Release Date: December 20, 2011 (MPI Home Video)
Packaging: Viva Case
Number of Discs: 5
Number of Episodes: 39
Running Time: 1080 minutes
Running Time of Features: 38 minutes
Audio: English Mono
Subtitles and Captioning: English Subtitles
Special Features: New Interviews; Original ABC-TV Promos; Original Sponsor Commercials; Donna Reed Public Service Announcement; "The Donna Reed Show Rocks!" Featurette; Photo Gallery
One of America's leading ladies of television is back on DVD! After some issues that a previous studio had with releasing The Donna Reed Show, the series is back for another season on DVD, from a new studio. This time, MPI brings the fourth season to DVD in a five disc set. But the mere fact that the episodes are on DVD isn't exactly why this set is such a big deal. The 39 episodes seen in this set are considered to be lost episodes, having not been aired on TV in decades. That means that most people who remember watching the series in reruns on Nick at Nite in the '80s and '90s will not remember the episodes on this set, as they never aired them. In fact, they have been withheld completely from all syndicated runs for at least the past few decades, simply because the series was deemed to have too many episodes than what was necessary for syndication.
The fourth season of the series takes on somewhat of a different tone than the previous seasons, with a few episodes taking on a more serious tone and not necessarily the "laugh every 30 second" sitcom model. The season is also a more "musical" season, introducing rock-and-roll into the sitcom, including the incredibly famous (to this day) "Johnny Angel" by Shelley Fabares. And of course, we do get to follow the entire Stone family through their everyday adventures in all (well, nearly all, you'll find out why that is in the episodes section) of the episodes of this season. So come and join one of America's favorite mothers for 39 episodes in Donna Reed - Season Four: The Lost Episodes!
As previously mentioned, the fourth season has been withheld from syndication for several decades now, and even more recently, the syndication rights for this series have gotten even more complicated. So, many of these episodes will be new for many fans.
The episodes begin with the episode "One Starry Night," where James Darren guest stars as a guy that Mary runs in to and starts dating, but how will she react when she finds out his true identity as a pop singer whom she dislikes? Jeff flunks an English assignment in "A Rose is a Rose," which may jeopardize his ability to go to a father/son baseball game. In "The Close Shave," Jeff decides to begin acting like a man after growing his first facial hair. Cloris Leachman guest stars in "Mouse at Play," where Donna decides to surprise Alex by going blonde. There is a mysterious creature lurking around the house in "The Monster." In "New Girl in Town," Jeff reluctantly agrees to date a new girl in town. Alex and Donna go on a picnic where they learn to appreciate the nuances of life in "One of Those Days." Donna and Alex become involved in another couple's squabble in "All is Forgiven."
Richard Deacon guest stars as Jeff's principal in "The Electrical Storm," where Jeff is expelled from school over a prank that he wasn't alone in pulling off. Jeff's newspaper delivery service turns into a disaster in "The Paper Tycoon." Mary attempts to wrangle a dance invitation from her French tutor in "Private Tutor." In "Alex, the Professor," Jeff and Mary become test subjects in Alex's experiment in child psychology. Alex may be getting paid with winnings from a race horse (or not) in "The Fabulous O'Hara." In "Way of a Woman," Donna suggest that Alex take Mary to Chicago after a ski trip is canceled. Donna wants to know why a bright boy isn't receiving great grades in "A Very Bright Boy." In "The Toughest Kid in School," a new kid in school wants to prove that he is the toughest.
Gale Gordon guest stars in "Dr. Stone and His Horseless Carriage," where Alex's "new" car makes the family a laughing stock. Jeff sells his possessions to buy his girl a present in "For Angie, with Love." Alex's work takes him to Hawaii in "Aloha, Kimi." In "Donna's Prima Donna," Mary decides that she wants to start a singing career. Jeff tries to help a science club earn enough money to buy a telescope in "Explorer's Ten." Alex decides to move to a new office building downtown in "The New Office." Swoosie Kurtz makes one of her first TV appearances in "The Golden Trap," where Mary has a "little party" while Alex and Donna are away. Donna is offered a free trip on an airline after she complains about their service in "Free Flight."
