Before Ellen, before Oprah, there was Joan. Well, briefly.
Synergy Entertainment and Film Chest recently began putting out “That Show” with Joan Rivers on DVD. The most current item, which just recently went on sale, includes Volumes 1-3 of the series, a full eighteen episodes of the daily daytime talk show from 1968. All three volumes were released separately late last year, but are now in a single box set. Each half hour has two guests, as Joan and her friends discuss and laugh about a topic.
“That Show” isn’t an unfamiliar format. Each episode begins with Rivers delivering a sort of monologue to prepare her audience for that show’s topic. Then she brings out two guests, one an expert on whatever it is they will be talking about, and one a showbiz person. Often that celebrity has no knowledge or connection to the topic, to the chagrin of some of the “expert” guests. Though not all of them are unhappy with the circumstances. Some take the situation with good humor, or even a zeal in getting to educate others of such notoriety. Either way, the three talk about the issue, and Joan and the famous guest often get in some really good zingers, though they are rarely rude. Then, Joan takes questions from the audience.
The guest list for “That Show” is pretty impressive. Among the Hollywood types that appear are Johnny Carson, Jerry Lewis, Soupy Sales, Dick Cavett, Florence Henderson, and Shecky Green. And these are just in the first 18 episodes. Wait until the others make it to DVD!
The topics are varied and interesting, too. For instance, the first episode finds Rivers and Johnny Carson discussing the finer points of nudism with a woman that runs a nudist resort. Carson is asked by audience members about his personal experiences with nudism, and while not particularly interested, he also avoids passing judgment in those that are into such practices.
No topic is too daring, as Joan brings up natural childbirth, hypnosis, catering, teenagers, maids, speed reading, men’s furs, and yes, even cosmetic surgery. It’s a wonderful time capsule, made all the more relevant by the fact that the issues being spoken of are still things people are interest in today. The set may be dated, as is the guests’ penchant for lighting up their cigarettes on air, but the conversations and laughs hold up rather well.
In 1968, few people were as funny as Joan Rivers. For those who think that she’s become a bit of a joke now, especially as a plastic surgery and reality show punchline, it will be an eye opening experience to watch “That Show”. “That Show” proves just how hilarious Joan can be, riffing on a variety of topics, often about her marriage. Her timeless quips, and keeping current events mostly out of the series, make this collection just as amusing now as it was in 1968. Or so I assume, since my mother was only nine years old then.
It appears that this release covers about 25% of the series (Hulu currently has 65 episodes available for streaming), though its hard to be sure. Information on “That Show” is scarce online, given its age, and the fact that it isn’t even a prime time series. Which makes it even more special that this treasure has been released now.
The picture quality is not great. The press materials state that “That Show” has been remastered, and true, there are plenty of times when the video and audio quality appear a bit better than they probably were when it originally ran. Or at least as good. But contemporaries in the earliest days of color TV, such as Star Trek and Doctor Who, have raised the bar high, as more work and money have been put into the releases for those types of shows. Not that anyone expects a talk show to spend as much on restoration as a sci-fi adventure. Still, for its age, and how rare “That Show” is, it’s hard to complain at all when someone takes the time to lovingly transfer it onto DVD for public consumption.
There are no bonus features, unfortunately. It would be interesting to hear what Joan herself thinks of the show, given her current reputation in the world, and the history she’s had. Sadly, nothing like this is included.
“That Show” with Joan Rivers is a true gem, and a delight to finally get to see, more than four decades after it aired. Thanks are owed to Film Chest and Synergy Entertainment for making this available. For anyone who is a fan of comedy, “That Show” cannot be recommended highly enough. Buy it today.