DVD Release Date: July 27, 2010 (CBS DVD/Paramount)
Black & White/1955-1956
Number of Discs: 5
Number of Episodes: 34
Running Time: approx. 14 hours, 42 minutes
Runtime of Special Features: over 1 hour
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English; English SDH
2 Audio Commentaries by Allan Melvin and George Kennedy
The Lost Audition Show
Original Network Opening
Original Cast Commercials
"Lucy and the Efficiency Expert" from The Lucy Show Season 5 - with guest star Phil Silvers
It's what every "Sgt. Bilko" fan has been waiting for! The Phil Silvers Show arrives on DVD with all 34 episodes from the classic first season, digitally remastered on 5 discs. This Emmy-winning sitcom was one of early television's first mega-hits, with snappy dialogue and brilliant visual gags performed by comic genius Phil Silvers (It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), starring as Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko.
As head of the motor pool at Fort Baxter in Roseville, Kanasas, the fast-talking Bilko is a regular at every poker game in town. His other platoon members are a motley group of lovable goons who would follow their beloved leader anywhere, knowing deep down that Bilko's really a softy with a heart of gold. Co-starring Harvey Lembeck, Allan Melvin, and Paul Ford as Colonel Hall, The Phil Silvers Show is one of TV's true comedy masterpieces, the entire first season is now available on DVD!
Sgt. Ernie Bilko needs to raise money quickly in order to play in the big poker game and thinks that getting it from the new recruits will do the trick in "New Recruits." When Bilko can't find a way back into the poker game, he rents an empty store and gets the three winning sergeants to belive it's an investment opportunity in "The Empty Store." Ernie volunteers for a better job on the base - and the personal jeep that comes with it in "The WAC." Bilko buys an injured racehorse, hoping to turn it into a winner in "The Horse." When one of his men goes absent without leave, Bilko tries to bring him back from Chicago, but ends up in the middle of a Hungarian family feud in "A.W.O.L." When Bilko discovers that one of his men is a boxing champ, he puts money on him to win a match in "The Boxer."
A tough recruit proves to be quite disruptive just as Bilko is trying to win the "Soldier of the Month" ward, where the lucky winner gets a 3-day pass in "The Hoodlum." When Pvt. Doberman asks a socialite to be his Mardi Gras queen, she laughs and turns him down in "Mardi Gras." A new mechanic has been transferred to the motor pool, an eating champ known as "The Stomach" in "The Eating Contest." Bilko organizes a big pageant to celebrate 100 years of Camp Baxter, but after some investigation he discovers that the camp has a pretty shady history in "The Centennial." Sick of Bilko's excuses, Colonel Hall brings in a strict new medical officer in order to prevent Bilko from calling in sick during bivouac maneuvers in "Bivouac." Bilko enters the platoon in a singing contest in Miami, then bets on them to lose in "The Singing Contest." As punishment, the Colonel orders the men to attend a lecture on Beethoven in "The Twitch."
When he's reunited with his wartime buddies, Bilko feels like a loser after he discovers how well they are doing in "The Reunion." One of the platoon's recruits - the sole heir to a steel fortune - comes in handy when Bilko tries to purchase the Paradise Bar and Grill in Roseville in "The Rich Kid." When a Hollywood production company plans to re-create and film a famous battle, the Pentagon suggests the perfect technical adviser - Sgt. Ernie Bilko in "Hollywood." A committee from Washington visits in order to investigate waste in the Army, so Sgt. Bilko makes his platoon look poor in order to get a big pay raise in "The Investigation." Bilko offers to babysit so one of his men can enjoy a 3-day furlough, but panics when he realizes that he doesn't even know how to change a diaper in "Kids in the Trailer." After his aunt sends him the diary of one of his ancestors, Bilko decides to apply for officer training in "The Revolutionary War." Bilko deciedes to call the Colonel's bluff and puts in for a transfer in "The Transfer."
