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Koch Vision presents
David Steinberg: So when I heard you were in town, I thought to myself, this is a show Robert Vaughn would like to do.
DVD ReviewStandup comic David Steinberg was a regular guest on the Johnny Carson show, with over 130 appearances to his credit. Along the line, he took a couple stabs at his own television show. The first, a midsummer replacement series in 1972, is fondly remembered by those who saw it, as it allowed him to develop some of his best-known sketches, such as the mad psychiatrist character. This four-disc set collects 21 episodes of Steinberg's second attempt, a 1976 half-hour series that aired on Canadian television.
Unlike the straightforward variety show that his 1972 effort had been, this version is high concept, which is both a strength and a weakness. Steinberg acts as host of another variety series, delivering a standard monologue, but then the program shifts to backstage or even more frequently, the delicatessen across the street, Hello Deli, run by Vinny De Milo (Bill Saluga). Vinny always has some scheme or another to improve Dave's show or to meet his guests. Each episode would feature one or two guest stars, most of whom appeared as themselves coming into conflict with Steinberg in some way, though a few (such as Bob and Ray) portrayed characters. Meanwhile, backstage is populated by such characters as bandleader Spider Rickman (John Candy), security guard James MacGregor (Dave Thomas), assistant Kirk Dirkwood (Joe Flaherty), and godawful lounge singer Johnny Del Bravo (Martin Short), who manages to get a song every show by virtue of being Steinberg's cousin.
As you can tell from the list of supporting actors, many of those involved in this series would go on to create SCTV. The on-air/backstage theme of this show apparently served as an inspiration or model for that series, much as it did more recently for The Larry Sanders Show. The concept works well enough in a longer format such as with SCTV, but the 23-minutes-with-commercials situation that Steinberg was stuck with is hardly enough to get going. This isn't helped by one of Saluga's other characters, Raymond J. Johnson, Jr., whose obligatory tag line runs a full 30 seconds every episode he appears in (which is nearly all of them). Most of the time the guest stars feel like afterthoughts and barely get to appear. The concept is occasionally amusing but more often falls flat, partly due to inability to develop things very well. Saluga's prominence in the program doesn't help; the Johnson character feels extraneous and isn't all that funny. And hearing his tag line nearly 20 times in a row will have you groping for the fast forward button.
There are a few memorable programs, however. Tommy Smothers puts in a surprisingly hostile segment as he declares he has mastered the art of intimidation. Ethel Merman's program has a good running gag about a duet she's supposed to sing with Steinberg. Bob and Ray make a memorable appearance as two hicks who are buying the station; later in the show they also perform their classic "Slow Talkers of America" sketch. Rip Taylor is hilariously over the top as Doyle Livingston, who takes over Steinberg's show with prop comedy. Finally, there's Robert Vaughn's episode, which winds up with the program's format being changed to a game show midstream even as Vaughn wants to present a rant on the deterioration of the quality of television. During Michele Lee's episode, the supporting cast walks out, leaving Steinberg to hum his theme song instead of having a backup band. The infamous Moses sermon that caused enormous amounts of hate mail to be sent to the Smothers Brothers' show gets a retread in the Marcia Wallace episode.
It's unclear whether the episodes are being aired in broadcast order; there are references to Jack Bijou as owner of the station in an episode that appears in the set before the Bob and Ray episode where Ray Goulding as Bijou buys the station. It's also apparently incomplete, since in the extras Steinberg makes reference to an Elliott Gould episode that's nowhere to be found here. Some of the material feels dated, such as a lengthy monologue discussion of Last Tango in Paris, which had come out four years earlier. Those looking for the psychiatrist sketch will certainly be disappointed, since it only shows up in three episodes (the Avery Schreiber, Mason Reese and Joseph Campanella programs).
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: The program was shot on videotape, and it shows. There's plenty of softness and video glitching throughout. Color seems very off, with little blue present. Skin tones have a yellow-green appearance and the whole thing has a rather greenish cast. While there's a lack of shadow detail, textures actually look pretty good and occasionally decent detail is present. A few episodes look significantly worse than others, possibly indicating they're from a generation or two later than the others. But they're watchable, even on a larger set. The video bitrate hovers a bit above 5 Mbps.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono audio is recorded at extremely high levels; at reference the program will be deafening. Music tends to be slightly clipped and distorted, though dialogue is clear enough. Some programs suffer from an electronic buzz throughout and a few, such as the Milton Berle episode, sound extremely muffled.
Audio Transfer Grade: C-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Extras Review: The only significant extra is a 31m:40s modern interview with Steinberg. He covers the history of the show as well as his own career pretty briskly, though oddly he hardly mentions Saluga, who dominates the program (he was also one of the writers). There is a 'play all' button on each disc, or each episode can be viewed independently. Only one chapter per episode, however.
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsFlawed high concept Canadian comedy, with problematic source materials. The primary appeal will be to SCTV completists.
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