- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2017

One of TV Guide’s “50 Greatest Television Shows of All Time” returns to the DVD format to celebrate its 50th anniversary in Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Series (Time Life, not rated, 1.33:1 aspect ratio, $249.95).

Producer and co-creator George Schlatter’s highly irreverent, groundbreaking, hour-long, comedy variety show ran for six seasons on NBC between 1967 and 1973, much to the chagrin of the censors but delight of hip families.

The hilarious exploration of hot-button topics of the day delivered each week in a left-leaning, frenetic format ultimately spent two seasons at the top of the ratings, won six Emmy and two Golden Globe awards.

Hosted by the chain-smoking straight man Dan Rowan (puffing away on the air, yes) and wiseacre Dick Martin, the show featured a talented, fluid cast of lunatics led by Artie Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley, Judy Carne, Henry Gibson, Alan Seus and Goldie Hawn, who practically invented the giggle.

With a mixed presentation of comedy not limited to short skits, slapstick, running gags, traditional jokes, wacky sound effects, one-liners written on bikini-clad dancers, dialogue bubbles, scrolling text and musical numbers, actors and writers developed characters and catchphrases — such as “you can bet your sweet bippy” — that are ingrained in pop-culture history.

Memorable characters included Miss Buzzi’s spinster Gladys Ormphby (“I just wanna swing”); Mr. Johnson’s Wolfgang the German Soldier (“very interesting, but stupid”); Miss Tomlin’s surly operator Ernestine (“one ringy-dingy”) and Edith Ann (“and that’s the truth”); and Miss Carne’s “Sock It To Me” girl.

More amazing, the show was such a hit that near every major celebrity felt compelled to appear in some fashion, even if to just utter a line such as Sammy Davis Jr. dressed in full robes singing, “Here comes the judge.”

The cavalcade of star power also included John Wayne, Art Carney, Kirk Douglas, Debbie Reynolds, Jack Lemmon, Raquel Welch, Johnny Carson, Don Rickles, Carol Channing, Diana Ross, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Mel Brooks, Orson Welles, Peter Sellers, Bing Crosby, Jerry Lewis, Milton Berle, Liza Minelli and Truman Capote.

Most telling of the show’s impact was when even the straight-laced presidential candidate Richard Nixon stopped by to say, “Sock it to me.”

My favorite moment was the first appearance of Tiny Tim.

For the typical family in the 1960s, turning on the set and watching an odd, curly haired fellow with a shopping bag deliver a high-pitched version of “On the Good Ship Lollipop” must have looked like aliens had invaded the planet.

The massive collection offers 140 episodes (89 of which have never been released in any format) across 38 DVDs presenting over 150 hours of eye-watering viewing.

However, considering this is one of the more influential series in U.S. television history, the supposedly remastered digital transfer of the episodes is less than appealing. Screen aberrations abound along with inconsistent color and even occasional syncing issues with the audio.

If digital archivists could brilliantly resurrect the original “Star Trek” series and the live-action “Batman” television series in the Blu-ray formats, there was no excuse to not invest in the highest level of restoration techniques for this classic.

Note: The collection is only currently available through the Time Life website or by calling 1-800-950-7887.

Best extras: Found scattered on both the series DVDs and a bonus disc (that’s 39 discs in total), are not only more current interviews with the cast, but a pair of shows celebrating “Laugh-In.”

First, a 25th Anniversary Cast Reunion delivers a 49-minute blast from the past. Nearly all of the various cast members were in attendance and sat three rows deep on a small stage at a wedding banquet hall-type setting.

They include Jeremy Lloyd, Mr. Gibson, Mr. Martin, song writer Billy Barnes, Mr. Tim (dressed in an outrageous suit), Miss Hawn (still with that great giggle), Miss Buzzi, Barbara Sharma, Mr. Owens, Mr. Seus, Miss Carne, Barbara Feldon, Miss Tomlin, Chelsea Brown and Dave Madden.

Mr. Schlatter acts as the emcee as the show stars take questions from audience in the room, and he acknowledges some of the celebrities in attendance such as James Garner, Buddy Hackett, Connie Stevens and Tony Curtis. Tim Conway, an occasional guest on “Laugh-In,” almost steals the show with his brand of silly.

Next, viewers can watch a 52-minute tribute to Pepperdine University alum Mr. Schlatter that took place in 2013 at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, California. He donated all of his television memorabilia to the university.

More of a toast than a roast, the night was emceed by Larry King, and guests speaking about the producer featured his daughter Maria, Miss Tomlin, Miss Worley, Shirley MacLaine, and Mr. Conway, who, once again, stole the show with his antics.

As far as the stand-alone interviews on the discs, viewers will find sessions, lasting an average of 25 minutes long, with Mr. Martin, Miss Buzzi, Mr. Owen, Miss Tomlin, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Seus and Mr. Schlatter.

Additionally, the package includes a 32-page booklet filled with color photos, lines from the show and cast highlights. Each season’s DVD case features a color pamphlet with introduction by Mr. Schlatter and breakdown of each episode.

“Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Series” is truly a package for the hard-core fan that even Morgul the Friendly Drelb (a pink abominable snowman and the show’s mysterious mascot) would appreciate.

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