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What's on your non-fiction/documentary/variety series Dream List? (1 Viewer)

Peter M Fitzgerald

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It's Sunday afternoon as I write this, and I've been thinking of an area of vintage TV-on-DVD that has largely been neglected: the general-appeal non-fiction/documentary series, many of which used to air on weekend afternoons and evenings, especially Sunday afternoons.


Sure, a few have come out over the years, like IN SEARCH OF..., VICTORY AT SEA, COSMOS, James Burke's CONNECTIONS and THE DAY THE UNIVERSE CHANGED... but it's amazing to me that Region 1/Region A hasn't had a release of THE UNDERSEA WORLD OF JACQUES COUSTEAU (though R2 got a whole-series release in 2011) and none of the classic NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SPECIALS prior to 1982 are on DVD (one 1982 special on Egypt was released, but was an edited/altered copy from a 1990s rerun), even though oodles of post-2000 National Geo docs are readily available on disc.


A lot of this is simple nostalgia on my part, but these 1960s/1970s (and a few 1980s) series/specials had a certain class and gravitas to them, without the shallow flash and the constant ADD-ish push to "get on to the next thing" (or to the next of their endless commercial breaks) that a lot of their more modern counterparts regularly display; they were true events, back when most people watched the same stuff on 4 or 5 channels (at most), before cable TV really took over the landscape. I miss the grandeur, dynamism and sense of wonder that the best of these series regularly featured. Stentorian narrators like Alexander Scourby and Rod Serling, or old-school stars like Glenn Ford or Jack Palance acting as your hosts ... music scores by Leonard Rosenman, Elmer Bernstein, Henry Mancini... top-flight producers like David L. Wolper and Jack Haley, Jr.


Even the cheesier or more "dated" stuff is great to see as time capsules... people, places, technology and theories that are, in many cases, no longer with us and/or vastly different today. These work as both video "comfort food" and informational resources, both for what has remained timeless and for what had been superseded by further research or more sophisticate looks into their subjects.


Some of these can be readily seen right now, if you poke around on YouTube and the like, which is cool, but I'd sure like the opportunity to have hard copies on the shelf, not subject to the always-shifting whims of streaming services and rights holders, who can have them taken down at a moment's notice.


Unfortunately, official releases are probably a pipe dream for most or all of these. Some, especially the cinema-related series, would be a rights nightmare, with clips and music from myriad sources creating a mountain of legal wrangling and production costs, along the lines of WKRP and THE WONDER YEARS. I'm sure the actual market for a lot of these is miniscule, and not worth the effort to legally clear and manufacture.


So, this is more a frivolous exercise in "wouldn't it be nice if..." rather than an actual expectation that we'll see any of these as DVD/Blu sets, anytime soon. I'll throw in a few interview/variety series into the mix, too, since they seem to fit some of the same criteria.


Here's some of what I'd like to see, in an ideal world... and for those of you with foggy memories, or those of you who are young whippersnappers, born in the '80s/'90s/2000s, click on the titles to get sample peeks at what these were like:


THE AMERICAN SPORTSMAN (from 1965-1986 (originally spun-off from ABC'S WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS), celebrities from the worlds of film, tv, music and sports were filmed engaging in various outdoor activities, hosted (most famously) by Curt Gowdy)


THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SPECIALS (the 1960s & 1970s originals, back when they premiered on CBS, ABC and PBS)


WHEN HAVOC STRUCK (short series on historical disasters, both natural and man-made, hosted by Glenn Ford, back in his "Pa Kent" days)


RIPLEY'S BELIEVE IT OR NOT! here's a 1st season promo

(I really loved this 1980s version, both as a young teen the time, and later, when Sci-Fi Channel re-ran it in the 1990s, though they edited it down)


BUSTER KEATON: A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW (3-part Thames/PBS mini-series from the 1980s, by Kevin Brownlow & David Gill, on the comedy genius)


THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILM SHOW (great 1980s UK series on cult movie makers, hosted by Jonathan Ross... ran for a brief time here in the USA on Discovery Channel, back when it was still worth a damn)


WILD WILD WORLD OF ANIMALS and closing (classic Time-Life nature series, focusing on animal survival, narrated by Cannon himself, the late, great William Conrad)


THAT'S HOLLYWOOD (syndicated off-shoot of the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT films, narrated by Tom Bosley, focusing on a wider canvas than just Musicals... largely Fox-centric, as can be seen from the opening sequence, but featured clips from other studios, as well)


