The Best Television Shows Not on DVD

Have you ever taken a look at the television series section in your local DVD store? And when browsing through that section have you ever wondered how on earth some of those TV shows made it to DVD? I mean Swamp Thing has made it to DVD, but St. Elsewhere hasn’t? I know that Hollywood is a town that is run by lawyers and all that jazz, but how is it that shows that were on TV were one season back in the mid-sixties can be found on DVD, but some of the greatest shows in history cannot? What’s the deal with that?

That said, I now present ten shows that really should have boxed sets on DVD by now. I mean why is that I can watch three volumes of something called the Saddle Club but not the following?

1) St. Elsewhere. The holy grail of TV shows not yet on DVD. The finest television writing this side of the Simpsons in the golden age. “Dr. Lingus to the operating room. Dr. Connie Lingus, please report to the operating room.” This is the show that defined inside jokes and postmodernism on television. It was also perpetually ripped at the Emmy Awards by such incredibly lesser accomplishments as LA Law and Hill St. Blues.

And in comparison to St. Elsewhere, ER looks like Marcus Welby. This is arguably the finest hourlong drama ever to air on American television and the only argument you can really make involves Twin Peaks. Why is St. Elsewhere not on DVD? Aside from the fact that it contained the best mixture of drama and comedy EVER, it also launched the careers of several of the most well-known actors of today, including two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington.

Who can forget such seminal episodes as the one involving dream sequences, the amazing episode where Dr. Boomer Morrison gets raped and, of course, the Christmas episode where Santa dies and William Daniels gives the most heart-wrenching performance of the episode’s run? There must be a reason why St. Elsewhere lives in the vacuum of DVD-dom. Anybody know the answer?

2) Bosom Buddies. A ripoff of Some Like it Hot. At least for the first half of its first season. And then at some point this show realized it wasn’t about men dressing as women, it was about, well, two bosom buddies who were far more clever than anyone else on TV at the time.

Maybe Tom Hanks just doesn’t it shown since he spends a lot of time dressed up and looking like Bea Arthur. But the simple fact is that Tom Hanks-and I’m a big fan of the man-has NEVER BEEN FUNNIER than in this show. I knew at the time he was going to be big.

I never thought he’d be a back to back Oscar winner, but it was obvious he was going to be around. What was less obvious is that Peter Scolari wasn’t. Both these tremendously talented men were at the peak of their powers and their chemistry together is up there with Abbott & Costello or Martin & Lewis, except they’re both the funny guy and they’re both the straight man. Comedy writing didn’t get this clever again untilâÂ?¦

3) ALF. Now I know what you’re thinking. ALF is on DVD. Two seasons, in fact. Well, yes. But did you know that those episodes are the syndicated versions? In other words, the episodes on the two AFL DVDs aren’t the originally aired episodes. They are the episodes that were cut for even more commercials. That’s almost as bad as colorizing black and white TV shows. But not quite. Anyway, ALF was incredibly clever, incredibly funny and still makes me belly laugh and it’s a crime of sorts to pass off syndicated version as the real thing.

4) Barney Miller. Yes, I know the first season is available. When you consider that you can buy and watch every single version of, uggh, Friends, just a few years after it was canceled and ten years after it should have been canceled, it’s another crime that Barney Miller doesn’t have every single season on DVD.

What really burns is that it wasn’t until season three or four that this show really kicked into gear. Most TV shows start out kind of weak, get really good and then fade away. Barney Miller did something that I can’t really think has been done by any other show. It actually got better every year it was on. In fact, it’s the only show I can think of that really did go out while it was on top, unlike certain other shows that may have gone out while on top commercially, certainly didn’t go out at the top artistically. (Seinfeld).

5) Thirtysomething. If you only know this show from people telling you that it was about a bunch of self-absorbed, whiny yuppies then boy are you in for a surprise. That is, if the show is ever put out on DVD. When you look at the vast wasteland that is TV for the past ten years, your jaw just drops when you realize that this show was on at the same time as St. Elsewhere and Moonlighting. Where on earth have all the good TV shows gone?

Thirtysomething was about self-absorbed yuppies, but they were far more interesting than the characters on any TV show on today. With the possible exception of Gilmore Girls, but hey, those characters are all self-absorbed yuppies, too! The story arcs involving TV’s greatest villain, Miles Drentell, are among the most suspenseful and well written hours in all of TV history. Filled with dream sequences, flashbacks, fantasy segments all wrapped around the interesting life moments of Gary, Melissa, Elliott and the rest. Not to mention the heartbreaking death of a major character in the final season.

6) Newhart. Peter Scolari makes it onto his second show in this list. Not bad. Newhart almost did what Barney Miller, it almost went out on top. Missed it by a season or two. And like Barney Miller it didn’t really kicked in until season three our four. Newhart the pro lets his supporting cast get all the laughs while he reacts.

And gets laughs. Sure, Larry, Daryl and Daryl got annoying and sure, it lasted a season too long but at its peak this show could get more laughs per episode than the vaunted original Bob Newhart Show. Michael and Stephanie’s self-involved love affair would be the funniest coupling of secondary characters until Frasier met Lilith on Cheers. The highlight: The Halloween show when the entire town mistakes the original movie War of the Worlds for a real-life invasion of aliens.

7) Picket Fences. Picket Fences at its usual was like Law & Order on steroids. Tackling incredibly complex and tough social issues in and out of the courtroom and offering no easy or politically simple answers. If nothing else, this show should be on DVD so that people can see the amazing Don Cheadle before he hit the movies. Or it should be on DVD so that people can know just what the heck I’m talking about when I make reference to the term “serial bather.” And while we’re at it, don’t worry about putting the last season on DVD. It sucked.

8) Get a Life. Chris Elliott’s first starring role in a sitcom. He died at the end of an astoundingly large number of them. The episode that makes fun of the musical Cats and the submarine in the bathtub episode both rank in my top 100 comedy episodes of all time. Season 1 is better than season 2, by the way, but both should be on DVD

9) When Things Were Rotten. Riding high on the successes of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Mel Brooks turned his attention to the Robin Hood myth and created this short-lived series starring Dick Gautier as Robin and Misty Rowe as Maid Marian. Later on Brooks would go back to the well and come up with the theatrical film Robin Hood: Men in Tights. If When Things Were Rotten (Once upon a time when things were rotten/Not just food but also kings forgotten) were on DVD, you could rent it instead and get far more laughs.

10) Alias Smith and Jones. Much more than just a ripoff of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, this western is a showcase for one of the saddest episodes in television history. Starring the immensely likable Pete Duel and the somewhat likable Ben Murphy, this tale follows the adventures of two outlaws trying to go straight.

It looked to be headed toward word of mouth success when the unthinkable happened. Pete Duel killed himself. The showed continued on with a replacement, but the magic was gone. You can find it on Encore Western channel, but it would be really great to see it out on DVD.

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