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George Schlatter
Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Goldie Hawn
Directing Credits:
Mark Warren, Gordon Wiles, Bill Foster

All six seasons of the popular counter-culture sketch comedy series.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English Dolby Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 7564 min.
Price: $159.98
Release Date: 2/2/2021

• 1967 Pilot Episode
• Interview with Producer George Schlatter
• 25th Anniversary Cast Reunion Highlights
• Season One Bloopers
• Interview with Host Dick Martin
• Interview with Announcer Gary Owens
• Interview with Actor Ruth Buzzi
• Interviews with Actor Lily Tomlin
• “Still Laugh-In” Featurette
• Interview with Actor Arte Johnson
• Booklets


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Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In: The Complete Series (1968-73)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 29, 2021)

After a trial run as a one-off special in September 1967, a sketch comedy show called Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In debuted in January 1968. Hosted by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, the show quickly became a cultural touchstone and a huge ratings success.

For a while, at least. During that initial 1967-68 partial season, Laugh-In became the 21st highest rated show in the US, but it went all the way to number one for 1968-69 and 1969-70.

The 1970-71 season dropped it to number 13, and then Laugh-In fell to number 22 for 1971-72. During 1972-73, Laugh-In dropped out of the top 30 and left the airwaves.

With this massive 37-disc DVD set, we can revisit all 140 episodes of Laugh-In - for better or for worse. Because I was five years old when the series went off the air, I maintain only the loosest memories of it.

While I feel certain I viewed the show as a little kid, I don’t recall anything specific. That made this DVD set essentially my first screening of Laugh-In.

Because it would take me an extreme span of time to watch all 140 episodes, I decided to watch three episodes per season instead. From beginning to end, Laugh-In assumed the same format.

This mainly meant a slew of comedic sketches, with the expected core cast. Whereas Saturday Night Live would come with a guest host each week, Rowan and Martin remained the leaders for each show.

That doesn’t mean Laugh-In went with a static crew, though. Each episode brought a mix of celebrity guests who participated to varying degrees.

Also like SNL, Laugh-In brought musical guests – for a little while, that is. Early shows used primitive music videos, but these disappeared fairly quickly. Later episodes dabbled in some musical performances from guests, but this didn’t occur often.

Laugh-In featured plenty of music and song/dance numbers, though. It simply used the core cast to perform these, so we didn’t get pure performances like the guests on SNL would offer.

Most media represents the era of its creation, but Laugh-In felt more likely than most to come across as dated. The series tried so hard to reflect its period’s culture that it seemed nearly inevitable Laugh-In would age worse than most sketch comedy series.

And age poorly it did. While I respect Laugh-In as a seminal comedy series, it simply isn’t very funny 50 years after the fact.

Laugh-In sure worked overtime to amuse, as it came with a relentless pace. Whereas SNL offers single sketches that run five to eight minutes or so, Laugh-In would run segments that spanned 30 seconds or less – sometimes much less, as a “sequence” could consist of a cutaway to a single uttered word.

I hope the editors of Laugh-In got paid handsomely, as they needed to splice together tons of material. With so many brief segments and a mix of guests, Laugh-In cranked through shots with insane alacrity.

Even when the show didn’t cut from one gag to another in a hurry, skits threw jokes out at warp speed. Regular segments like the “cocktail party” or the “joke wall” lasted a decent span of time, but their formats allowed for many one-liners in a brief period.

All of this must’ve seemed revelatory in the late 60s/early 70s, and even by 21st century standards, Laugh-In pushes through its gags at an absurd pace. It included more jokes per minute that possibly any other TV series in history.

Unfortunately, as I noted earlier, most of these just don’t seem very funny 50 years after the fact. Much of the problem comes from the series’ forced attempts to seem “hip” and relevant.

In its era, Laugh-In unquestionably pushed boundaries. However, it never feels natural to me.

A lot of that stems from the fact Laugh-In largely used people who were already well into adulthood when the cultural changes of the 1960s happened. Most of those involved came of age in the 1950s, so they didn’t see the upheaval of the era with “young eyes”.

Contrast that with SNL, as most of its initial cast experienced those events from the perspective of youth. Of course, SNL can seem very dated as well, but at least it brought a natural vibe for the counterculture, whereas Laugh-In doesn’t boast the same feel.

Instead, Laugh-In comes across like a bunch of squares who attempted to connect to the youth demographic. While its jokes go political and press cultural buttons, they don’t seem organic.

Laugh-In also often feels like a product of that earlier generation, as it gives off much more of a vaudeville/traditional show business vibe than the more daring SNL. A whole lot of Laugh-In could’ve played exactly the same a decade earlier, as it seems much more like a product of the late 50s/early 60s than its own period.

Honestly, it’s hard to believe so little time separated Laugh-In and SNL, as the former seems so much more antiquated and “square” than the latter. As I noted, early years SNL comes with plenty of its own dated material, but the show still gives off a hip, dangerous vibe that the solidly “traditional show biz” Laugh-In lacks.

This impacts performances as well. Laugh-In almost always goes with the broadest possible acting, and that gets old, as no one seems to know how to undersell a joke. It’s like one long burlesque show played to the cheap seats.

