Written by Hombre Divertido
Long before The Brady Bunch and even before Leave it To Beaver there was Father Knows Best. On April 1st, Shout Factory released Season One in a four-DVD set, and surprisingly for a show from this era, it is the extras that make this set worth having.
In October of 1954, CBS brought the show from radio to television, and for nine years America tuned in to see the exploits of the Anderson Family, though only the first six years were original episodes. The show ran in primetime for three years consisting of reruns. Jim Anderson (Robert Young) was an insurance salesman and a big kid at heart, Margaret Anderson (Jane Wyatt) was the voice of reason and the perfect mom, Betty “Princess” Anderson (Elinor Donahue) was the oldest child and typical teenager, James “Bud” Anderson Jr. (Billy Gray) was the all-American boy, and Kathy “Kitten” Anderson (Lauren Chapin) was Daddy’s adorable little girl.
CBS actually cancelled the show after the first season due to poor ratings, and it is clear why when watching these episodes. The chemistry was just not there, and the interaction between characters seemed forced and awkward. Luckily, an outpouring of fan support not only brought the show back, but to an earlier time slot where it would grow and eventually flourish.
There are some fun episodes here including “The Motor Scooter,” which deals with getting “Bud” his first motorized mode of transportation; “Football Tickets,” which revolves around Jim’s promise to one of the kids; and “Close Decision,” which is about procrastination and parenting. As in most of the episodes, the comedy writing does not properly display the talents of the actors and seems more reminiscent of the radio show. The parenting messages are a bit contrived as the relationship between the parental characters was still being established and thus not yet comfortable from a viewing perspective.
This is a great set for a history lesson on family-themed television shows, even if the first season may not have been their best. What makes this set so much fun are the extras. Usually when putting together the DVD set of a show from 1954, there is not a lot of material, but extras were found and made to round out this collection. Along with the twenty-six episodes, you get “Daddy’s Girls,” a pleasant and informative feature consisting of all-new interviews with Elinor Donahue and Lauren Chapin, lending their insights into the show as well as their experiences during the casting process. To hear of how Ms. Donahue’s rebellious nature during that period in her life impacted the show, makes this feature well worth watching.
Also included in the bonus material are “Home Movies”. Narrated by Robert Young’s grandson Bill Proffitt, these movies consist of not only footage of Young’s real-life family, but also footage from the set of Father Knows Best. The footage is great fun, and though the narration is amateurish, Mr. Proffitt possesses a nice quality that comes from being emotionally attached to what we are watching.
Another interesting piece of bonus material is an episode entitled “24 Hours in Tyrantland.” The U.S. Department of the Treasury, as a way of encouraging people to buy savings bonds, produced this special episode. It was never broadcast, but was shown in schools, churches, and for civic groups. The message is a bit heavy-handed, but it is a full-length episode, and certainly interesting and reflective of the times.
Probably the best extra in the set is the pilot episode of Window on Main Street, which aired on CBS for one year from October 1961 until September 1962. Robert Young had left Father Knows Best after becoming tired of the role he had played on both television and radio, and wanted to try something different. Along with his producing partner, Eugene B. Rodney, he produced this interesting show. Though not well received, it has a charming format that is ahead of its time. This episode also contains the original commercials that are great fun to see.
Recommendation: For a true fan of the show, these episodes may not bring back the fond memories you are looking for, simply due to the fact that the show had yet to really hit its stride, but the extras makes this set worth having for both the fan of the show, the fan on classic television, or someone looking to explore the early years of the medium.