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Family - The Complete First and Second Seasons



DVD Release Date: September 5, 2006 (Sony Pictures)
Color/1976 - 1976-77
MSRP: $49.95
Number of Discs: 6
Number of Episodes: 28
Running Time: Approx. 1382 Minutes
Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English, Closed-Captioned
Special Features: None


Family is the hit dramatic series that explores the lives, loves, and hardships of a contemporary 1970s American family, told with heart and humor. Originally given a six-episode run, the show became a surprise hit in the fall of 1976, and won two Emmy Awards for the second season. This groundbreaking series is a Mike Nichols production (Academy Award Winner 1967, Best Director, The Graduate), created by Jay Presson Allen (Cabaret) and executive produced by the powerhouse producing team of Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg (TV's Charlie's Angels and Starsky & Hutch).

Family follows the saga of the Lawrence family of Pasadena, California - parents Kate (Sada Thompson) and Doug (James Broderick), and their three children: young divorced mother Nancy (played by Elayne Heilveil in the first season, and by Meredith Baxter Birney in the second season), high school dropout Willie (Gary Frank), and young teenage daughter Buddy (Kristy McNichol). Notable guest stars include Willie Aames, Helen Hunt, James Woods, and Tommy Lee Jones.

Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:

Family premiered as an ABC mid-season replacement on March 9, 1976, and immediately captured the attention of critics and viewers. Over the course of its five-season, 86-episode run, the series was nominated for 17 Emmys (winning four) and seven Golden Globes. For the second season, Gary Frank won an Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. Kristy McNichol won for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Family starred Sada Thompson as Kate Lawrence, James Broderick as Doug Lawrence, Elayne Heilveil as Nancy Lawrence Maitland (for the first season only), Meredith Baxter Birney as Nancy Lawrence Maitland (for seasons 2-5), Gary Frank as Willie Lawrence, and Kristy McNichol as Letitia "Buddy" Lawrence. Other recurring characters in the first few seasons included John Rubinstein as Jeff Maitland, Mary Grace Canfield as Mrs. Hanley, and Season Hubley as Salina Magee. James Broderick's character, Doug Lawrence, was ranked #26 in TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time" in 2004. Due to some of the controversial themes, the show aired during the 10-11PM for a large part of its run.

The series broke new ground with its storylines, touching upon topics such as child and spousal abuse, teenage drinking and extramarital affairs as well as the more mundane, but memorable, moments audience everywhere could relate to: family fights, falling in love, illness, school, new jobs, and most of all, loving each other. Since I haven't had the opportunity to see all of the episodes, I'll list a few that looked interesting from the descriptions. Kate has to wait until Monday to see if she has breast cancer, which is the same day Buddy's friend Laura is moving to Detroit in "Monday Is Forever." Everyone is on edge about a rash of recent burglaries in the neighborhood, and Doug and Willie fight over Willie's negative attitude about work in "A Point of Departure." One of Willie's friends comes to him for help after being arrested in a gay bar, and Buddy gets dance lessons from Nancy in "Rites of Friendship." Feeling unfulfilled, Kate considers going back to college - meanwhile, Buddy gets into the CB radio scene in "An Eye to the Future." Nancy feels threatened by a secret admirer, and Buddy's new class partner annoys everyone when he uses the Lawrences as a surrogate family in "Someone's Watching." A friend of Willie's, wanted by the police, returns home to visit his sick father in "A Safe House." Nancy renews her relationship with her high school sweetheart, then discovers he's addicted to speed in "Best Friends."

