened with Ernie Kovacs), though there are always music rights issues to contend with, and perhaps the first set didn’t sell well enough to warrant a second helping, but nice-looking episodes have run on Antenna TV, so… again, who knows. Conversely, given that early Dragnet has never been transferred to tape/digital, however, it’s pretty safe to say it’s a lost cause, though I certainly hope I’m wrong.

Anyway, I’m tired of waiting… I know I can get the rest of One Step Beyond through various public domain collections released, plus a smattering of both Jack Benny and Dragnet. The trouble is, there isn’t much in the way of reviews of the p.d. releases that I can find. I realize these will generally be in rougher, softer-looking shape, sourced from old 16mm prints, which isn’t a problem (I don’t insist on pristine perfection), as long as they are reasonably watchable. What I’m interested in is which collections have the most episodes, whether any of the music has been replaced (I’ve seen some of the ’50s Dragnet episodes on one of the religious/classic TV cable channels, not long ago, with the theme music replaced with a cheap, horrible synthesizer version!), have any of the episodes been edited, are there a lots of “jumps”/splices that affect dialogue/scenes, is the audio muffled at all, is there too much digital compression, and are there any obtrusive watermarks added by the company releasing the collection(s).

From my own research, as far as I can tell, this 5-disc tin may be my best bet for Dragnet (am I wrong?), from Madacy:

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For One Step Beyond, I think some here have previously recommended this set from Film Chest, which ports the remastered Season 1 from CBS/Paramount’s “Definitive Season 1” release (which I already own), but are the other two seasons in reasonably decent shape (no cuts, jumps and/or music replacement)?

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This Mill Creek “best of” set of Jack Benny boasts 39 episodes, and I wonder if it has any outstanding issues at all, or if it’s basically the one to beat:

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Thanks in advance for any guidance you can provide.

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15 Comments

  1. I have the Film Chest One Step Beyond and Mill Creek "Best of" Jack Benny…the second and third season episodes of One Step Beyond vary widely in PQ with decent audio, but most are quite good…most of them from the same sources as seen in all the other PD company disc releases, a majority from beat up 16mm film and a small few from fuzzy multi-gen video dupes…no music substitutions as far as I can tell…and the ones that are new to disc are about on a par in terms of quality with the others that have made the rounds forever in PD home video circles…some episodes have their network Alcoa aluminum commercials and only a very few have credits truncated by film source damage or splices etc…the many missing episodes on this series that can be viewed elsewhere on the Internet Archive are in even worse shape, so I think this 70 episode Film Chest set is by far the best one to have, especially so as the remastered CBS season one episodes are presented here also, as you mentioned Peter…I wish we knew where the CBS MOD program will go…seasons two and three of One Step Beyond would hopefully come via that route…I mean, they're giving The Californians a blu release, for crying out loud…

    The Mill Creek "Best of" Jack Benny is quite good with all the same film and video source issues applying…I thought it was the best PD Jack Benny singular set I could find…I believe all the guest music performances are intact, as they come from films long held in private collections…but I'm no scholar on the Jack Benny Program…both sets are very good value.

  2. I love the disclaimer at the bottom of the Madacy Dragnet DVD regarding unauthorized copying and public performance. These are PD prints as far as I know and a disclaimer like this is futile and actually quite silly.
    Madacy didn't pay for these and have no rights to them.

  3. It boggles the mind that the masters to the 50s Dragnet are in some vault at Universal. The entire color 67-70 series is on DVD, so why not the entire 1950s series? It would make sense for NBC/Universal to strike new prints and syndicate them to Me-TV and other channels while creating season sets on DVD.

  4. Charles Ellis

    It boggles the mind that the masters to the 50s Dragnet are in some vault at Universal. The entire color 67-70 series is on DVD, so why not the entire 1950s series? It would make sense for NBC/Universal to strike new prints and syndicate them to Me-TV and other channels while creating season sets on DVD.

    While I agree, I'm sure it's the fact that they are public domain.

  5. Ron1973

    While I agree, I'm sure it's the fact that they are public domain.

    Not all of them, IIRC. Only about, what, half?

    It's times like this I wish for a crappy reboot, just to increase the odds of the classic material being released. And if we're lucky the reboot will be decent, like One Day At A Time, so we can have our cake and eat it, too!

