MOD TV: James Stewart is 'Hawkins'
Plus 'Sheena,' a 'CHiPS' reunion, and more
"Hawkins: The Complete TV Movie Collection" (Warner Archive) – "Hawkins" was the second and final attempt to design a TV series for Hollywood legend James Stewart. Billy Jim Hawkins is a sly fox of an old country attorney with a savvy cunning behind his folksy manner and a national reputation for winning cases. Like many of the popular murder mystery shows of the seventies, these were 90-minute productions, and they played in rotation with "Shaft," a much more urban, youth-skewing series with Richard Roundtree reprising his big screen character. In retrospect, probably not a good pairing, and possibly one reason the show was cancelled: not a lot of overlap in their target audiences.
You could think of the show as Perry Mason with a drawl. Hawkins generally flies in from his West Virginia home base to take high profile cases, conducts his own investigation of the crime with his assistant and cousin R.J. Hawkins (Strother Martin, providing colorful counterpoint to Stewart), and maintains his winning reputation. Like Mason, he never seems to have a guilty client, but unlike Mason, Hawkins comes from a big Southern clan; every case seems to bring out another Hawkins. "Blood Feud," the fifth episode, has Hawkins defending a man accused of killing one of his own kin in his home town, where a family feud has been simmering for years.
The eight episodes of the show, each running about 74 minutes (sans commercial interruption), offer the usual roll call of fading movie stars, TV personalities, and up-and-comers in the guest cast. But more than anything, it plays like a blueprint for a future TV hit: "Matlock" with an equally folksy and sly Andy Griffith. The shows run about 74 minutes apiece (sans commercial interruption) and roll out at the leisurely pace of the era. It's Stewart that makes these memorable and if not for the programming misjudgments, should have been a success. There are surely plenty of Stewart fans happy to see these shows finally available. Eight episodes on four discs.
"Sheena: The Complete First Season" (Sony Pictures Choice Collection) – After leaving the beach of "Baywatch," former model and "The Price Is Right" beauty Gena Lee Nolin swapped her lifeguard swimsuit for an animal skin sari and headed for the jungle as "Sheena." The 1937 comic book character is basically a female "Tarzan" knock-off: an orphaned while girl in Africa raised by the locals and dedicated to protecting the jungle animals and local tribes. Previously turned into a fifties TV show and a 1980s movie, this incarnation adds a new power to her arsenal: she's a shapeshifter, able to transform in leopards, apes (a pretty sad looking gorilla costume), and other animals.
The show was a cheesy low-budget production made for first-run syndication and ran for two seasons is silly but colorful jungle adventures with Sheena, American mercenary adventurer Matt Cutter (John Allen Nelson), and Kali (Margo Moorer), Sheena's spiritual mentor. Given the skimpiness of her outfit (and Nolin's subsequent fame as a Playboy model), I can imagine the show would have fared better as a shamelessly exploitative Starz original series. Cheesecake quality aside, this is fine for whole family. Both seasons are now available on the Sony Pictures Choice Collection. "Sheena: The Complete First Season" features 22 episodes on four discs. "Sheena: The Complete Second Season" is a mere 13 episodes on two discs.
Also new on MOD:
"CHIPs '99" (Warner Archive) is the 1998 TV movie reunion of Larry Wilcox and Erik Estrada as Jon and Ponch, back on the cycle patrol beat and on the case investigating a car theft ring. Director Jon Cassar, by the way, went on to produce and direct dozens of episodes of "24" (not to mention a few "Sheena" episodes). Here's a review from my friend Marya Gates.
"Eight is Enough: The Complete Second Season Part 1" (Warner Archive) and "Eight is Enough: The Complete Second Season Part 2" (Warner Archive) present the first full-length season of the family drama starring Dick Van Patten as a newspaper editor and father to eight kids. Dinah Hyland, who played the mother, died in the hiatus and the show returned with Van Patten as a widower and Betty Buckley joining the cast as a kind of mother figure and romantic interest for single dad. Available in separate volumes or as a set at a reduced price. 26 episodes on seven discs in all.
"Alice: The Complete Second Season" (Warner Archive), with Linda Lavin as single mother and diner waitress Alice Wyatt and co-starring Polly Holliday, Beth Howland, Philip McKeon, and Vic Tayback, features a guest appearance by George Burns in one episode. 24 episodes on three discs.
Available exclusively from Warner Archive:
"Sheena: The Complete First Season"
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.