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Set for Life

4 Dec, 2007 By: John Latchem

"The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

In an era when many studios slap vintage TV episodes onto discs with minimal special features, Time Life is taking the opposite approach — skip the season sets and jump straight to the complete series.

Last year, Time Life and HBO Video's elaborate and award-winning boxed set of “Get Smart” demonstrated a viable new formula for the release of classic TV shows on DVD.

Studios let Time Life produce the sets with the option to use the packaging at retail, and Time Life in turn gets to sell the sets exclusively for one year.

“The pattern we see is season one, then season two, and the other seasons, and then the complete series, and studios at that point put in additional bonus material, and fans were getting frustrated,” said Jeffrey Peisch, head of video at Time Life. “We figured, let's take that pattern and turn it upside down. Economically, it makes sense. Why not sell the higher-ticket item first, and then sell the individual sets later? We've proven that given the choice, people will buy the whole thing. It will be interesting to see if any studios try this configuration at retail.”

The one-year agreement on “Get Smart” already has expired, but HBO Video has yet to announce a retail strategy. The Amazon.com user marketplace has season one starting at $89 (Time Life.com has it for $39.99 plus free shipping).

This year, Time Life stayed in the spy genre, teaming with Warner Home Video on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — The Complete Series, a 41-DVD set now available exclusively online at ManFromUncleDVD.com.

“The thing I think is unique about ‘Get Smart' and ‘Man From U.N.C.L.E.' is neither was out on DVD previously,” Peisch said. “There were some VHS releases of ‘U.N.C.L.E.' several years ago, but they were just best-ofs, not seasons.”

To make the sets more appealing to fans, Time Life adds a considerable amount of bonus materials.

“If you treat the show with the respect the fans feel, they'll respond,” Peisch said. “These shows have great fans.”

The 1964-68 NBC spy series starred Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin, secret agents for a multinational intelligence agency known as U.N.C.L.E. (the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). Leo G. Carroll played their boss, and famed film composer Jerry Goldsmith provided the theme music.

The $249.99 “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” set includes all 105 episodes packaged as individual seasons inside a replica attach? case. Each season includes its own episode-guide booklet, and the entire set includes two bonus discs.

“We spent six months working on bonus materials,” Peisch said. “We went to the real fans and experts and hired them as consultants. It really gives credibility to the set.”

Extras include a number of retrospective featurettes, including “The Cloak and Swagger Affair,” which traces the history of the series. On-camera interviews include Vaughn and McCallum, director Richard Donner and others.

Another interview features a rare reunion between Vaughn and McCallum.

Other featurettes look at the guest stars who appeared on the show, including Joan Crawford, Vincent Price, Joan Collins, Janet Leigh, Carol O'Connor, Jack Palance, Slim Pickens and a young Kurt Russell. William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy appeared in an episode two years before teaming on “Star Trek.”

Peisch thinks the real treat for fans is the original color pilot of the show, when it was known as “Solo.”

“Among ‘U.N.C.L.E.' fans, this is like the Holy Grail,” Peisch said. “It's an entirely different production, with another actor used as the head of U.N.C.L.E. When he wasn't available, they brought in a new actor and re-shot the whole episode in black and white. The whole first season was black and white.”

Being older shows, the demographics for the “Get Smart” and “U.N.C.L.E.” DVDs tend to skew toward men 45 and older, but Peisch expects “U.N.C.L.E.” to draw increased interest from women, who, according to Peisch, tend to respond more to direct marketing than men.

Peisch said every indication is that the “U.N.C.L.E.” set should be just as successful as “Get Smart” for Time Life.

“We like to think we spared no expense and offered a very classy product,” Peisch said. “It's all about the fans.”

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