During a heat wave, Bilko conspires to have the men transferred to a rest center in the Rockies, but first they'll have the be certified as mentally unstable in "The Rest Cure." Bilko feels pressure to marry Joan Hogan, so he takes her to Mess Sergeant Sowici's (guest star Harry Clark) house for dinner, hoping that Sowici's unhappy marriage will help change her mind in "Dinner at Sowici's." After the Colonel busts him down to the rank of private, Bilko decides to write his memoirs, dishing the dirt on the men responsible for getting him demoted in "Army Memoirs." After seeing the picture of one of his soldier's girlfriends, Bilko thinks she's pretty enough to enter in a beauty contest in "Miss America." Fort Baxter is being used by the Army to try out a new induction program, a process so efficient that anyone could get inducted - even a chimpanzee in "The Court Martial." Ernie and Joan both feel the need to have fun on their own. Little do they realize that they are now both headed separaely to New York City for the weekend in "Furlough in New York." Bilko's convinced there are rich uranium deposits under Fort Baxter in "The Big Uranium Strike."
The Colonel dispatches a tough drill sergeant to turn Bilko's men into soldiers, so Ernie and the others get even by resorting to psychological warfare in "Bilko and the Beast." When Bilko tries to get out of a 20-mile hike, the Colonel allows him to skip it in "The Physical Check-Up." All the men are restricted to base, so the only way for Bilko to bet on a winning horse is to accompany the Colonel to Topeka for his next recruiting trip in "The Recruiting Sergeant." After Joan is impressed with another man's full head of hair, Ernie visits his barber for hair restoration, where the other sergeants play a dirty trick on him in "Hair." When Doberman's lawsuit is settled, he gets a $500 check, which he quickly loses to some card sharks in "The Con Men." When the Army stages their war games with the National Guard, Bilko has to figure out a way to sneak off the base in "War Games." When Ernie visits a friend in New York, he's dismayed to discover that his pal is just a lowly bank clerk, so he sets out to find hima better job in "Bilko on Wall Street."
Notable guest stars included Fred Gwynne as Honigan in "The Eating Contest." Charlotte Rae appeared as Mrs. Whitney in "The Twitch." Dody Goodman plays the waitress and Jane Dulo was Mildred in "The Rich Kid." Eric Fleming guest starred as Rory Mundane in "Hollywood." David White played the Friend in "The Rest Cure."
All of the episodes have running times of 25-26 minutes. There is a disclaimer on the back of the packaging which reads "Some episodes may be edited from their original network versions." This is a standard disclaimer on all CBS DVD/Paramount releases, so it doesn't necessarily mean that anything is edited. There are certainly no syndicated episodes on this set. They do not have the original network openings, except for one for Camel as a special feature. Here is the breakdown by disc, including the original airdates and exact runtimes:
1. New Recruits (09/20/55) (26:10)
2. The Empty Store (09/27/55) (26:06)
3. The WAC (10/04/55) (26:13)
4. The Horse (10/11/55) (25:51)
5. A.W.O.L. (10/18/55) (25:47)
6. The Boxer (10/25/55)
7. The Hoodlum (11/01/55) (26:01)
8. Mardi Gras (11/08/55) (25:48)
9. The Eating Contest (11/15/55) (26:00)
10. The Centennial (11/22/55) (25:57)
11. Bivouac (11/29/55) (25:44)
12. The Singing Contest (12/06/55) (26:05)
13. The Twitch (12/13/55) (26:04)
14. The Reunion (12/20/55) (26:01)
15. The Rich Kid (12/27/55) (25:54)
16. Hollywood (01/03/56) (26:04)
17. The Investigation (01/10/56) (25:57)
18. Kids in the Trailer (01/17/56) (26:00)
19. The Revolutionary War (01/24/56) (26:05)
20. The Transfer (01/31/56) (25:59)
21. The Rest Cure (02/07/56) (25:47)
22. Dinner at Sowici's (02/14/56) (25:58)
23. Army Memoirs (02/21/56) (25:58)
24. Miss America (02/28/56) (25:57)
25. The Court Martial (03/06/56) (25:45)
26. Furlough in New York (03/13/56) (26:04)
27. The Big Uranium Strike (03/20/56) (25:54)