Donna and Alex are tempted to move to the country after spending a weekend with their friends who live on a farm in the backdoor pilot "Wide Open Spaces." In "Fireball," Jeff gets the role he wants in a school play, but has trouble dealing with the leading lady. The Stones try to track down the owner of a watch that they purchased in "Once Upon a Time Piece." Jeff wants to take up go-cart racing in "Hillsdale 500." In "Winner Takes All," one of Jeff's baseball teammates has an overbearing father, and Alex is going to take him to task. Mary backs out on a blind date over his appearances in "Skin Deep." In "The Fortune Teller," Donna sees a fortune teller, who turns out to give her predictions that actually come true. One of Jeff's friends wants to find a way to get rid of his little brother who is always tagging along in "Man of Action"
Roberta Sherwood and Gale Gordon guest star in "Donna Meets Roberta," another failed backdoor pilot. The Stones rent an RV for a vacation in "The Caravan." In "The Swingin' Set," Jeff is trying as hard as he can to arrange a date for his junior prom. Jeff comes up with a plan to advertise his employer's bicycle shop in "On to Fairview." Jeff tries to get an interview with Don Drysdale (guest starring as himself) for his school newspaper in "The Man in the Mask." In "The Father Image," Jeff and Mary are forced to compete for their father's attention with a critically ill patient. The fourth season ends with "Dear Wife," where Donna and Alex are afraid that Mary is planning to elope in Las Vegas.
Some of the previous releases had issues with edited episodes. However, I knew before I even looked at this set that this wouldn't be a problem. The edited episodes on the previous releases were typically syndication version prints from the era when LBS/Colex syndicated the series in the '80s, but as previously mentioned, these episodes were never even syndicated during the Colex era. My suspicions were correct. None of the episodes are edited, but there is even better news. Some of the episodes include all of the original commercials from the original airing! This is a very nice surprise to have. Runtimes of the episodes are as follows:
1. "One Starry Night" (25:37)
2. "A Rose is a Rose" (25:35)
3. "The Close Shave" (25:37)
4. "Mouse at Play" (25:37)
5. "The Monster" (25:37)
6. "New Girl in Town" (25:37)
7. "One of Those Days" (29:09)
8. "All is Forgiven" (25:38)
9. "The Electrical Storm" (25:38)
10. "The Paper Tycoon" (25:36)
11. "Private Tutor" (28:37)
12. "Alex, the Professor" (25:37)
13. ""The Fabulous O'Hara" (25:38)
14. "The Way of a Woman" (25:36)
15. "A Very Bright Boy" (25:38)
16. "The Toughest Kid in School" (25:37)
17. "Dr. Stone and His Horseless Carriage" (25:35)
18. "For Angie, With Love" (25:37)
19. "Aloha, Kimi" (28:35)
20. "Donna's Prima Donna" (25:36)
21. "Explorer's Ten" (25:35)
22. "The New Office" (25:35)
23. "The Golden Trap" (25:36)
24. "Free Flight" (25:36)
25. "Wide Open Spaces" (25:35)
26. "The Fireball" (29:07)
27. "Once Upon a Timepiece" (25:37)
28. "Hilldale 500" (25:34)
29. "Winner Take All" (25:34)
30. "Skin Deep" (25:37)
31. "The Fortune Teller" (25:35)
32. "A Man of Action" (25:34)
33. "Donna Meets Roberta" (31:50)
34. "The Caravan" (25:35)
35. "The Swingin' Set" (25:32)
36. "On to Fairview" (25:32)
37. "The Man in the Mask" (25:33)
38. "The Father Image" (25:36)
39. "Dear Wife" (25:33)
The DVD is packaged in a standard Viva case that has much more professional looking artwork than the previous releases. On the cover, we have a photo of the family, with Donna holding a cake, and on the back, we have a brief description of the season, along with a few episode snapshots. There is also a concise listing of special features on the back. Inside the case, you'll find a listing of all of the episodes with original airdates, but unfortunately, there are no episode descriptions. Each disc has a basic blue background, with the series logo imprinted on it. Discs 1-4 each contain eight episodes, while Disc 5 contains seven episodes, as well as the special features.