    Anyway, that 5 disc Madacy release is probably the best you'll find, or at least the most episodes. If you check http://www.badge714.org , they have a list of what is on DVD/VHS from Dragnet 5X.

  6. There are abou 65 episodes floating around on the grey market if you care to look. I assume they are all public domain.

    I agree with the other posters about Universal leaving them sitting in the vaults. If they won't release them, licence them or make them available to TV what's the point of keeping them.

  7. There my well be special problems with Jack Webb Dragnet and other series his company produced(including some color series). There was an article a while back by someone who said he was given a job by Webb to inventory the materials in the hired vaults. Webb is then said to have had the elements destroyed to save rent fees. LOC has a couple of Webb produced color episodes, whatever that show was) but he rest of that series never came there way. The informant said the feature films were safe because they were with the companies who had theatrical distribution then and had these elements and retained them such as Pete Kelly's Blues with Warner Bros to this day. But what of the outtakes and deleted scenes. Obviously they did not go to Warners or whoever with the distribution final edit negatives but rather stayed in the vault with Webb and now gone. Unfortunately, space, fees and disinterest have lost so much ot which we add vinegar syndrome, fires, theft and accidental junking. Rights holding up releases is small potatoes compared with the losses I have described.

  8. moviepas

    There my well be special problems with Jack Webb Dragnet and other series his company produced(including some color series). There was an article a while back by someone who said he was given a job by Webb to inventory the materials in the hired vaults. Webb is then said to have had the elements destroyed to save rent fees. LOC has a couple of Webb produced color episodes, whatever that show was) but he rest of that series never came there way. The informant said the feature films were safe because they were with the companies who had theatrical distribution then and had these elements and retained them such as Pete Kelly's Blues with Warner Bros to this day. But what of the outtakes and deleted scenes. Obviously they did not go to Warners or whoever with the distribution final edit negatives but rather stayed in the vault with Webb and now gone. Unfortunately, space, fees and disinterest have lost so much ot which we add vinegar syndrome, fires, theft and accidental junking. Rights holding up releases is small potatoes compared with the losses I have described.

    Ah, but the question is, when did this take place?

    If I recall my Dragnet history correctly, what is now Universal bought the original 50s series lock, stock, and barrel around 1954 and have had possession of the original elements made before and after since then. They also were the caretakers of the color series and any spin-offs like Emergency or Adam-12, so those are out of the discussion entirely.

    So, while a lot of Webb produced stuff may have shortsightedly been junked, odds are Dragnet 5X is safe with Universal, unless the original elements happened to have the misfortune of being part of the great '08 fire, and I don't recall hearing any rumors of that.

    The only major issue anyone has ever mentioned with Dragnet 5X is that usable modern masters have never been made, since Universal withdrew the B&W series from syndication around the time the color series started, and they never bothered with transferring the original 35mm elements to videotape in the 80s along with everything else since they saw no reason to with the color series available.

  9. Silverking

    I agree with the other posters about Universal leaving them sitting in the vaults. If they won't release them, licence them or make them available to TV what's the point of keeping them.

    You could make the same statement about what most people keep in there basements, attics, and garages. The likelihood is that they will never be touched again, but better safe than sorry is the general thought.

  10. Silverking

    I agree with the other posters about Universal leaving them sitting in the vaults. If they won't release them, licence them or make them available to TV what's the point of keeping them.

    You could make the same statement about what most people keep in there basements, attics, and garages. The likelihood is that they will never be touched again, but better safe than sorry is the general thought.

  11. Silverking

    I agree with the other posters about Universal leaving them sitting in the vaults. If they won't release them, licence them or make them available to TV what's the point of keeping them.

    You could make the same statement about what most people keep in there basements, attics, and garages. The likelihood is that they will never be touched again, but better safe than sorry is the general thought.

  12. Silverking

    I agree with the other posters about Universal leaving them sitting in the vaults. If they won't release them, licence them or make them available to TV what's the point of keeping them.

    You could make the same statement about what most people keep in there basements, attics, and garages. The likelihood is that they will never be touched again, but better safe than sorry is the general thought.

  13. Silverking

    I agree with the other posters about Universal leaving them sitting in the vaults. If they won't release them, licence them or make them available to TV what's the point of keeping them.

