QUICK DVD STATS:
Number of Episodes -- 234 (Plus the Original Pilot Episode)
Number of Discs -- 37 (Single-Sided)
Video -- 1.33:1 Full Frame (B&W)
Audio -- Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English only)
Any Bonus Stuff? -- Heck, yes! (Details below)
Subtitles? -- No (But each of the episodes is Closed Captioned in English)
"Play All" Option? -- Yes
Are These Episodes Complete and Unedited? -- Yes! (With a very minor "but"; details below)
DVD Distributor -- Shout! Factory (The set is copyrighted by NBC Universal)
On June 29, 2010, a very pleasant thing happened -- something that many people probably didn't think would ever happen in their lifetime -- the audio and video company "Shout! Factory" released to the public "LEAVE IT TO BEAVER: THE COMPLETE SERIES", a spectacular 37-Disc DVD collection that includes all 234 episodes of what I consider to be one of the best and most rewatchable television series of all-time.
And Shout! has treated The Beav with expert care too, make no mistake about that fact. These 234 shows (plus the pilot episode, entitled "It's A Small World", which is also included in this mega-set) look and sound fantastic on these DVDs. All of the episodes were filmed in black-and-white, and the restored B&W prints that are presented in this collection are sensational.
To quote Brian Ward, the producer of this DVD boxed set:
"These episodes are complete and look better than you've ever seen them before. They've been restored and remastered from the original film elements. I've honestly never seen 50s television look this good. For those that bought the original seasons 1 & 2 released a couple years ago, these are leagues above those transfers. They really are something." -- Brian Ward of Shout! Factory; January 27, 2010
These shows do, indeed, look gorgeous on these DVDs, but I will add this note about the video quality --- The majority of the episodes in Season 1 and Season 2 of this set appear to me to have pretty close to the same video quality as the Universal DVD releases of those two seasons which came out in November 2005 and May 2006 [Season 1; Season 2].
Those two Universal sets have pretty good overall picture quality too, but most of the scenes that were filmed indoors are peppered with an abundance of grain. The scenes shot outdoors, however, look perfect and free of almost all grain.
This Shout! set mirrors those Universal video characteristics for the first two seasons, with the indoors footage being speckled with much more film grain than is found in any of the last four seasons. There are exceptions to this though, with one exception being the first-year episode "Brotherly Love", which looks quite a bit better in this Shout! set than it does in the 2005 Universal release, with less grain visible in the Shout! version.
Some of the shows from Season 1 also look darker on the Shout! DVDs when compared to the Universal edition (particularly the episode "Captain Jack"). So it would certainly seem as though Shout! has not used the exact same prints of the shows that Universal worked with in 2005.
But once I got to Season 3 of this Shout! set -- WOW! Simply magnificent in all respects! Almost all of the grain in every episode has been completely eliminated for the final four seasons. It's remarkable how blemish-free these new high-definition DVD prints look. Almost as if they were filmed yesterday. They look that good.
The highest praise I can muster goes to the Shout! people for taking the time and effort to do this classic TV sitcom the "DVD justice" it richly deserves.
One of the things that I immediately noticed when watching some of the episodes from Seasons 3 through 6 (which were filmed after the Cleavers moved into their new house on Pine Street in Mayfield) was the chair in the living room, the one in which dad Ward Cleaver is often seen sitting while reading the newspaper.
The chair's bold and unique fabric looks particularly bright on these remastered DVDs. The pattern practically jumps right off the screen, illustrating just how superb these DVD transfers really are. It might even be a good idea to wear sunglasses when watching those living-room scenes from now on. :)
Each episode is presented complete and uncut, just as they were originally aired on network television in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The average length per episode is about 25 minutes and 45 seconds.
A few episodes clock in at about 24:55. But then there are still others that exceed 26 minutes. So, I think it's probably safe to say that these episodes are just about as complete as we're ever going to get.
And Shout! DVD producer Brian Ward has also assured fans that all of the episodes in this set are uncut -- "The episodes are complete" were Mr. Ward's exact words on May 26, 2010 (via a post Brian made at the Shout! Factory Community Forum).
