March 14, 2012

The Lucille Ball Specials - Lucy Moves to NBC

Lucy Moves to NBC, a Lucille Ball Special which first aired on February 8, 1980 on NBC will be available on DVD starting on March 20th! This 60 minuite NBC Musical Comedy features Lucille Ball playing herself, retired but talked back into show business by NBC president Fred Silverman (satirically played by Gary Imhoff). Congratulations are proffered in guest spots by Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Gene Kelly, Jack Klugman and Gary Coleman, cast as a network programming VIP. Lucy's hired to do is create a new series with the help of her production assistant Gale Gordon. They come up with is a variety show a la 'The Partridge Family,' headlined by Donald O'Connor and Gloria DeHaven. But what evolves is a spoof of TV decision-making as well as long-and-dance numbers highlighted by O'Connor's medley from the movies, an O'Connor-Ball duet set to 'A Real Live Girl' and a rousing banjo solo performed by Scott Plummer."

Following is a review by SitcomesOnline:

Beginning in the early '50s, Lucille Ball began her career on CBS with I Love Lucy, and maintained a starring role (always playing Lucy) in a series on the network for several decades to follow, until the mid '70s when she reduced her role to starring in just a few occasional specials on the network. But just before the '80s, there really wasn't much else that CBS could do with Lucy, and there was another network out there that was seriously struggling and needed all the help that it could get. That network was, of course, NBC, and in 1979, Lucy made her big move to the network that was "proud as a peacock" in a deal that would put her in charge behind the scenes.

Needless to say, in the long run, the arrangement didn't quite work out. We all know Lucy as the star of three (or four depending upon how you count The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour) CBS series spanning over twenty five years, but there really isn't anybody who truly remembers her days at NBC. NBC, in fact, was on the verge of hitting their stride just a few short years later, but that stride didn't include Lucille Ball. But with high expectations of what she could have done for the network--and if it were only a few years earlier, it probably would have turned out much different--NBC brought in the queen of comedy with great fanfare, giving her an entire special to hype the big move to NBC and her getting acquainted with her new co-workers, new digs, and making her transition into a whole new decade where things weren't quite the same as her heyday of television where new territory, political tensions, the sexual revolution, and controversy were all constantly being encountered.

Lucy Moves to NBC is a star-studded feature which stars Ball of course, but also features many of the other "stars of NBC" welcoming her to the network, including Bob Hope, Johnny Carson, Jack Klugman, Gene Kelly, and, oh yeah, since this was 1980, Gary Coleman, of course! The special begins with Lucy moving in to her new office and meeting her new boss, which as we would all expect, it would have been NBC president Fred Silverman. But not quite. How do you work the network's most adorable kid into the special? You make Gary Coleman her boss! Gary Coleman, introduces himself to Lucy as the serious, hard-working guy who has been in television "his entire adulthood," proposing that they use her immaturity and newcomer status to television to do the best for NBC. In this introduction, Lucy also gets to meet all of her new fellow NBC stars as well, but unlike Gary Coleman, they're not running the network. As the special progresses, Lucy encounters an old friend, Gale Gordon, and works with him to devise a new pilot for NBC, which we see in the process of development all the way through to the final product (which is somewhat odd, because the special suddenly evolves turns into the actual pilot towards the end), a musical comedy starring Donald O'Connor and Gloria DeHaven, along with Robert Alda, Ruta Lee, Doris Singleton, and "introducing" (he really didn't do a whole lot after this) Scotty Plummer. The entire special has a runtime of 1:13:36.

Normally, we don't cover special features until a bit later in our review, but they are very much integral to this release, so we will cover them now. As for the special itself, it begins with a new introduction (1:25) from Ruta Lee and Jack Klugman, as they remember the special. There is also a retrospective looking back at the special (21:59) with Jack Klugman, Ruta Lee, Hal Kanter (who has recently passed away), Doris Singleton, and others. It is a mostly positive look at both the special and the overall legacy of Lucy herself.

Lucy's move to NBC didn't actually produce any hits for the network, but it did introduce one pilot in 1981 (in addition to the one presented in the special) that was actually directed by Lucy, Bungle Abbey (27:51), a somewhat quirky (but fun) series about monks in a monastery who were not your ordinary monks, at all. The pilot stars Charlie Callas, Guy Marks, Gino Conforti, Graham Jarvis, Peter Palmer, and (of course) Gale Gordon. There is also an introduction to this pilot from Gino Conforti (1:27) where he admits the very obvious: this series would have never worked, and in fact, it was a challenge to even write enough material just for the one pilot episode, but it was still a very fun pilot to do, and I think many people will enjoy watching it. It feels a bit like a sketch from the end of an episode of Saturday Night Live that was made a bit too long, but it was a nice effort at the very least.

"Let's Talk to Lucy: Bob Hope" (9:25) is a very brief 1964 radio interview featuring Lucy interviewing Bob Hope, which is particularly appropriate for this release, as Bob Hope was one of the early big stars of NBC. I say "very brief" because Bob Hope only takes part in the first few minutes of the interview. Much of the interview features Lucy talking to her husband Gary Morton about National Children's Book Week and keeping a family strong, where she talks about keeping her husband and kids together through education and reading (notice that the "other guy" that she had been married to before is not mentioned... at all... but that is OK).

Finally, "Lucy on the Bob Hope Special" (10:37) is a segment from a Christmas special featuring Bob Hope and Lucy. There is no indication of exactly what year this aired, but it appears to be from the late '70s.

The DVD comes packaged in a standard DVD, with packaging that matches all of the other releases of The Lucille Ball Specials from MPI. The cover artwork features Lucy and Bob Hope, while the back features photos of Lucy with Jack Klugman and Johnny Carson. All of the special features are also listed on the back, along with a description of the special. The single disc has artwork that is identical to the cover artwork.

There isn't a whole lot to the menus on the DVD. The main menu has the theme music from the special playing, and gives you the option of playing the special, playing it with the special introduction, special features, and an option to turn on subtitles. Chapters are placed throughout the special.

The video and audio quality of the release is, to say the least, not all that great. Of course, it is important to consider that this was from an era where everybody seemed to cut corners everywhere to save money, but just before producers began to see the value in creating a product of higher quality... somewhat of a "lull," I guess. The transfer almost looks like a decent quality VHS transfer, but it is by no means a disaster. The audio is a bit low, but I don't think most fans will be bothered. Like just about every other MPI release out there, the release DOES contain English subtitles. It is great to see that MPI, one of the "little guys" out there, almost never neglects this important part of their releases.

I'll admit, this was probably one of the weakest points of Lucy's career (which sadly only got worse when she moved on to ABC several years later with Life with Lucy, a series which was not one of her proudest moments), but still, it is, in fact, Lucy, and an important part of her legacy. Out of all of the specials that MPI has released, this was definitely the least interesting one, but I am still glad that it made it to DVD, and I know that every Lucy fan will definitely want to see this. It helps even more that MPI didn't just slap this together just to get it out, but actually made a great release that is up to the high standards that they have set for pretty much all of their releases of anything Lucy related. If you have yet to pick up any of these specials, though, this probably is not the one that you'll want to start with. Some of the earlier ones brought back some of the Lucy style antics that fans were used to, and are likely to find more interesting. But don't get me wrong on this release. It is a great release, and fans of Lucy are definitely not going to want to pass this one up.

1 comment:

  1. Worst most outdated material since the fess parker show pilot