DVD Release Date: January 11, 2005 (BCI Eclipse)
Number of Discs: 2
Number of Specials: 4
Running Time: Approx. 180 minutes
Total Run Time of Special Features: approx. 1 minute per disc
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English - no closed captioning
Special features: Bonus Photo Galleries.
Noted as one of the most popular television series of the 70s and 80s, the “After School
Specials” produced by Martin Tahse, which originally aired on ABC from approximately
1972-1998, are now available for the first time ever on DVD. A hit during its
run in the opulent disco era, the “After School Specials” became a favorite of parents
and youth alike tackling issues that still affect today’s family such as substance abuse,
eating disorders, teen pregnancy and sexual behavior, racism, divorce
and child abuse, just to name some. Martin Tahse is the most prolific and successful
producer of After School Specials. His 26 productions have won numerous awards and prizes
including 18 Emmys, three Blue Ribbons in the American Film Fesitval, the Peabody Award,
and First, Second, and Third Prize in the Chicago Film Festival in the same year - an honor
which has never since been matched.
A total of six DVD sets have been announced. The first two (1974-76 and 1976-77) were released on October 12th, 2004. This review covers Set #4 with specials from
1979-80. Set #3, which was also released on January 11th, features specials
from 1978-79. Two more upcoming sets will be available in the spring of 2005 and
will cover 1981-82 and 1982-86. Each set contains four specials. The four specials on Set #4 include:
A Special Gift - Peter Harris (Stephen Austin) has grown up on a farm and his father
(Bill Sorrells) hopes his son will follow in his footsteps, but Peter has his sights
on a ballet career - something his parents know about but his father refuses
to discuss. When Peter is awarded the lead in "The Nutcracker," he has to choose
between basketball practice and the performance. His father struggles with the
situation, but after he sees his son dance for the first time, Peter's father witnesses
his son's special gift. This special originally aired on 10/24/79 and runs approximately
43 minutes, 17 seconds. It was based on the young adult novel by Marcia L. Simon.
This special won the Peabody Award. I was surprised to see Stephen Austin apparently
had no other acting roles other then this special. He's quite good in the role. Ike
Eisenmann plays one of the basketball players/bullies. His brother, Al, also
makes an appearance. Kene Holliday plays Coach Sanford.
The Gold Test (aka The Heartbreak Winner) - Maggie (Melissa Sherman) is heading for a career
in ice skating with a goal of reaching the Olympics. She is completely focused
and simply unbeatable, but when she is afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis, she feels her life
has ended. She meets Joey, a young boy who, despite numerous operations, fearlessly refuses
to give up hope that he will someday walk. Joey's incredible determination brings about
a change in Maggie's attitude - she may not be able to skate again, but perhaps she
can help others. This special originally aired on 02/13/80 as The Heartbreak Winner
and runs approximately 45 minutes, 44 seconds. It was based on the young adult novel by
Michael Bonadies. The Gold Test earned an Emmy Award for Best Cinematography in a
dramatic special. This must have been the 3rd or 4th special that had a ice skating sub plot.
Philip Charles MacKenzie, who is now a sitcom director, plays Dr. LaFleur. Of the four specials on this set, this was the least entertaining to me.
What Are Friends For? - After the divorce, Amy Warner (Melora Hardin) and her mother (Susan Adams) move to California. Amy is devastated and finds comfort in a new friendship with Michelle Mudd (Dana Hill), a girl with similar experiences. Amy discovers, however, that Michelle is having even greater difficulty dealing with her own parent's divorce. Amy begings to understand that divorce affects both the parents and children and learns to deal with the pains of a family's breakup. This special originally aired on 03/19/80 and runs
approximately 45 minutes, 14 seconds. It was based on the young adult novel by
Mildred Ames. There was a scene involving witchcraft, which I was not expecting to see. Quite
scary for your average After School Special. Melora Hardin has gone on to do quite a few other roles in tv series and movies. You probably remember Dana Hill as Audrey in National Lampoon's European Vacation.
Schoolboy Father - Sixteen-year-old Charles Elderberry (Rob Lowe) dallies at summer
camp with sexy Daisy (Dana Plato) and discovers later, to his astonishment, that she has borne
his child. Unlike other teenagers who might go into hiding, Charles races to the hospital to see his son and is horrified to learn that Daisy is putting the child up for adoption.