I really do respect the ground broken by Laugh-In. “Square” as so much of it seems, it did knock down some barriers and bring a much more topical flavor to network TV comedy.

50 years later, though, the show just doesn’t work. I’m happy I visited Laugh-In for historical reasons, but I can’t imagine I’d ever want to watch these programs again.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on these single-sided, dual-layered DVDs. Due to those dimensions, the image has NOT been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The shows showed their age but remained fairly watchable.

Like everything else, sharpness seemed erratic. Some shots looked fairly concise, while others could be vague and soft. In general, the image showed acceptable definition but no better than that.

Sporadic examples of shimmering and jaggies occurred. Occasional specks and marks interfered, but these stayed infrequent.

Colors tended to be average, as the shows featured fairly mediocre hues. They weren’t dull but they didn’t offer much pep.

Blacks demonstrated decent depth, while shadows offered acceptable smoothness. For shows shot 50-ish years ago, Laugh-In looked fine but maintained the limitations of the sources.

Don’t expect much from the bland monaural soundtrack of Laugh-In. The audio lacked much range and seemed flat. Music sounded thin and wan, while effects worked about the same way; they could be a bit distorted and display little punch.

Speech was reasonably natural most of the time. The lines showed a little dullness on occaison, but these elements remained adequate. Nothing here came across as bad for its age and roots, but the audio remained pretty lifeless.

Plenty of extras appear across all these DVDs, and for Season One, we get the original 1967 Laugh-In Pilot Episode. It runs 53 minutes, 33 seconds and presents a clear precursor of the series that would become such a hit.

We get some minor differences, but a lot of the classic Laugh-In scenarios – like the cocktail party – and characters already appear. While the “Pilot” feels a little rougher around the edges, it clearly points where the series would go and becomes a fun addition to this set.

Next comes an Interview with Executive Producer George Schlatter. In this 40-minute, 35-second chat, Schlatter discusses the series’ origins and path to the TV screen, cast and crew, the show’s style, structure and pacing, reflections of its era, controversies, recurring elements, and aspects of his life/career.

Don’t expect the world’s most coherent chat here, as Schlatter’s interview tends to careen all over the place without a lot of obvious structure. Nonetheless, Schlatter gives us good thoughts about the series and related domains, so the interview merits a look.

The 25th Anniversary Cast Reunion Highlights span 14 minutes, 56 seconds and feature Schlatter, performers Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson, Gary Owens, Lily Tomlin, Dick Martin, Judy Carne, Henry Gibson, Ruth Buzzi, Alan Sues, Tiny Tim, Teresa Graves, Barabara Feldon, Jeremy Lloyd, and Pamela Rodgers. Finally, S1 finishes with 24 minutes, 18 seconds of Bloopers. These follow the usual pattern of goofs and giggles, along with moments that wouldn’t have gotten past the TV censors of the day.

Some of these offer decent glimpses behind the scenes – and we get a lot of Don Rickles – but 24 minutes of laughs and mistakes seems like too much.

For Season Two, we begin with an Interview with Host Dick Martin. In this 20-minute, 42-second chat, Martin covers his career and aspects of Laugh-In. He gives us a decent look at his past, though we don’t get many insights.

An Interview with Host Gary Owens runs 20 minutes, 25 seconds and brings Owens’ thoughts about his work in showbiz and his time on the series. This becomes another good chat, with a bit more depth than the Martin piece.

S2 concludes with an Interview with Actor Ruth Buzzi. She provides a 25-minute, five-second look at her time in movies/TV and her experiences during Laugh-In. She adds some nice thoughts about a few characters, but she tends toward a little too much praise for the series.

Season Three opens with an Interview with Actor Lily Tomlin. In this nine-minute, 59-second piece, Tomlin talks about how she developed some of her character. She makes this a lively examination of her creative processes.

Still Laugh-In lasts 52 minutes, 50 seconds and offers a live tribute to Schlatter. With Larry King as emcee, it involves Schlatter, Johnson, Tomlin, Hawn, Jay Leno, Shirley MacLaine, Jo Anne Worley, and Tim Conway.

After Schlatter donated his archives to Pepperdine University, this function occurred at the school to honor the producer. It’s not especially informative and as expected, it lays on praise for Schlatter thick, but it’s interesting as an archival piece.

As we shift to Season Four, we get another Interview with Actor Lily Tomlin. This one lasts 10 minutes, 41 seconds and acts as a continuation of the prior Tomlin chat.

Like the first part of the interview, Tomlin discusses aspects of her career. It becomes another fun exploration of her roles.

Season Four tosses in an Interview with Actor Arte Johnson. This offers a 25-minute, two-second view of Johnson’s career and his work on the show. Though not as strong as Tomlin’s discussions, Johnson provides good insights into the series and his characters.

No extras appear for Seasons Five and Six. We do find booklets for all six seasons, though. These include short essays from Schlatter as well as summaries of each episode.

A massive cultural sensation in the late 1960s/early 1970s, Laugh-In became a hugely influential comedy series. Unfortunately, the material doesn’t hold up well 50 years later, as the episodes provide precious few actual laughs. The DVDs offer mediocre picture and audio with a fairly useful set of supplements. It’s fun to see Laugh-In as a relic of its era, but it’s just not funny anymore.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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