MOD TV: "The Lieutenant" – Gene Roddenberry's First TV Series
Plus "Harry O" with David Janssen, "Alice" with Linda Lavin, and Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree"
"The Lieutenant: The Complete Series – Part 1" (Warner Archive)
"The Lieutenant: The Complete Series – Part 2" (Warner Archive)
Gary Lockwood, future astronaut on a mission to the moons of Jupiter in Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," takes the lead in this short-lived series created by Gene Roddenberry. Lockwood plays Lt. William Tiberius Rice (yes, he is Roddenberry's first Tiberius), an Annapolis graduate assigned to teach new Marine recruits at Camp Pendleton under the command of Captain Rambridge (Robert Vaughn), a ramrod-straight old-school officer who takes an interest in the earnest young officer. He's untested in battle, which makes the up-from-the-ranks Rambridge wary, but his commitment and his ethical backbone impress the superior officer enough to take nurture Rice with a little tough-love command.
Though set at Camp Pendleton, this show is in the tradition of "The Naked City" and "Route 66" and "The Fugitive," with stories passing through his platoon (problem recruits, officers under suspicion) or in the town near the base (the very Roddenbery-esque "Cool of the Evening," which uses a career-threatening accusation against Rice as a springboard to explore the stresses on public school teachers).
Roddenberry's name is on every episode as creator and producer and his presence can be felt in the issue-oriented stories, the complicated characters, and the sometimes ambivalent resolutions, but to the best of my knowledge he only receives writing credit on a single episode. "A Very Private Affair" is episode five in the show's run but it plays like a pilot with Rice's arrival on base and his first meeting with Captain Rambridge, reframed as a flashback with narration.
James Gregory and Richard Anderson have recurring roles of base officers and future "Star Trek" travelers Leonard Nimoy, Majel Barret, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, and Ricardo Montalban are among the episode guest stars.
The series ran for a single season and was reportedly cancelled not because of ratings but because network anxiety over the growing issue of Vietnam. "Part 1" features the first 16 episodes of the series on four discs. "Part 2" presents the show's final 13 episodes, plus a feature-length version of the final episode of the series prepared for overseas theatrical showings. Which means, yes, it was a 29-episode season. Those were the days.
"Harry O: The Complete First Season" (Warner Archive) stars David Janssen as Harry Orwell, a former police detective retired on disability thanks to a bullet in his back. It slows him down when it comes to chasing down a suspect, but then he's usually taking the bus anyway, thanks to a problem car, which makes him an oddball private eye even in the seventies culture of unusual PIs (Cannon, Barnaby Jones, James Rockford, etc.). It's classic American PI stuff for the era, with Janssen giving harry a little more personality than usual. He's not in it for the money, only to stay in practice. 22 episodes plus the original pilot "Such Dust as Dreams Are Made On," a ninety-minute telefilm (just over 70 minutes without commercials) co-starring Martin Sheen, Margot Kidder, Sal Mineo, and Will Geer, on six discs.
"Alice: The Complete First Season" (Warner Archive) is the first of nine seasons of the sitcom inspired by the Oscar-winning 1974 movie directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Ellen Burstyn as the single mother working as a waitress in a Phoenix diner. Linda Lavin takes the Burstyn role and Vic Tayback reprises his role as short order cook Mel, with Polly Holliday and Beth Howland as fellow waitresses and Philip McKeon as her son. 24 episodes on three discs.
"The Halloween Tree" (Warner Archive) is early for Halloween but this made-for-TV animated feature also pays tribute to the late, great Ray Bradbury, whose stories inspired the film and whose personally narrates the adventure that sends four boys across the globe and back in time. Leonard Nimoy voices the mysterious Moundshroud.
Available exclusively from Warner Archive:
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here and on the MGM Limited Edition Collection on Videodrone here.