Release Date: June 12, 2012 (Warner Archive Collection)
Packaging: Viva Case
Number of Discs: 3
Number of Episodes: 24
Running Time: 600 minutes
Running Time of Features: N/A
Audio: English Mono
Subtitles and Captioning: None
Special Features: None
"There's a new girl in town" as Alice Hyatt and the gang at Mel's Diner come to DVD from Warner Archive! In 1974, Ellen Burstyn played the role of Alice Hyatt in the Martin Scorsese directed film Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, the story of a recently widowed mother trying to make big changes in her life by moving across the country to revive her past singing career. But she doesn't quite make it to where she is going, and ends up stopping along the way and becoming a waitress at a diner... perhaps temporarily, perhaps not.
Upon the success of the film, Robert Getchell, the writer of that very same film, decided to go into a new direction and adapt that film into a sitcom. On August 31, 1976, the series Alice debuted on CBS, with Linda Lavin now playing the role of Alice, a widow and single mother from New Jersey on her way to Los Angeles to be a singer, until car trouble (at least as the opening credits suggest) stop her in the middle of Arizona. Alice still had her two co-workers, sharp-tongued waitress Flo and the incredibly naive waitress Vera. But just as Lavin replaced Burstyn for the TV adaptation, we had new actresses for these characters, with Polly Holliday as Flo and Beth Howland as Vera. The pilot did bring over two carryover roles from the original film, though, including diner owner Mel (Vic Tayback) and Alice's son Tommy (Alfred Lutter). However, Lutter only remained in the role of Tommy for the pilot episode, and was replaced by Philip McKeon (brother of Nancy McKeon) beginning in the second episode.
Many successful films have been turned into TV series, only to have the series turn in to a ratings disaster and complete failure not worthy of being associated with the film. Alice, however, bucked this trend, by becoming a key sitcom for nine years for CBS in the same era of hits such as All in the Family, M*A*S*H, One Day at a Time, Good Times, and of course, The Jeffersons, which was the series that Alice was most frequently paired with (after All in the Family was canceled). In fact, both The Jeffersons and Alice ended up airing their final episodes just one week apart (staying together on the same night) in the summer of 1985. Unlike many of those other series, though, Alice wasn't really out to shock people or go to the extremes as much. It was a simple sitcom about a widow and single mother going through the trials and tribulations of life as a waitress, while trying to also fulfill her own dreams.
Several years ago, Warner released a TV Favorites DVD consisting of six fan favorite episodes of the classic sitcom, and in fact, our very own readers on the message boards helped them decide which six episodes to include. That DVD is now out of print, and Warner Archive has come back to "rescue" the series on DVD, releasing the long awaited Complete First Season of the classic sitcom... and not a moment too soon.
The series begins with the "Pilot" episode, where a talent agent is in town and Alice is hoping to get her big break in showbiz. In "Alice Gets a Pass," a football player and a friend of Mel's is in town, and he isn't at all interested in Alice... for reasons Mel would never suspect. Alice is in for a surprise when she discovers that another woman is a beneficiary of her husband's life insurance policy in "A Piece of the Rock." Gordon Jump plays a bumbling small-town sheriff when he arrests Alice for prostitution in "Pay the Fifty Dollars," but how will she be found innocent in a town where every defendant gets railroaded? Alice considers getting a gun after receiving obscene phone calls in "A Call to Arms." In "The Last Review," the town food critic dies, but it happens immediately as he enters Mel's Diner and takes a bite of the chili. Adam West plays Tommy's teacher in "Sex Education," where Alice is forced to deal with the fact that Tommy is growing up faster than she would like. Flo has a new man in "Big Daddy Dawson's Coming," but Alice isn't in a particularly comfortable position once he decides to lock lips with her.
Vera deals with a sleeping pill addiction in "Good Night, Sweet Vera." Alice has a difficult decision to face when she receives a marriage proposal in "The Dilemma." In "Who Killed Bugs Bunny?," Tommy has a lot to consider about his principles after a hunting trip. Alice's mother-in-law (played by Eileen Heckart) comes to visit Alice in Phoenix in the two-part episode "Mother-in-Law," but she may not be going away any time soon. In "Vera's Mortician," Vera has a new boyfriend (Tom Poston) who deals with the dead, and Alice suspects that there may be even more secrets about him. Mel finds love in a young woman from New Jersey in "Mel's in Love." Mel asks the girls to look over his car while he is away in "The Accident," but he probably won't like the modifications that Flo makes to it.