HOLLYWOOD AND THE STARS (the precursor to THAT'S HOLLYWOOD, produced by David L. Wolper and Jack Haley, Jr., narrated by Joseph Cotten)


THE BODY HUMAN (an Emmy-winning series of specials about the human body, airing between 1977 and 1984, produced by the National Geographic Society, but done separately from the regular National Geographic Specials)


LATER WITH BOB COSTAS (for my money, possibly the best of the one-on-one celebrity interview shows, running for 5 years, late '80s-early '90s, after Letterman on NBC, prior to the creation of LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN. Costas had interesting guests, asked good questions, and was less in love with the sound of his own voice than Dick Cavett, Charlie Rose and Tom Snyder, so you got to hear more of the guests' responses!)


HOLLYWOOD BACKSTAGE (a.k.a. HOLLYWOOD STAR NEWSREEL... hokey narration, but priceless footage of stars and film/TV productions from the 1960s... AMC used to sometimes run these as between-film filler in the 1990s)


More MUTUAL OF OMAHA'S ... WILD KINGDOM (got some R1 DVD releases through BCI/Eclipse, but I'd like to see more, especially more episodes from the 1960s and early 1970s, and in better condition, the audio, especially, sounds too murky/compressed a lot of the time)


More THIS IS YOUR LIFE (got a nice, multi-disc R1 collection several years ago, but there are still several choice episodes I'd still like to own)


More PLAYBOY'S PENTHOUSE and PLAYBOY AFTER DARK

(syndicated throughout the country in 1959-60, then again as a color series in 1968-70... the fake 'lounge lizard' party atmosphere is fun (you half expect to see some MAD MEN characters pop in at any moment) and some amazing musical guests frequently appear... a couple of R1 DVD sets were released several years ago, but I'd love to have more, especially the 1959-60 series, which are less-represented in the sets than the later color episodes)



So, what's on your 'Dream List'?
 

Ejanss

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Peter M Fitzgerald said:
More THIS IS YOUR LIFE (got a nice, multi-disc R1 collection several years ago, but there are still several choice episodes I'd still like to own)

Oh, was that collection crack-addictive to watch... :cool:


And wait, when did Connections/DtUC come out, apart from a private channel/educational-label release?
 

Peter M Fitzgerald

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Ejanss said:
Oh, was that collection crack-addictive to watch... :cool:


And wait, when did Connections/DtUC come out, apart from a private channel/educational-label release?

From Ambrose Video in 2007, which I guess is an educational-label release, as you said, but Amazon carries their stuff.
 

Jack P

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For documentary series, we lucked out on some vintage titles like "Victory At Sea" and "World War I". I think if I wanted an official release of some titles, I would want these:


Biography - The Mike Wallace hosted late 50s series produced by David L. Wolper. Easton Press, a mail order firm did release all episodes on VHS in the late 80s.


20th Century - There have been two DVD releases of episodes from this late 90s A+E/History Channel series also hosted by Wallace, utilizing the CBS News Archives to tell various stories but the best episodes remain unreleased.


Time And Again - The only great contribution in the history of the MSNBC cable channel was their own mining of the NBC News Archives to revisit many historical stories over the decades.
 

Peter M Fitzgerald

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Another classic nature-documentary series I'd love to see again, recently rescued from my memory hole:


UNTAMED WORLD intro (a French-dubbed broadcast) and outro (1967-1975, a.k.a. UNTAMED FRONTIER, another David L. Wolper production, made in Canada, focusing on both nature and different peoples across the globe. It ran on Canada's CTV, as well as late Saturday mornings on NBC in 1969, and then in syndication --the latter venue is how I saw it as a child, in the early 1970s)
 

Vic Pardo

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Jack P said:
For documentary series, we lucked out on some vintage titles like "Victory At Sea" and "World War I". I think if I wanted an official release of some titles, I would want these:


Biography - The Mike Wallace hosted late 50s series produced by David L. Wolper. Easton Press, a mail order firm did release all episodes on VHS in the late 80s.


20th Century - There have been two DVD releases of episodes from this late 90s A+E/History Channel series also hosted by Wallace, utilizing the CBS News Archives to tell various stories but the best episodes remain unreleased.