Many veteran and up-and-coming performers guest starred in the series first and second seasons. Kim Richards played Buddy's friend, Laura, in "Monday Is Forever." Howard Hesseman appeared as Salina's Health-Food Cafe Boss in "A Special Kind of Loving." Mildred Natwick guest starred as Kate's mother in "A Right & Proper Goodbye." Vic Tayback played the police officer in "A Point of Departure." Helen Hunt appeared as Robin Task and Dana Plato was in "Home Movie." Tommy Lee Jones appeared as David Needham in "Coming of Age." Genie Francis guest starred as Alice Dennison in "Jury Duty - Parts 1 and 2." Willie Aames was T.J. Latimer in "Jury Duty - Parts 1 and 2" and "Best Friends." Priscilla Morrill appeared in multiple episodes as Elaine Hogan. Sheree North played Constance Hume in "The Christmas Story." James Woods guest starred as Dr. Robert Styles in "An Eye to the Future." Elizabeth Ashley appeared as Elizabeth Kraft in "Lovers and Strangers." Pat Crowley played Doug's old flame in "Return Engagement." David Dukes guest starred as Calvin Manners in "There Are More Things in Heaven and Earth."


All 28 episodes from the first and second seasons come in this six-disc boxed set. Six episodes aired in the spring of 1976 as a sort of a mini-series. The series was picked up for a full 22 episode order for season two. The main outer cardboard box features a cast photo from what looks to be the second season. Meredith Baxter, Gary Frank, James Broderick, Sada Thompson, and Kristy McNichol are pictured. A blue-tinted photo of the house is at the bottom of the box. On the back of the box, there is a large photo of Kristy McNichol skateboarding and four smaller photos of the cast from the episodes. There is a synopsis of the set, and the DVD specs are listed. A sky blue clouds background is used throughout the set. The same cast photo as the cover art is used on the spine of the box. Three slim cases slide out from the right of the main box. Each slim case features a different cast photo in a picture frame. The memorable opening credits featured Kate Lawrence passing family photos on a table. Slim case #1 features Sada Thompson and James Broderick. Slim case #2 has a photo of Meredith Baxter, Kristy McNichol, and Gary Frank. Slim case #3 has a family portrait of Kristy McNichol, Gary Frank, Meredith Baxter, Sada Thompson, and James Broderick. On the back of the slim cases, the episode titles and short summaries are listed. I would have liked to see them list the original airdates and notable guest stars, as well. A photo of the house in various shades of blue is featured inside the slim cases. The discs look very nice, with clouds in the background and various cast members smiling on each of them. Disc 1 has James Broderick and holds episodes 1-4. Disc 2 features Sada Thompson and contains episodes 5-9. Disc 3 has the gorgeous Meredith Baxter and has episodes 10-14. Disc 4 pictures Gary Frank and holds episodes 15-19. Disc 5 features Kristy McNicol and offers episodes 20-24. Disc 6 has the same cast photo as the cover art and rounds out the set with episodes 25-28. A booklet promoting some other Sony TV DVD releases is also included.

Menu Design and Navigation:

The menus continue the pictures in a frame theme. They are not the most attractive menus I've ever seen, but they are simple and get the job done and will get you in a '70s mood. When you first insert a disc, there is a short montage of still images of the cast and the Family logo floats in various directions. The montage is accompanied by part of the season 1 theme music. This lasts for about 10 seconds before you go to the main menu. Each menu has a different set of photos on the wall in picture frames, with additional photos in frames on a table with flowers and a lamp. There is some vertical-striped wallpaper in various shades of green on each menu. I don't think anybody would ever admit to having this color wallpaper in the 1970's, lol. All that was missing was some shag carpeting. There are options for Play All Episodes, Episode Selections, and Previews (only on Disc 1). There is a small, yellow house icon next to the option you highlight that turns light blue upon your selection. When you choose Episode Selections, it takes you to a separate sub-menu that features a still image from each episode in a picture frame on the wall. There is a red border around the episode you highlight that turns blue when you make your selection. Chatper stops are available within the episodes, but there are no separate scene selection menus.

