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Shanachie Offers ‘Car 54’

1 Dec, 2010 By: John Latchem

Music DVD distributor Shanachie Entertainment is branching into mainstream TV DVD with the release of the classic comedy series “Car 54, Where Are You?” on disc. Car 54, Where Are You? — The Complete First Season arrives Feb. 22 April 12 as a four-DVD set at $39.98.

“We’ve targeted certain shows we think are among the greatest of all time,” said Sherwin Dunner, director of DVD and video operations for Shanachie. “There were maybe 36 episodes available on VHS, but this show has never really been given its due. We’re thrilled to get the opportunity to put it out.”

The series ran for two seasons on NBC from 1961 to 1963 and starred Joe E. Ross and Fred Gwynne (“The Munsters”) as a pair of patrol cops serving out of the fictional 53rd precinct in the Bronx. The show was created by Nat Hiken, who had previously created “Sgt. Bilko.” Other cast members include Beatrice Pons, Charlotte Rae (“The Facts of Life”), Nipsey Russell, Ossie Davis, Paul Reed, Larry Storch, Hank Garrett and Gwynne’s “Munsters” co-star Al Lewis.

“We always thought it was one of the funniest TV shows,” Dunner said. “It holds up very well. Nat Hiken is a comedy genius. ‘Bilko’ is his only other show, and that’s billed as one of the greatest comedies, but we like ‘Car 54’ even better.”

Dunner said Hiken’s writing distinguished the series from its contemporaries.
“I just marvel at the intricacies of Hiken’s writing — how he wrote dialogue and his characters, how the plot would build and then turn on itself,” Dunner said. “I don’t know if Larry David or Jerry Seinfeld know about Hiken’s writing, but when I watch ‘Seinfeld’ or ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ I’m reminded of Hiken’s style.”

Shanachie’s DVD set includes all 30 episodes from the first season, remastered from the only known set of 35mm fine-grain prints, which were located in a storage facility in New Jersey. Dunner said that if Shanachie couldn’t locate prints of higher quality than the 16mm prints found in many collections, they wouldn’t have moved forward with the project.

“They look fabulous,” Dunner said. “We’ve shown sample episodes to fans of the show, and they said they’ve never seen the show look this good.”

In addition the set includes a new roundtable discussion hosted by Robert Klein (a fan of Hiken’s work) and featuring Rae and Garrett, who share behind-the-scenes stories, anecdotes and memories.

“Charlotte Rae is known more for her later work, but this show is what put her on the map,” Dunner said.

Dunner said Shanachie plans to release the second season at some point as well.

“We’re happy to share it with the world,” Dunner said. “This is something we think should be out there and will be a revelation to a lot of people seeing it for the first time.”

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