There is, however, one small section of one episode that is missing. And I'd be willing to bet that it's missing by pure accident. It's the preview (or "teaser") that was originally aired at the very beginning of the episode "The Black Eye". That short preview, narrated by Hugh Beaumont (which is when we hear Hugh say, "And that's our story tonight on Leave It To Beaver"), is nowhere to be found in this Shout! set. It is there, however, in the Universal 2005 DVD set.
The reason I said it's missing by "accident" is because of the way the order of most of the show openings for Season One have been rearranged. The short preview scenes that were part of the first-year episodes were (I think) originally aired PRIOR to the opening titles. That's the way they are presented in the 2005 Universal DVD set anyway.
But in this Shout! set, the majority of the preview clips are shown AFTER the opening credits. There are seven exceptions, however. The following seven episodes are presented as they originally aired, with the teaser coming prior to the opening titles: "Music Lesson", "The Perfect Father", "The State Vs. Beaver", "Beaver Runs Away", "Party Invitation", "The Bank Account", and "Lonesome Beaver".
This is a real mystery to me. I can't figure out why in the world the people who were responsible for remastering these episodes would have decided to reverse the order of the teasers and opening credits for about 80% of the first-season episodes in seemingly willy-nilly fashion, while choosing at the same time to leave the teasers where they should be in the first place (at the very beginning of the show) on 7 of the 39 episodes. It doesn't make a bit of sense. It almost looks like somebody at NBC Universal was being deliberately spiteful.
Anyway, my guess would be that when someone was fiddling around with the chronology of most of these show-opening segments, somehow the preview/teaser clip for the "Black Eye" episode was never re-inserted and was inadvertently cut out completely.
Here's another oddity that I noticed about the first-season previews -- In this Shout! set, the preview segment for the episode "Brotherly Love" is completely different from the one that can be found on the 2005 DVD. The narration by Hugh Beaumont is identical in both DVD versions, but the video is totally different. Weird, huh? I had no idea that more than one preview segment existed for any of the episodes in Season 1. (It kind of makes the 2005 Universal DVD set for the first season of LITB seem a tad more valuable now, since there's something unique about a portion of it.)
"Leave It To Beaver" premiered on CBS-TV on Friday, October 4, 1957, and continued on network television for a total of six seasons, finishing up in 1963. Each of the six seasons consisted of exactly 39 episodes, a hefty number when compared to current seasonal standards.
CBS carried the show for the first season only. For the final five years, "Beaver" was a part of the ABC-TV schedule.
The LITB storylines were always very simple and uncomplicated, which is probably a big reason why it is so charming and appealing. No major earth-shattering disasters ever befall the Cleavers. Nobody ever gets hurt (except an occasional scraped knee), the parents (Ward and June) rarely fight about anything serious and never threaten to leave each other, and above all, these characters really seemed to care about each other, without getting too sappy about it.
All of the above-mentioned traits helped make "Leave It To Beaver" what it was each week in 1957, and what I believe it remains today: a good, clean, fun, uncomplicated half-hour of entertaining television.
Starring Jerry Mathers as Theodore (Beaver) Cleaver, Tony Dow as his brother Wally, Barbara Billingsley as June, and Hugh Beaumont as Ward, the excellent cast of "Leave It To Beaver" was a well-chosen group in my opinion.
While it's true, I suppose, that the acting was a bit on the "stiff" side on many occasions, I still think that this ensemble did quite well on this show. A sense of true believability and realism finds its way quite comfortably into each of these episodes.
Toss into this cast grouping the very funny Richard Deacon, who portrayed Ward's friend and co-worker, Fred Rutherford, plus Ken Osmond as the ever-sarcastic Eddie Haskell, Frank Bank as Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford, Rusty Stevens as Larry Mondello, and all of Beaver's and Wally's other various friends, classmates, and schoolteachers, and you've got a really first-rate supporting cast of characters to build stories around.