Having grown up without a father, he insists on his right to keep the baby, and
with the help of a social worker (Beatrice Colen) he is granted a trial adoption, much
against his mother's advice. the outcome of the story is both real and poignant, as Charles
reluctantly faces reality. This special originally aired on 10/15/80 and runs
approximately 45 minutes, 30 seconds. It was based on the young adult novel, "He's My Baby
Now," by Jeannette Eyerly. This was the only After School Special that I had seen
within the last five years, and the only one I had on VHS tape. This was one of Rob Lowe's very early roles and probably his first tv movie. Two 80's sitcom actresses are in this one - Dana Plato from Diff'rent Strokes and Nancy McKeon from The Facts of Life. This special
had some parallels to Dana's life. She would have a child as a teen several years later,
but she would get married and raise her son. Happy Days fans will recognize
Beatrice Colen, who played the waitress Marsha, as Ms. Shipley in this special.
The first two sets had packaging that was designed to look like Trapper Keeper Style notebooks.
They tried something a little different on this 4th set, and although it was a nice idea,
it was not as clever as their first offerings. The packaging is green and is designed
to look like a school locker. You flip open the front cover and there is a photo of
Rob Lowe with smaller photos of Nancy McKeon, Melissa Sue Anderson,
and Nancy McKeon in a locker along with some quotes from various publications on the After School Specials on one side while the other side gives some pretty detailed summaries of each of the 4 specials along with quotes from different news publications. The back of the packaging features four small photos and gives some more details on the specials including what novel it was based on, the original airdate, approximate running time, and the cast and crew listing.
There is a single-wide slim case that houses the two dvds. The slim case box has a cover that looks like a text book with covering. Remember how you used to use old grocery bags to cover your text books? That's how they designed it. The front of the case features four photos of the cast members of the specials. The back of the box gives some details on producer Martin Tahse's many awards. The discs are green in color like the outer packaging, and each have
two photos on them from the specials along with the After School Specials logo and the
Menu Design and Navigation:
A neat 3-D animated sequence opens the dvd menus. These are the same sequences
and kinds of menus as used on the first two sets. It goes from a camera's point of view. First, you see a door opening and then the camera goes down a hallway with some video clips playing on the school's walls and finally out an exit door. The
3-D sequence runs about 16 seconds and features a musical ditty in the bakground.
The main menus continue the school theme with a lined paper backround with music playing
and various video clips from the specials are played. There is a 'Chapters' submenu with
four chapter stops per episode. Various sounds are played such as a paper being torn, pencil
writing, eraser, and photocopier when you choose different options on the menus.
Video and Audio Quality:
The video and audio quality is fairly decent. They probably weren't remastered, but
they used the best possible copies available. While you may say they don't look to be
DVD quality, it didn't affect my enjoyment of viewing these specials. There are a
few tape/film glitches in some scenes and some grain in others, but it's not too bad.
The audio is in mono and is standard from the 70's. There are two options to play them - Dolby Digital Stereo or Dolby Digital 5.1.
Bonus photo galleries that are on each disc are the only extras included. There
is about a minute on each disc of music playing while various screenshots from the specials are shown one after another. Perhaps, on some future releases,
they can include some interviews with Martin Tahse or episode commentaries. Another idea
could be a 'where are they now?' feature. Although there were many recognizable stars, there
are some that you wonder if they ever continued acting and it would be interesting to know
what they are doing now.
Overall, this is a very nicely produced set. If you were a fan of the first two releases,
you will enjoy this volume as well. The packaging is not as cool, but I think
the four specials on this set were fun to watch, especially Schoolboy Father featuring
sitcom babes Dana Plato and Nancy McKeon. The storylines are timeless and still carry an
important message. I'm sure they are still shown in schools, and I'm surprised some new ones
and haven't been produced in a number of years. These sets are very affordable. You can
probably find them for less than $10 a set. If you can't find them at a local store, you
can easily order them online from Amazon.com. Look for volumes 5 and 6 in the spring of
2005 with guest stars such as Rob Lowe, Bonnie Bartlett, Jason Hervey, Michelle Greene, James
LeGros, and Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):
Video Quality: 4.2/5
Audio Quality: 4.2/5
Special Features: 3/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 5/5