Ditto on Biography and 20th Century, altho the 20th Century eps. I remember were hosted by Walter Cronkite, like this one:






An excerpt from the description posted on YouTube:

"This is a complete episode of the program, "The Twentieth Century," and is entitled "New York in the Twenties," hosted and narrated by Walter Cronkite. It's filled with abundant film footage of the era, including shots of lots of famous names."
 

Mr. Handley

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I'd love to see more Wild Kingdom too. I bought all of the releases that came out years ago.


I'd also love to see the old Superstars athletic competitions...I think ESPN has shown some of them in the past.


I'm always up for more talk shows.


I'd like to see most of the variety shows get complete releases. I think it's a bit strange that I can watch the entire run of Dick Van Dyke's so-so variety series, but can't do the same for classics like Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, Sonny & Cher, etc.
 

MatthewA

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Mr. Handley said:
I'd like to see most of the variety shows get complete releases. I think it's a bit strange that I can watch the entire run of Dick Van Dyke's so-so variety series, but can't do the same for classics like Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, Sonny & Cher, etc.

One-season shows have less material to clear. If somebody can do Van Dyke and Company, maybe they can do Julie Andrews' 1973 variety show as well. It seemed like everybody and their mother got a variety show that decade, and it's clear that some were put together at the spur of the moment. Part of the fun of going back and seeing some of these shows in hindsight is that it was the last hurrah for seeing dance and musical theater on a regular basis on network TV. And all the glitz, glitter and excess of the decade combined with jokes corny enough to qualify for farm subsidies and celebrity pairings of a kind you're not likely to see ever again. And the clothes. And the hair. These shows could only have been done in the 1970s because it was the last decade before the three-network triopoly really started to crack, and also because AIDS took away too, too many talented people in the 1980s.
 

Dave Lawrence

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Peter M Fitzgerald said:
So, this is more a frivolous exercise in "wouldn't it be nice if..." rather than an actual expectation that we'll see any of these as DVD/Blu sets, anytime soon.
With the above in mind, here are 3 collections I'd love to have/see again which fall into the "would never happen/could never happen" category:

1) Siskel & Ebert - From Sneak Previews to At the Movies to Siskel & Ebert & the Movies to Siskel & Ebert, I grew up watching this pair review, argue over and sometimes even share a mutual appreciation of hundreds of films. Their discussions were often as interesting (if not moreso) as the film clips that were included. Then there were the annual Christmas specials where they looked at the newest film-related gadgets and toys as well as video releases. No other review series was as consistently fun and informative, even Ebert's continuation of the show after Siskel's death.

2) the Greg Kinnear era of Talk Soup - As awful talk shows were popping up all over the daytime schedule in the early/mid-90s, this show offered clips of the stranger moments and a host who could provide enough snark that some of the talk shows stopped allowing the use of clips. Later hosts were lamer and tamer, but I'd like to see the Kinnear years again.

3) The Morton Downey Jr Show - It only lasted a couple of years, but as a kid growing up in the pre-Springer/pre-Maury 80s, this was one of the crazier, stranger TV spectacles I'd seen, especially for a talk show. A chain-smoking host who yells at guests and audience members and provokes guests to get into verbal and physical altercations while trying to come off as informative and educational. Even if some of it was staged, it was still great late-night trainwreck TV. Watching the documentary that was made about the man and the show a couple of years ago got me thinking about that crazy program again and wishing it was available.

I could easily list several game shows, but while they do fall under "non-fiction" they could really fit into a thread of their own, so my picks above were the 3 non-game show programs that first entered my mind that I'd like to revisit and own (despite the impossibility).
 

Brian Himes

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I would love to have The World Of Survival hosted by John Forsythe. Loved watching this one as a kid.


My top variety shows would have to be Cher, more Sonny & Cher and more Carol Burnett (seasons 6-11).
 

Neil Brock

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The Joe Pyne Show - This was the first of the confrontational crackpot guest shows. Morton Downey Jr,, Wally George and the rest were all imitations. Pyne was classic and there is a company who actually somehow acquired a set of tapes of the show, although its doubtful they would ever release any of it.


The Alan Burke Show - Similar to Pyne, although Metromedia likely trashed the tapes long ago and I'm sure its gone. Only seen one 10-15 second clip ever turn up.


Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman - 26 episode series shot in the early 60s. I only have one episode and it seems like an interesting show about Truman's presidency and he contributed to the making of it.
 

Neil Brock

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Neil Brock said:
The Joe Pyne Show - This was the first of the confrontational crackpot guest shows. Morton Downey Jr,, Wally George and the rest were all imitations. Pyne was classic and there is a company who actually somehow acquired a set of tapes of the show, although its doubtful they would ever release any of it.