Right out of the gate in Season 1, a whole bunch of top-notch episodes are on tap, with some of my favorites from the first year being: "The Black Eye", "Tenting Tonight", "Beaver's Short Pants", "Party Invitation", "The Bank Account", "Train Trip", "The Perfect Father", "Beaver Runs Away", and my #1 fave from the rookie season, "The Haircut", which has Beaver getting scalped by barber Wally in one of the funniest episodes of the whole series.
There's also the funny "Captain Jack" episode -- which was the very first show to be filmed; but was the second program to be aired. "Captain Jack" has Wally and Beaver sending away for a pet alligator, and includes the very funny scene where Minerva (the maid who is never seen again in the series) comes running up the basement stairs screaming "Help! A monster! There's an alligator in the basement!" .... This is followed by Ward's skeptical -- "An alligator?!" (LOL.)
"Captain Jack" also has the distinction of being the very first episode in television history to show a toilet on screen. (The "tank" portion of the Cleaver toilet is shown, not the [~gasp!~] "bowl" itself.) :-)
In fact, it was the "toilet" scene in "Captain Jack" that kept that episode from being aired by CBS as the debut show of the series in late 1957. But LITB show executives, including writers Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher (who authored a great number of the episodes during LITB's six-year history, including "Captain Jack"), stuck by their guns and won the "toilet battle" with CBS bigwigs, and thus "Captain Jack" (toilet scene intact) was approved for network broadcast one week later, being aired on October 11, 1957, as Leave It To Beaver episode #2.
And yet another winning Season-One entry is entitled simply "Lumpy Rutherford" -- where we get our first look at Clarence Rutherford, known to most people as "Lumpy" (or "The Lump"). You'll note how Lumpy goes from being one of Wally's feared enemies to one of his best friends as the series progresses.
As mentioned, the original "Leave It To Beaver" pilot episode ("It's A Small World"), which originally aired on April 23, 1957, has also been included in this Shout! set. It was first aired as an installment of the syndicated anthology program "Studio 57". And it's a darn good pilot too, in my opinion, with a good storyline (unlike a lot of other series-launching pilots).
I know that a lot of people don't particularly like the Beaver pilot very much, but I myself think it's a pretty good show, which does a nice job of introducing the series and the characters. I actually find myself returning to watch this pilot show quite a bit.
I will say, though, that it would have been nice if Hugh Beaumont could have been included in the pilot's cast too. His presence would certainly have made it a better program, to be sure. Because Hugh's portrayal of Ward Cleaver will live on forever as one of the top "TV dad" performances there ever was.
Both Barbara Billingsley and Jerry Mathers co-star in the "Small World" pilot, but different actors played the parts of Wally and Ward. Paul Sullivan portrayed Wally and Casey Adams (aka Max Showalter) filled Ward's shoes.
A 13-year-old Harry Shearer (famed voice actor on "The Simpsons") also was featured in the cast of the pilot episode. It's a small part for Shearer, but he was very good as "Frankie Bennett", an Eddie Haskell-like smart-aleck. I was impressed by the naturalness of Harry's performance.
LITB veterans Richard Deacon and Diane Brewster are also part of the "Small World" cast, although not in the same roles that they ended up playing in the series. Deacon's part, in fact, is a fairly extensive one, as an executive for the "Franklin Milk Company".
Some of my other favorite episodes from Seasons 2 through 6 are listed below. You'll notice a preponderance of episodes centering on Wally here, especially in Seasons 5 and 6. The shows that focused primarily on Wally and his friends in the latter years of the series are, in my view, a tad bit better than the "Beaver"-oriented shows from those same seasons.
The writers/producers of the series, Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, obviously realized that Tony Dow was becoming somewhat of a teen heartthrob, and therefore wrote many episodes featuring Wally as the center of attention during the last two or three seasons:
Season 2 --- "Happy Weekend", "Wally's Haircomb", "The Shave", "Wally's New Suit", and "Most Interesting Character".
Season 3 --- "Teacher Comes To Dinner", "Beaver Takes A Bath", "Larry Hides Out", "Ward's Baseball", and "Beaver Takes A Walk".