Menu Design and Navigation:
The main menu on each disc has the same artwork that is seen on the cover, only it is inside of a circle on the menu. On the main menu, there is an option of Play All, a list of all of the episodes, and an option to turn on the English subtitles. Additionally, Disc 5 has a Bonus Features option. The theme song plays constantly in the background, which can get annoying pretty fast. Once you select an episode, it plays right away. There are, however, chapters placed throughout each episode at all of the appropriate places.
Video and Audio Quality:
The video and audio quality on this set is supposed to be digitally remastered, although it must be stated up front that it is far from perfect. Honestly, the quality appears to be about on par with the previous releases, but I can see some improvement from those previous releases. For example, there is some grain and debris on the episodes, but it doesn't look nearly as bad as it possibly could. The audio on the set is very loud and clear, without any real issues. I guess the main issue that I have with the video and audio quality is the same that can be said for pretty much all Screen Gems series of the era, that they weren't nearly as well-preserved as the CBS/Paramount, Warner, or Universal series were. Still, most fans won't have any serious issues with any of this. Every episode on the set contains English subtitles, which some fans were missing out on with previous releases. MPI has always been considerate enough to include these on all of their sets, and I'm sure that the hearing-impaired appreciate that significantly.
This set does an excellent job with special features, all of which can be found on Disc 5. First, we have "Donna Reed Show Recollections" (12:35), where we have a very nice and informal conversation with Paul Petersen and Shelley Fabares sitting on a couch talking about their experiences on the series. While both of them look great for their age, it is amazing to see how much older they look on this after watching the episodes on the set. Petersen even comments on how Fabares could be on the verge of becoming the next Betty White with her long history in television, which is a definite possibility, although we would still have to wait about 20 years to see if that holds. They even share a brother/sister kiss with one another at the end of the featurette, which is a nice touch.
"The Donna Reed Show Rocks!" (18:33) is a very nice featurette with Stu Phillips, Shelley Fabares, and Paul Petersen talking about how the fourth season of the series turned to so much music in the episodes, including Fabares' "Johnny Angel," Petersen's "She Can't Find Her Keys," and James Darren's "Goodbye Cruel World."
"Original Network Promos" (3:27) is a series of four original promos for the series from the original airing of the series on ABC. These are surprisingly in excellent condition, and look flawless. The first three are a little over a minute long, while the fourth one is about 20 seconds. I can't really tell which season these are from, but my guess would be the first season.
"Donna Reed Public Service Announcement" (1:02) is a vintage PSA from Donna Reed, inviting viewers to donate to the American Cancer Society. The PSA shown here is just as relevant today as it was when it originally aired, unlike some of the older PSAs supporting cures for ailments such as polio or tuberculosis.
"Donna Reed Commercial" (1:40) gives some of the original sponsor promos from the series, but this isn't much different from what we can see in the episodes with the original commercials. But I think that one key difference in this one is that the commercial actually features Donna Reed in it. I don't recall seeing her in any of the commercials that were actually included on the episodes on the set, and if I had to guess, I would say that this was simply excised from one of the episodes were the commercials were removed on the set.
The photo gallery is, just as it sounds, a series of photos from the series. And finally, there is a production note, which is nothing more than just one screen of text that discusses how seasons 4, 6, and 7 were not aired in syndication beginning in the 1980s.
I have always enjoyed these Donna Reed sets, but I think by and far, this set really shines when compared to the previous releases. That isn't to say that the previous studio did a horrible job on the DVDs (although there were some quality control issues), but MPI has taken this series, given us great quality episodes, and included some very nice special features to go along with it, without increasing the price. It is especially great that MPI managed to release a season that has essentially been missing from syndication over the years. There was a rumor mentioned in the past that MPI would also be releasing the fifth season of the series at some point in time, but I haven't heard anything about that recently. However, I certainly hope that it is true, because they really did a great job with this set, and I could only imagine that they would continue to do a great job. Unfortunately, the copyrights for this series appear to be spread around, and it has been stated that Sony (the successor to Screen Gems and Columbia Pictures) still holds the rights to the final three seasons. Whether or not that is the case, I certainly hope that somebody could release those three seasons. It would be very nice to see this series completed on DVD, regardless of how many studios it takes to accomplish that.