The Alan Burke Show - Similar to Pyne, although Metromedia likely trashed the tapes long ago and I'm sure its gone. Only seen one 10-15 second clip ever turn up.


Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman - 26 episode series shot in the early 60s. I only have one episode and it seems like an interesting show about Truman's presidency and he contributed to the making of it. Produced by Sony, all of the episodes are at the Truman Library but they don't make copies for the public unfortunately.


F.D.R. - Series done in 1965 about the Roosevelt presidency although without his participation obviously.
 

howard1908

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Neil Brock said:
The Joe Pyne Show - This was the first of the confrontational crackpot guest shows. Morton Downey Jr,, Wally George and the rest were all imitations. Pyne was classic and there is a company who actually somehow acquired a set of tapes of the show, although its doubtful they would ever release any of it.
I remember pyne he was like the bill O'Reilly of the 60s, he was the king of the caustic right-wing hippie haters, died really young of lung cancer.
 

LouA

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Neil Brock said:
The Joe Pyne Show - This was the first of the confrontational crackpot guest shows. Morton Downey Jr,, Wally George and the rest were all imitations. Pyne was classic and there is a company who actually somehow acquired a set of tapes of the show, although its doubtful they would ever release any of it.


The Alan Burke Show - Similar to Pyne, although Metromedia likely trashed the tapes long ago and I'm sure its gone. Only seen one 10-15 second clip ever turn up.


Decision: The Conflicts of Harry S. Truman - 26 episode series shot in the early 60s. I only have one episode and it seems like an interesting show about Truman's presidency and he contributed to the making of it.
I didn't think many people remembered Alan Burke . I recall the show ran on weekends , and so did Pyne's show. Since the Joe Pyne Show emanated from the west coast , I wonder if any show still exist . Apparently an abundance of Metromedia's other talk show , Open End With David Susskind exist -some are out on DVD.
 

Peter M Fitzgerald

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Joe Pyne, in an extra-fictionalized version of his show, can also be seen interviewing a Timothy Leary surrogate (Richard Todd), towards the beginning of the hippie/LSD exploitation movie, The Love-Ins (1967), also starring classic TV stalwarts Susan Oliver, James MacArthur and Mark Goddard.




(a snippet of the Pyne scene is at the 1:33 mark of this movie trailer)
 

LeoA

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There are a lot of military documentaries that I'd love to see that I remember watching as a kid during the years all the 50th anniversaries rolled around for WWII, when channels like A&E and Discovery were airing a lot of such material.


The one at the top of my list is GI Diary, a 1970's WWII documentary series telling the stories of servicemen that was narrated by Lloyd Bridges of Sea Hunt fame. Discovery Channel aired this one regularly throughout the 1990's. But despite regular syndication up through the 1990's, absent on DVD it remains.


Another good one was the late 1980's and 1990's episodes of Wings, a Discovery Channel documentary staple for many years that was about aviation. Sadly, most of this hasn't been aired since. Not even when they had a channel called Discovery Wings in the early 2000's, which morphed into the Military Channel a few years ago. Most of what I remembered never popped up on there.


Another one I remember enjoying a lot was on A&E and was called Our Century. Looking back, I believe these were older documentaries about WWII, perhaps from a variety of sources, that were rebranded and received new openings under the Our Century banner for their airings on A&E. They were introduced by Edward Herrmann.


And for a non-military series that I'd love to get, A&E produced an excellent series on the history of trans-Atlantic ocean liners that was titled Floating Palaces. Got this one on VHS, which I've transferred to DVD in recent years. But I'd love to see it get an official release.


And there are others I'd love to see. Carriers (Another Discovery Channel production from around 1990, got this on VHS and now on DVD-r at least), Weapons at War/Brute Force (narrated by George C. Scott and later, Gerald McRaney) , Battleline from the 1960's, The Great Fighting Machines of WWII, Firepower, and many others (Some with titles long since forgotten).


And that doesn't include one-off specials. Lots of excellent documentaries in that category that I'd love to see on military history, bridges, ships, railroads, and other favorite subjects of mine.


Got some that I've enjoyed like the Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress (A military documentary released in 1944), Ghosts of the Abyss about one of James Cameron's expeditions to explore the Titanic, and the True Glory. But many aren't available on DVD.
 

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