Season 4 --- "Eddie Spends The Night", "In The Soup", "Beaver Won't Eat", "Wally And Dudley", and "Chuckie's New Shoes".
Season 5 --- "Wally's Car", "Wally's Chauffeur", "Wally's Big Date", "Wally Stays At Lumpy's", and "Beaver's Long Night".
Season 6 --- "Wally's Dinner Date", "Wally's Practical Joke", "The All-Night Party", "Wally's License", and "Wally's Car Accident".
DVD BONUS MATERIAL:
Shout! Factory has produced an entire disc of supplemental bonus material for this monster-sized DVD collection, and there's some very good stuff in here too. Let's have a gander:
>>> "It's A Small World" -- The original "Leave It To Beaver" pilot episode (discussed earlier). Running time: 25:07.
>>> "Forever The Beaver: The Cleavers Look Back" -- This is a 74-minute featurette made in 2005, with some of the cast members from the show (Jerry Mathers, Tony Dow, and Barbara Billingsley) looking back on the series. Also featured in this bonus is Brian Levant, one of the co-creators of "The New Leave It To Beaver" (aka "Still The Beaver") TV series, which aired in the 1980s.
>>> "Ken Osmond And Frank Bank Remember" -- This featurette, which was made in April 2010, allows us to visit with two members of the LITB cast who weren't part of the "Forever The Beaver" program -- Ken Osmond and Frank Bank. Running time: 29:54.
>>> "The Drum Major Of The Toy Parade: A Conversation With Dave Kahn" -- Dave Kahn, the composer of the LITB theme song, is interviewed. Kahn was 94 at the time of this very brief interview. He passed away in July 2008. The person conducting this interview is Tony Dow. And Tony makes a mistake when he says that Kahn's theme song (entitled "The Toy Parade") was jazzed up in the third season of the LITB series. But it wasn't until the sixth and final year of the show that the "jazzing up" of Mr. Kahn's famous theme song was done for the opening and closing credits. The length of this bonus supplement is 3:16.
>>> U.S. Treasury Film -- This bonus is sort of a "mini" episode of "Leave It To Beaver". It was produced during the third season of the series, in cooperation with the United States Treasury Department. Beaver learns a valuable lesson about saving money in this rarely-seen 15-minute advertisement for U.S. Savings Bonds. This program hasn't been restored or remastered like the other episodes in this set, so the video quality is a little rough around the edges. It also doesn't include a laugh track, and the absence of such a track here serves to emphasize the importance and necessity of the "canned" laughs that we hear throughout all of the regular episodes in this series. Because after hearing an episode without any laughs at all, it becomes painfully obvious that those laughs coming from a "canned" audience are definitely better than hearing dead silence instead.
>>> Original Promos -- Two ABC-TV promotional ads for LITB. Some episode clips from various seasons of the show are included in these two brief television ads. And watch out for an alternate take of a scene from the fifth-season episode "Wally's Weekend Job". When Wally is getting chewed out by Mary Ellen Roger's father, LITB aficionados will instantly be able to tell that the dialogue being spoken is from a different take of that scene which ended up on the cutting-room floor. The picture quality for these ABC promos is really terrible. No cleaning up of this material was done at all (which is understandable, since these TV ads are merely a bonus anyway). But when watching how these promos have deteriorated as they have, it makes you appreciate the exceptional quality of the episodes in this set. The running time for these two promos is 2:01.
>>> Another cool bonus included in this collector's set is a very unique and rare item -- a replica of an original board game called the "Leave It To Beaver Money Maker Game". The paper replica of the game comes folded and tucked underneath the tabs that are affixed to the inside front cover of the slim plastic case reserved for the "Bonus Features".
>>> DVD Trailers -- A collection of promo spots for some other TV-on-DVD sets marketed by Shout! Factory. These same promos/trailers are also on Disc 1 of each of the six seasons in this LITB set (but they can easily be skipped on those six discs by pressing the Menu button).
More --- In addition to the full disc of extra stuff, there are also six radio shows included in this massive DVD set too (one show per individual season set). These radio programs all come from "Shokus Internet Radio" and are all episodes of "Stu's Show", which is an online program hosted by Stu Shostak. Stu is the owner and operator of Shokus Video and Shokus Internet Radio.