28. Bilko and the Beast (03/27/56) (26:07)
29. The Physical Check-Up (04/10/56) (26:04)
30. The Recruiting Sergeant (04/17/56) (25:59)
31. Hair (04/24/56) (25:59)
32. The Con Men (05/01/56) (26:11)
33. War Games (05/08/56) (26:05)
34. Bilko on Wall Street (05/15/56) (25:59)
The 5-disc set contains all 34 episodes from the first season (1955-56). It comes in a clear plastic snapcase. The main cover art features a large photo of Phil Silvers in the foreground and Maurice Gosfield, Harvey Lembeck and Allan Melvin in the background to the left of him. There is a red curtain type background scheme. There is an animated Sgt. Bilko and The Phil Silvers Show on an Army dog tag. On the back of the case, there is another color photo of Silvers, Gosfield, Lembeck and Melvin and a smaller black and white shot from the show of Melvin, Silvers and Lembeck. A synopsis of the show, a listing of the special features and the DVD specs are provided. Phil Silvers is on the spine of the case. Inside the snapcase, we find 4 discs back-to-back in 2 plastic holders in the center and disc 5 in an embedded holder on the back of the case. Episode titles, original airdates and short summaries are provided for each episode by disc. The discs have the animated Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show logo and have a gray background. All episode titles are listed on the discs. Disc 1 holds episodes 1-6 plus the Lost Audition Show. Disc 2 contains episodes 7-13. Disc 3 contains episodes 14-20. Disc 4 contains episodes 21-27. Disc 5 contains episodes 28-34.
Menu Design and Navigation:
The menus are simple and easy to navigate. Each main menu features a different color photo of one or more of the cast members. Silvers and Gosfield are on Disc 1. Discs 2 and 5 feature Silvers. Disc 3 has a shot of Melvin, Silvers and Lembeck. Disc 4 has Lembeck, Gosfield and Melvin. There is an animated color Sgt. Bilko logo at the top next to The Phil Silvers Show in a dog tag. The episode titles are listed on a military folder on the right side of the screen that has the First Season and disc number stamped in red. There is a red check mark next to the episode you highlight. A couple of episodes give you the option to view the episodes with an audio commentary. The subtitles menu features a colorized green jeep with the rest of the photo in black and white. Various photos of the cast members are on the Special Features sub-menus. They list the special feature in black lettering on a yellow billboard. There is no "Play All" button available like they had on the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD release.
Chapters are placed at all of the appropriate places.
Video and Audio Quality:
According to the packaging, these episodes have been digitally remastered. I don't have the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD release from a few years ago, so I don't know if they have made any improvements on the ten first season episodes which were included on that set. The episodes on this first season release look pretty good for their age of over fifty years. There is some occasional dust, dirt, scratches and debris but these episodes have been cleaned up for the best possible picture. They certainly look a lot better than the syndication prints that have been shown over the years. They don't look nearly as good as other shows from the era like I Love Lucy or Leave it to Beaver that were shot on different types of film. Episodes are presented in the original CBS broadcast order. They have the animated openings with The Phil Silvers Show. Unfortunately, there are no vintage logos on the episodes. They only have the CBS Television Distribution logo.
The audio is your basic English mono track. The volume is at a good level and the dialogue is easy to understand. There is only a small amount of hiss in some episodes. Episodes were shot live and in front of a studio audience at Dumont's television center in New York city, so there are occasional flubs or awkward pauses. Subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are available on all of the episodes.
