Sunday, July 17, 2005

That Is the Dumbest Thing I Have Ever Heard!

An early review of the first season DVD of The Cosby Show indicates that this set may break all records for shabby treatment of a beloved show:

Upon opening the set and playing an episode, to my great surprise, the episode – as well as every subsequent one on the disc, ran between 21:50 and 22:00. Seemed a bit short for “original NBC network versions,” so I timed several season 1 reruns that have been airing on TBS in order to compare runtimes (hence the delay in the review). The runtimes turned out to be the exact same – the DVD version matches, frame by frame, the TBS airing – which use the syndicated prints. In a subsequent e-mail to DVD Review Director pavanbadal, UrbanWorks DID confirm that the episodes were syndicated prints; however, no explanation was given as of the time this review was posted...

What gets my goat – what REALLY gets my goat – is the fact that the press release sent with the set went so far as to promote “original NBC network versions…which are approximately two minutes longer than the syndicated versions,” and then they INCLUDE THE SYNDICATED VERSIONS. It’s not just that the episodes were edited – that’s bad enough. But – for the release sent to all parties connected to the set, including promotion outlets for the set – to say that the episodes were something they obviously aren’t…its outright deception and the person who made the judgment call – on whichever end the problem occurred on – should be ashamed.

Carsey-Werner, the independent production company that produced The Cosby Show, appears to have really dropped the ball when it licensed the show to UrbanWorks (as opposed to Fox, which got Carsey-Werner's That '70s Show, or Anchor Bay, which is doing Third Rock From the Sun and Roseanne). Too bad, really.

I'm not the biggest Cosby Show fan, but I definitely would have bought a proper DVD release of the first season, which was very funny and somewhat revolutionary -- not so much for its themes as for the unique style of storytelling. Most TV shows build each episode around a crisis of some kind. It may be as minor a crisis as Ralph Kramden's latest get-rich-quick scheme failing, but it's a crisis all the same; dealing with a crisis situation is the backbone of storytelling, after all. Cosby basically threw that out the window and insisted that his writers avoid writing crisis situations; he wanted the stories to be based not on problems to be resolved, but on everyday situations to be discussed, mulled over, laughed about. So the second episode, "Fish Story," where daughter Rudy's goldfish dies, has no story to speak of, and no real conflict. Instead the structure is, act 1, Rudy's goldfish dies and everybody talks about it; act 2, the family prepares to hold a funeral for the goldfish in their bathroom. The only thing that adds any urgency at all to the story is that Cliff has to finish the goldfish funeral quickly so he can get to the hospital to attend to a patient. Few shows had ever adopted such a minimalist approach to storytelling, and I don't think any show since has done so. Cosby reportedly had a rule for his writers, similar to Larry David's "no hugging and no learning" from Seinfeld; Cosby's was "no conflict and no jokes." The show's plotlessness eventually led it into the realm of boredom and the even darker, murkier realms of Raven Satan Simone. But it made for a unique show, for two or three seasons.

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