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Under the Radar DVD of the Week: 'The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes'

Dennis King Published: July 23, 2013

This week, the oddest DVD to appear on release lists is:

“The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes”

When Jack Benny moved his long-running radio program to TV in 1950, he knew that his old stand-up shtick and vaudeville jokes needed a stronger through line in order to hold a weekly audience. And so he and his writers virtually invented the character-driven, half-hour sitcom format that we know today, and 18 episodes not seen since their original broadcast have now been collected on “The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes” (due out on DVD Tuesday).

The popular program aired from 1950 to 1965 and ran to about 260 episodes. This long-awaited three-disc release features a sampling of episodes from 1956 through 1964, and showcases Benny’s signature brand of droll comedy (featuring the pinch-penny Jack) along with his cast of recurring characters played by Don Wilson, Mary Livingston and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson.

Benny’s shows were known for attracting a who’s who roster of show-biz guest stars, and the “Lost Episodes” boast appearances by reigning stars of the day such as John Wayne, Natalie Wood, Gary Cooper and Tony Curtis, crooners Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore and former vaudevillians like Milton Berle and Red Skelton. Special guests included renowned evangelist Billy Graham and even the President of the United States, Harry Truman.

The discs are also packed with loads of bonus extras, including footage of Benny and a staff of secretaries sorting through stacks of entries in the “I Can’t Stand Jack Benny” Contest from 1945.

“The Jack Benny Program: The Lost Episodes” is not rated and runs about nine hours on three discs. It’s being released by Shout! Factory.

- Dennis King


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