The 50th Anniversary Edition DVD included an extensive list of special features and audio commentaries. Some of them have been transerred over to this first season release. The audio commentaries by Allan Melvin and George Kennedy are the same. The Lost Audition Show is also included on both releases. The original network opening sponsored by Camel is on both releases. The main new special feature on this release is the episode "Lucy and the Efficiency Expert" from the fifth season of The Lucy Show. This had Phil Silvers as the guest star. Unfortunately, they didn't include the audio introductions on the episodes by Allan Melvin from the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD. He recorded them for all 18 episodes on that set, so they would have been available for 10 first season episodes. He may not have recorded them for all of the first season episodes. I would expect that we'll see more of the special features from the 50th Anniversary Edition release carried over to the season sets if they continue.
Audio Commentary on "New Recruits" with Allan Melvin - This commentary was recorded in 2006 (or possibly 2005) and was included on the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD. This is more of a general commentary and not really specific to the episode. He talks about how he got the job, filming before a live audience, the typical weekly schedule, his opportunity to direct episodes and how the show aired up against The Milton Berle Show.
The Lost Audition Show (33:05) - This episode was filmed on a 16mm Kinescope as an audition show and was never broadcast. It comes from the Nat Hiken Collection at the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research. This rarely seen live show was previously included on the 50th Anniversary Edition release. It's in pretty poor shape compared to the regular episodes. There is lots of dirt, debris, scratches and other video problems. It is certainly watchable. It will just make you appreciate how much better the regular episodes look. This show follows the "New Recruits" episode plot pretty closely, but there are a few additional scenes. It doesn't have Allan Melvin or Paul Ford in it. Jack Warden plays Cpl. Henshaw. There is a vintage CBS Television Network logo at the end.
Original Network Opening (:26) - This is an original CBS network opening, with Camel cigarettes as it's sponsor. It's live action and not the cartoon opening. There's a disclaimer that they provide that the material is presented in its historical context and they don't recommend smoking as it may prove harmful to your health.
Original Cast Commercials (2:38) - A series of commercials for Camel and Pontiac. These were previously included on the other set.
Paul Ford as John Hall and his wife Nell plus another actor and his wife for Camel; another actor for Camel
Phil Silvers and Harvey Lembeck for Camel
Phil Silvers for Pontiac '59
Audio Commentary on "The Court Martial" with George Kennedy - This commentary was recorded in 2006 (or possibly 2005) and was included on the 50th Anniversary Edition DVD. He worked as a technical adviser on the show and appeared in a few of the episodes. He talks about working on the show, the actors and working with Phil Silvers. It's easy to understand why this episode was his favorite of the show. Very funny stuff!
The Lucy Show: Lucy and the Efficiency Expert (25:29) - This episode aired during The Lucy's Show fifth season on December 12, 1966. In the episode, efficiency expert Oliver Kasten (O.K.) takes over Mr. Mooney's office and commandeers his secretary, Lucy, turning her into his order-barking clone. Phil Silvers guest stars as Oliver Kasten. A hilarious episode with lots of physical comedy. What a treat to see two comic geniuses together on screen!
The Phil Silvers Show is finally available as a full season release. In May 2006, CBS DVD/Paramount released a 3-disc set that contained 18 episodes (10 from the first season) and a wealth of special features called the 50th Anniversary Edition. If you have already purchased that set, you will definitely want to keep it. This first season release includes 24 previously unreleased episodes and some of the same special features and audio commentaries. The only new special feature is a good one - the fifth season episode of The Lucy Show called "Lucy and the Efficiency Expert". It's great to see two comedy legends like Phil Silvers and Lucille Ball working together.
This show has largely disappeared from syndication in recent years. I believe the last time it aired on national cable was on TV Land in the late 1990s. There definitely seems to be a fan base for it and a number of fan sites. The series seems to be especially popular in the United Kingdom where it was re-run for many years. Let's hope that there is an audience for these full season sets and that CBS DVD/Paramount will release the remaining 3 seasons. I'm sure fans will appreciate that the first season was released as one set instead of two volumes. This was a landmark show that won three consecutive awards for Best Comedy Series. It's neat to see actors like Fred Gwynne and Charlotte Rae before they became better known for other roles. "The Court Martial" episode with the chimpanzee is one to not miss on this set. It's probably one of the funniest and most popular episodes of the series.