Shostak's show regularly features guests from the world of 1950s and 1960s television, including several shows with "Leave It To Beaver" cast members, six of which can be found scattered throughout this DVD mega-set. Most of the radio programs in this set are pretty lengthy too, running for about 1 hour and 45 minutes each.
The packaging that Shout! has put together for this LITB Complete Series set is very nicely done, adding just one more element of "near perfection" to this outstanding DVD release.
The outer slipcase box is fairly thick and sturdy, and it looks cool too. The way Beaver seems to be snagging "The Complete Series" with his fishing pole is a clever design.
Each of the six individual seasons has its own case, with all six seasons then sliding comfortably (but not too tightly) inside the outer slipcase box. The one disc full of bonus material is housed in a separate plastic "slim" case.
The individual season cases are standard-sized (half-inch wide) Amaray type plastic keepcases, which means that this set has a fairly small overall footprint on your shelf (considering there are 234 episodes, plus a disc of extras, contained in this box). The total width of the whole package is just a shade under 4 inches.
The discs in each of the six seasonal cases (which are all single-sided! Yay!) are colorful and are arranged nicely too, in that the DVDs don't overlap one another at all. There are two swinging "leaf" pages hinged to the center of each plastic case, with each of these pages holding two discs (one on each side of the page/leaf). Discs 1 and 6 are attached to trays that rest in the front and back covers of the case.
Each of the seasons features a different promotional picture on the front of the plastic case and on the six discs within that set.
A 12-page booklet is included for each of the six individual seasonal sets, which is kind of a "bonus" unto itself, since a lot of DVD products have gone "paperless" entirely nowadays.
The six booklets, like the rest of this collection, are attractive and nicely put together too, with information about all 39 episodes for each individual season, including writing and director credits, show descriptions, and original airdates for each episode. Plus, the booklets are sprinkled with a few LITB publicity photos too.
The menu structure for these DVDs is pretty simple and non-gimmicky, which is always a good thing (IMO). All of the menus are laid out in a "wet cement" fashion, giving the impression that all of the words on the screen have been written in wet cement (to mimic the opening titles from Season 1 of the series).
The main menu and all of the sub-menus have the LITB theme music playing in the background, and it plays on a continuous loop. I'd prefer silent menus myself, or possibly a one-time playing of the music and then silence.
Each disc's main menu is adorned with various promotional pictures taken from the individual season contained on that disc.
There are sub-menus for "Episodes" and "Bonus Feature". The "Bonus Feature" option only appears on Disc #1 for each season (the single bonus item on those discs is one of the radio shows mentioned previously). There are 6 or 7 episodes per disc.
All discs include a "Play All Episodes" option. From the main menu, this continuous playback feature is simply labeled "Play". From the Episodes sub-menu, it's listed as "Play All".
A few chapter breaks have been inserted for each episode, and they are nicely placed, including a break right after the opening credits, which is always a good place to put a chapter stop, IMO, allowing a quick bypass of the main titles in order to get right to the beginning of an episode.
"Leave It To Beaver" is an American institution. Although extremely simple and unsophisticated in nature, the show never fails to entertain.
What other television show could possibly produce entire half-hour episodes that revolve around nothing more than getting a ring stuck on your finger, or buying a new suit, or writing a grade-school poem....and yet make these seemingly mundane occurrences come out so charming and realistic on our TV screens?
Not many shows could accomplish this task as nicely and skillfully as "Leave It To Beaver" managed to do.
This 37-Disc set is a little like placing a piece of mid-20th-century Americana right into your living room. And having the whole series in one box is enough to make any Beaver fan do a few cartwheels.
I think possibly the thing I treasure the most about having all 234 "Leave It To Beaver" episodes in my DVD library is being able to revisit Mayfield and the Cleaver gang anytime of the day or night by simply popping in one of these discs. Knowing that I can do that is kind of a comforting thought all by itself.
David Von Pein