A crook fails at a robbery and needs a bit of encouragement in "The Failure." In "The Hex," a gypsy (played by Kaye Ballard) puts a curse on Mel's Diner. Alice's husband may have never paid his taxes, as Alice discovers in "The Pain of No Return." In "The Odd Couple," Flo's home is literally robbed, as her entire trailer is stolen, forcing her to live with Alice in the meantime... and there is nothing pleasant about the new living arrangement. Alice and Flo try to do some matchmaking for Vera in "A Night to Remember." In "Mel's Cup," a prized trophy of Mel's is accidentally sent to a rummage sale. A bag of money is found at the diner in "The Bundle," and nobody seems to want to return it to the rightful owner. Florence Halop guest stars. The season ends with "Mel's Happy Burger," where Mel's Diner is making a TV commercial, but of course, it isn't going to be flawless.
The episodes on the set appear to be unedited, although the runtimes do tend to bounce around a little bit. Most are around 25:00-25:30, but there are a few a little above and below that range (particularly the "Pilot" episode, but that one was made before the series was even truly cast the way it was intended). I seriously doubt that anything is missing from these episodes, as there do not seem to be any problems with any of the episodes. Runtimes for each episode are as follows:
1. "Pilot" (24:12)
2. "Alice Gets a Pass" (25:33)
3. "A Piece of the Rock" (25:28)
4. "Pay the Fifty Dollars" (25:31)
5. "A Call to Arms" (25:00)
6. "The Last Review" (25:30)
7. "Sex Education" (25:25)
8. "Big Daddy Dawson's Coming" (25:30)
17. "The Hex" (25:29)
18. "The Failure" (25:29)
19. "The Pain of No Return" (25:27)
20. "The Odd Couple" (25:29)
21. "A Night to Remember" (25:03)
22. "Mel's Cup" (25:14)
23. "The Bundle" (25:05)
24. "Mel's Happy Burger" (25:32)
The packaging used for this set is very basic, but not really that bad for a MOD offering. On the cover, we have a cast photo, along with the series title above the photo on a white background. There is another cast photo on the back, along with a few episode snapshots and a brief series description on the back. Inside, there are three discs which are designed to look like dinner plates, with the series logo imprinted on each one. Each disc contains exactly eight episodes. Unfortunately, there is not a listing of the episodes on each disc to be found anywhere either in the packaging or on the discs.
Menu Design and Navigation:
There is only one menu on this set, and that is the main menu. Fortunately, unlike the menus which some other nameless studios use on their MOD season sets, these menus are at least professionally designed and look decent. On the main menu of each disc, you'll find a "Guest Check" (i.e. a receipt) for the diner, with a listing of all of the episodes on the disc. There is also a Play All option on this list. Next to the list of episodes is the same photo seen on the front cover of the DVD. There is no music or special effects to be found on the set. There are chapters placed throughout each episode, at all of the appropriate places... meaning that they are placed at the points where there would be a commercial break, NOT just every 10 minutes as some of the very early Warner Archive titles had.
Video and Audio Quality:
One of the major holdups for this series on DVD was allegedly issues with the video quality of the episodes. That should be no surprise, considering that the series was recorded on tape over three decades ago, although such issues have not caused complications for other series recorded on tape appearing on DVD. However, the episodes on the set really do not look so terrible, so either Warner was overestimating the problem or they did something to make the series look a bit better. The episodes do look a little dark, and it is very obvious that it was a videotaped program, but they really don't look any worse than the series has looked in syndication when it aired on networks such as E!, TNN, and Ion. The audio is the typical dull '70s sitcom mono audio which we've become accustomed to for series such as this, so although it is unimpressive, it is hardly unexpected and I doubt that fans will have any issues with it. Unfortunately, the episodes are neither closed-captioned nor subtitled.
Since this is a Warner Archive title, it really isn't too reasonable to expect any special features on the set, and of course, there aren't any. The series description on the back does sort of refer to the original pilot episode of the series as "rarely seen," and as if it is something that is sort of a bonus, but that isn't quite true. The particular pilot episode, even though it is different from the rest of the series, has regularly aired as the first episode of the series in every syndication run of the series that I have ever seen.
This has probably been one of my most highly anticipated series to see on DVD since the format began, and even though I do have the TV Favorites DVD, it was never quite enough for me. It is great to see that the ball has finally started rolling on the series now, but with eight more seasons to go after this one, we still have quite a way to go to see this series to completion, assuming it even goes on to see a second season on DVD. But for now, I think that fans are going to be very satisfied with this set, as it doesn't really have any problems to be concerned with. For those who haven't seen the series, I really think that it would appeal to fans of sitcoms with ensemble female leads, such as Designing Women and (of course) The Golden Girls. It is certainly older than those series, but it is somewhat in the same vein... although we do have an older male playing a father figure to all of the girls here and the role of Alice's son Tommy isn't really as marginalized as a similar character would be in other series. Now, we can only hope, for the sake of future season DVDs, that "if things work out, she's gonna stay a while."