Video and Audio Quality:

Family has been largely fogotten in syndication over the last 10-15 years. I know it aired on Lifetime, WWOR, and the Nostalgia Channel in the late 1980's/early 1990's. With these episodes around 30 years old, I thought they looked quite good. They are presented in their original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame color. Since the series was shot on film, there is some dust, debris, digital artifacts, and scratches in some scenes. There were also a few scenes I noticed that had some white specs and vertical lines, but for the most part these episodes look very good after being digitially remastered. I thought the episodes could have been spread out over a few more discs. 5 one-hour episodes per disc seems to be pushing the limit a bit, although I really didn't notice any major compression issues. The majority of the episodes run 48-50 minutes in length and appear to be unedited. "The Jury - Part 2" runs only 45:41. It might only be missing the opening teaser and/or recap from the previous episode. That was the only episode that was siginificantly shorter than the others. The episode titles are given at the beginning of the episodes following the opening credits sequence.

The audio is your typical English 2.0 Dolby Digital Mono track. The volume is at a good level, and the dialogue is easy to understand. Family had quite a memorable opening theme and credits sequence, as well as nice music cues within the episodes. John Rubinstein not only appeared as Jeff Maitland on the show, he also composed the opening theme and did the music for some of the episodes. Veteran TV composers Pete Rugolo and Mike Post would also score the episodes. Closed captioning is available on all of the episodes.

The episodes are presented in their original broadcast order. Here is the breakdown of the episodes by disc, including the running times:

Disc 1
1. The Best Years (aka Pilot) (49:47)
2. Monday Is Forever (49:41)
3. A Special Kind of Loving (49:31)
4. A Right & Proper Goodbye (49:01)

Disc 2
5. Thursday's Child Has Far to Go (49:32)
6. A Point of Departure (50:15)
7. Coming Apart (49:45)
8. Such Sweet Sorrow (49:47)
9. Home Movie (49:41)

Disc 3
10. Coming of Age (49:42)
11. Jury Duty - Part 1 (49:38)
12. Jury Duty - Part 2 (45:41)
13. The Cradle Will Fall (48:42)
14. Skeleton in the Closet (48:43)

Disc 4
15. The Christmas Story (49:53)
16. Rites of Friendship (49:41)
17. An Eye to the Future (49:11)
18. Lovers and Strangers (49:15)
19. Return of Engagement (49:43)

Disc 5
20. "Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall..." (49:21)
21. Someone's Watching (49:55)
22. A Safe House (49:17)
23. Best Friends (48:51)
24. Taking Chances - Part 1 (49:26)

Disc 6
25. Taking Chances - Part 2 (49:53)
26. Comings and Goings (49:36)
27. There Are More Things in Heaven and Earth (49:11)
28. An Endangered Species (49:39)

Special Features:

No special features are included. I would have loved to hear some audio commentaries or interviews with the cast. All of the main cast members are still living, with the exception of James Broderick (the father of Matthew Broderick) who died of cancer in 1982. It would also be nice to hear the reason why Elayne Heilveil was replaced by Meredith Baxter. This series was reportedly one of Aaron Spelling's favorites, so maybe we'll see some kind of tribute to him on a future set.

Sony TV DVD Previews are available on the first disc for Dynamic Duos (TV), Ladies' Night (TV), and '80s Hits.

Final Comments:

I've wanted to see Family for a long time, since I'm such a big fan of Family Ties and Meredith Baxter. Unfortunately it has been rarely shown in syndication since the early 1990's, so I've never had the opportunity to see it... until now. After watching only a few episodes, I am hooked and it is easy to get emotionally involved with this family. I'm usually more of a fan of a sitcoms, but there is a lot to like about this series. It featured some interesting storylines, excellent writing, and a terrific cast that had great chemistry. You don't receive 17 Emmy nominations by accident.

Although the clothing and hairstyles may be dated, families still deal with the same problems and issues today. The show wouldn't be that groundbreaking if it was airing today, but it was when it was originally broadcast. I'm sure a lot of fans who saw it years ago will be anxious to see it again. If you are a fan of shows with a lot of "very special episodes," Family will be right up your alley. Hopefully Sony will release the remaining 3 seasons at a good rate. I would also love to see Meredith Baxter's earlier series, "Bridget Loves Bernie," on DVD.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars - How our point system works)

Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 0/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 3.5/5
Overall: 4/5

-- Reviewed by Todd Fuller on 08/29/06

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