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From 'Carol Burnett' To 'Mad Men', Here Are Four DVD Box Sets Worth Buying


This is FRESH AIR. Despite the popularity of streaming services that make make many old episode of TV series available on-demand, DVD box sets continue to be released and embraced by serious fans and collectors, including our TV critic, David Bianculli. He's going to tell us about the four recent releases he most treasures - two just-completed TV series and two very vintage ones.


CAROL BURNETT: Welcome to our first show that we're doing. I'm really excited and very happy that you're all with us tonight. Looks like we've got a nice, full group. Could you bump up the lights so I could see? Oh.


DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: Basically, there are three kinds of DVD releases of TV shows that still hold merit and justify their purchase prices in these days of streaming TV services. There are new releases of old shows which aren't readily available elsewhere, like the recent Time Life sets of early episodes of CBS's classic "The Carol Burnett Show." There are re-mastered re-releases with vastly improved audio and video, like the new PBS video Blu-ray release of Ken Burns' "The Civil War." And there are the newly released complete series sets of some the greatest TV shows of modern times, which often come boxed not only with lots of video extras, but with fancy-schmancy premiums. The new "Mad Men" collector's set from Lionsgate comes not only with four hours of new bonus features, but with a pair of lowball cocktail glasses. And the new "Justified" complete series set comes not only with an all-new bonus disc of extra material, but with a collectible "Justified" whiskey flask. Buy those last two sets together, and while you watch some terrific TV, you can pour your scotch or bourbon straight from your "Justified" flask into your "Mad Men" glasses. Cheers - which is another great box set, but that one's been out for a while. I recommend all these sets for two reasons. One, you never know when a show on a streaming service will disappear. And two, these shows are great fun to watch, no matter how many times you watch them. When did these shows first hit upon the magic ingredients that made them so iconic? With "Justified," it was the end of the very first episode, when Timothy Olyphant, as Raylan Givens, was invited to sit down and enjoy some fried chicken with his childhood friend and current nemesis, Boyd Crowder, played by Walton Goggins. Boyd has spread the word for Raylan to leave him alone and leave town or face the consequences. Yet, at the dining room table, all Boyd wants to talk about is the time Raylan, as a U.S. deputy marshal, ordered one of his enemies to get out of town. Raylan shot and killed that guy. And as Raylan and Boyd talk, the tension in the scene comes as you realize more gunplay may be imminent and inevitable. And the acting by these two - well, it's so good you hope they both survive the encounter.


WALTON GOGGINS, BYLINE: (As Boyd Crowder) Let me ask you something. When you shot that gun thug in Miami, was there food on the table like this?

TIMOTHY OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) There wasn't.

GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) Well, have something. Have a little chicken. And you - well, you had your gun. What kind was it?

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) That time? SIG 226.

GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) And where was it? Was it on the table where mine is?

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) It was holstered.

GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) Bull [expletive].

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) It was holstered.

GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) And where was his?

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Under the table.

GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) And what did he have? What kind of piece, I mean.

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) I don't recall.

GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) Well, how did you know when to pull?

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) He went first.

GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) And you gave this gun thug 24 hours to get out of town. Now, was the time up when you shot him?

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) Pretty close.

GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) Well, how much time do you think you got left?

OLYPHANT: (As Raylan Givens) I thought I had till noon tomorrow.

GOGGINS: (As Boyd Crowder) Well, what if I said it was right now?

BIANCULLI: "The Civil War" also hit it out of the park at the end of its first installment, with the reading of a letter by Sullivan Ballou, a soldier writing to his wife, Sarah, just before a battle he would not survive. The text, the reading, the music - all of it helped make "The Civil War" the most popular documentary in PBS history.


DAVID MCCULLOUGH: (Reading) If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you, nor that when my last breathe escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have sometimes been. But oh, Sarah, if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they love, I shall always be with you in the brightest day and the darkest night. Always, always. And when the soft breeze fans you cheek, it shall be my breath, or the cool air your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead. Think I am gone, and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

BIANCULLI: Even "The Carol Burnett Show" nailed it at the end of episode one, way back in 1967. Time Life is offering two box set versions of these never-before-released selections from Carol Burnett's classic variety series - a massive 22-DVD set, only available directly from Time life, and a six-DVD lost-episode set, available everywhere. Both include the Tim Conway dentist sketch and Carol's very first show, which ended with her tugging her ear and singing, for the first time, that song.


BURNETT: (Singing) I'm so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. It seems we just get started, and before you know it comes the time we have to say so long. Good night.

BIANCULLI: "Mad Men," one of TV's best series ever, is another great release. But for me, the most iconic early scene from that show didn't come until the first season finale, when Jon Hamm, as Don Draper, was proposing a sales pitch and a new branding name for a Kodak slide projector item called the wheel. Don had another name in mind, which he described to Kodak executives as images from his own once-happier family photos were projected on the conference room wall.


JON HAMM: (As Don Draper) This device isn't a spaceship. It's a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It's not called the wheel. It's called the carousel.

BIANCULLI: Nostalgia, memories - quite an emotional force. And all four of these DVD sets deliver them in spades if you watched these shows the first time. And if you didn't, well, now's your chance.

GROSS: David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching, and he teaches TV and film history at Rowan University in New Jersey. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews Stacy Schiff's new book about the Salem witch trials. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.

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