    You could make the same statement about what most people keep in there basements, attics, and garages. The likelihood is that they will never be touched again, but better safe than sorry is the general thought.

  14. Charles Ellis

    According to Wikipedia, 52 episodes of Dragnet from the 50s have been released as PD episodes in DVD sets. And yet the largest amount I have seen in a set is roughly 20-25.

    Doing some further research (via this page, buried in the Badge 714 website –which is long without an update), these appear to be the other public domain Dragnet episodes currently out there… Shokus Video is said to be the likely source for the many 20-25 episode sets from various companies, and then have 29 more, mostly on 4-episode DVD-R collections:

    Shokus Video

    "The Big Casing" (Season 1)
    "The Big Lamp" (Season 1)
    "The Big Jump" (Season 2)
    "The Big Grandma" (Season 2)
    "The Big Hate" (Season 2)
    "The Big Light" (Season 2)
    "The Big Barrette" (Season 2)
    "The Big Dance" (aka "The Big Kid Bandits", Season 2) -still VHS only?
    "The Big Winchester" (Season 3)
    "The Big Fraud" (aka "The Big Make" & "The (Big) False Make", Season 3)
    "The Big Present" (aka "The Big Milkbottle Burglar", Season 4) -still VHS only?
    "The Big New Year's Eve Cop Killer" (Season 4)
    "The Big Run" (aka "The Big Rod", Season 4)
    "The Big Threat" (aka "The Big Family", Season 4)
    "The Big Sound Off" (aka "The Big TV", Season 4)
    "The Big Tarbaby" (Season 4)
    "The Big Bank Robbery" (aka "The Big Number", Season 4)
    "The Big Assault" (aka "The Big No Rain", Season 5)
    "The Big Housecleaning" ("aka "The Big Lift", Season 5)
    "The Big Gap" (aka "The Big Swindle", Season 5) -still VHS only?
    "The Big Thug" (aka "The Big Look", Season 5)
    "The Big Mother" (aka "The Big Glasses", Season 5)
    "The Big Bounce" (Season 5)
    "The Big Deal" (aka "The Big Car Thieves", Season 5)
    "The Big Wish" (aka "The Big Bust", Season 5) -still VHS only?
    "The Big Thanksgiving" (aka "The Big Net", Season 6)
    "The Big Suicide" (aka "The Big Switch", Season 6)
    "The Big Oskar" (Season 8)
    "The Big Counterfeit" (Season 8)

    Note: A few titles that Shokus lists…"The Big Secret", is just an alternate title for "The Big Show"; "The Big Ante" is an alternate for "The Big Hands"; "The Big House Call" is an alternate for "The Big Thief"… all 3 are widely available on PD collections.

    Moviecraft exclusives (though their website was last updated in 2005, and still only indicates VHS releases for Dragnet)

    "The Human Bomb" (Season 1, Episode 1, 12/16/1951)
    "The Big Actor" (Season 1, Episode 2, 1/3/1952)
    "The Big Mother" (Season 1, Episode 4, 1/30/1952) -not to be confused with the Season 4 episode of the same name
    "The Big Lease" (aka "The Big Missing", Season 2)
    "The Big Will" (Season 3)

    Here's (via Wikipedia) the episode list of the entire run of the original, 1950s Dragnet, aka Badge 714.

    Perhaps some/all of these are uploaded to YouTube and/or Archive.org, I haven't checked yet. Right now, it still looks as though the Madacy tin is my best bet, as far as hard copies (on pressed disc) of '50s Dragnet are concerned.

    There is one episode, not in these other collections, that I already have on pressed disc; "The Big Smoke" (Season 5), included as a bonus on Shout! Factory's Dragnet: 1969 (Season 3) set. Presumably, that isn't one of the PD episodes. I wonder how they got that one digitized?

  15. I have about a half dozen PD collections of Benny episodes and they all have significant issues of one kind or another. Episodes which are acceptable on one release look like second or third generation VHS copies of kinescopes on another. The grey market might be your best bet. A year ago, I did a search on ebay and found a seller with 166 episodes and 13 tv specials. The quality of all the episodes I've seen is acceptable and the last few tv specials in particular are commercial quality.
    The main problem I've had with Dragnet releases is buying the same episodes over and over to get a few new ones. The film and audio quality seems consistent- perhaps because they are all sourced from the same Shokus video releases?

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