Because it has been a staple on television for nearly 50 years, it's hard to believe that Jackie Gleason's sitcom "The Honeymooners" lasted only one season -- 39 episodes -- on CBS. A collection from that landmark series leads a list of the latest small-screen fare to become available on DVD.
Other new offerings include another black-and-white classic, the Beatles' four appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and a cult sci-fi series that's about to be resurrected.
The Great One, as Gleason was nicknamed, began "The Honeymooners" as a sketch in 1951 on his DuMont variety series, "Cavalcade of Stars," with Gleason as the rotund, blustery bus driver, Ralph Kramden; Pert Kelton as his no-nonsense wife, Alice; Art Carney as his loony best friend, sewer employee Ed Norton; and Joyce Randolph as Ed's wife, Trixie. The following year, the series moved to CBS as "The Jackie Gleason Show," where "The Honeymooners" became one of the most popular sketches. Audrey Meadows took over for Kelton. Gleason, who hated to rehearse, was tired of doing a weekly hourlong variety series, so in 1955 he decided to turn "The Honeymooners" into a weekly series. The DVD set (Paramount, $50), which features the episodes in order, illustrates how marvelous the quartet was in their parts; their performances haven't dated, and the series remains funny, warm and touching. The show was shot in black-and-white before an audience with an advanced filming technique called the Electronicam. For years, the quality of the prints has been pretty terrible, but the episodes have been beautifully restored for the DVD set. The collection also features the original openings and closings and a vintage reunion special hosted by Meadows.
Over the years, television has tried to recapture the magic of "The Honeymooners." One series that was inspired by the Gleason show is CBS' long-running "The King of Queens," starring stand-up comic Kevin James as a hefty UPS delivery guy, Leah Remini as his acerbic wife and Jerry Stiller as his father-in-law. Though never the critics' favorite, "King of Queens" is currently going strong in its sixth season and is now in syndication. Columbia TriStar is offering a DVD set ($40) that includes all 25 episodes from the first season plus two bonus episodes, decent commentary on the pilot with executive producer Michael Weithorn and James, a passable behind-the-scenes look back at the first season and a "laughs montage" that features the best moments from that inaugural outing.
Image Entertainment is offering the first two seasons of another seminal comedy series, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" ($70 each). The lanky Van Dyke had appeared on television before he got his own series in 1961 -- he was memorable as a baseball player on "The Phil Silvers Show" -- but he was best known as the Tony Award-winning star of the Broadway musical "Bye Bye Birdie." The CBS series, which lasted five seasons, had a rough start in the ratings, but the network had faith in the show, and audiences eventually discovered the series during the summer reruns. The series won 15 Emmys.
"The Dick Van Dyke Show" was the first sitcom written by Carl Reiner, who had been a regular on Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar's Hour," and was loosely based on his life. In fact, he originally wrote it as a vehicle for himself as the unsold pilot "Head of the Family." Reiner reminisces about "Head of the Family" and the genesis of "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
The series featured one of the best ensemble casts ever for a TV series: Van Dyke, a newcomer named Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Richard Deacon and Reiner.
Anchor Bay is offering the six-episode first season of "Three's Company" ($20), the ribald sitcom from the late 1970s and early '80s that made a star of the late John Ritter. He plays the charming Jack Tripper, a single man who moves into an apartment occupied by two young women (Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers). His landlords, the Ropers (the slow-burning Norman Fell and the wisecracking Audra Lindley), only allow this coed arrangement because Tripper leads them to believe he's gay.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!" For three weeks back in the winter of 1964, the Fab Four made their historic appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show" during their first visit to the United States. The ratings for these episodes were huge, cementing Beatlemania in America. The Beatles also made one last appearance on the CBS variety show in late 1965 to promote their second film, "Help!"
All four of these episodes -- complete with commercials -- recently made their DVD debut in the two-disc set "Ed Sullivan Presents the Beatles" (Sofa Entertainment, $30).
Other acts on the four episodes include acrobats, puppets, comics Allen and Rossi, Morty Gunty and Dave Barry, Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger in a scene from the musical "Oliver!" and singers Mitzi Gaynor and Cilla Black.
Though it only lasted from 1978 to 1979, fans have also kept the ABC sci-fi series "Battlestar Galatica" alive and thriving. The ambitious show featured then-cutting-edge special effects from John Dykstra of "Star Wars" fame and hoped to catch the "Star Wars" wave.
It was briefly resurrected by the network as the dreadful "Galatica 1980." But the original has developed such a cult following that the Sci Fi Channel has produced an updated miniseries of "Galatica" that airs on the cable station in early December.
Universal has also released the complete series on DVD ($120).