Time Life recently released their “Ultimate Jack Benny Collection,” an exclusive available only through Time Life’s website for a retail price of $99.95. Regrettably, the set is anything but ultimate.
Jack Benny may have been a cheapskate, a mediocre violinist, and 39 years old no matter the year, but above all he was a master of comedy. His character was fiction, of course, and the running jokes kept fans laughing for over 50 years on radio, stage, screen and television. By 1965, Jack Benny was well-acquainted with hour-long color television specials. His first experience with color television came in 1955, when the program for March 6 was pre-recorded at George Burns’ McCadden Studios. Ten years later he hosted and starred in a series of ten television specials, almost one every calendar year until 1974. Celebrity guests included Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Nancy Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Dennis Day, Red Skelton, Gregory Peck, Elke Sommer, Walt Disney, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Dinah Shore, John Wayne, Redd Foxx, Don Rickles, Jack Webb, Dean Martin, Phyllis Diller, Johnny Carson, Ann-Margret, Dan Blocker, Lawrence Welk and many others.
The five-disc set issued through Time Life is a gem. Picture and sound quality is superior. Teasers and bumpers included, you can feel confident these are uncut and unedited. Also included in the February 5, 1981, special, “A Love Letter to Jack Benny,” hosted by George Burns, a loving tribute to a comedian who passed away a short time prior.
Regrettably, the five-disc set falls short of the $99.95 price tag. Advertised on Time Life’s website is a 12-disc set containing over 60 half-hour episodes of The Jack Benny Program, which is contained in two box sets with the remaining seven DVDs. Imagine my surprise when these two box sets are not from Time Life, but prior DVD releases from Mill Creek and Shout! Factory. Yes, the 2013 Shout! Factory DVD release with 18 half-hour episodes is included, along with the four-disc 2011 Mill Creek release containing 39 half-hour episodes. The latter of which retails $3.99 and was found in the bargain bins at Wal-Mart for $5 last year. The Shout! Factory box set retailed $29.95 when commercially released in 2013, now retailing an average of $19.95 (and less if you shop around).
For anyone puzzled over what this all means… Time Life has a sturdy reputation for licensing and commercially packaging classic television programs, unavailable elsewhere at the time of their release. Usually loaded with bonus features, fans of The Six Million Dollar Man, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,Get Smartand The Carol Burnett Show, among other classics, knew that while the price tag was a bit steep, the product was always top-notch. For this Jack Benny DVD set, inferior quality public domain prints from the Mill Creek set is vastly inferior compared to prior Time Life holdings.
Careful examination of the Time Life website verifies what fans are referring to in social media as “deceptive advertising” and “misleading.” Nowhere does the product description indicate Mill Creek or Shout! Factory sets, suggesting the product sold is exclusive from Time Life as with all prior DVD releases. The photo image of the product only portrays the five-disc set of NBC Television Specials. One fan on social media claimed to have contacted Time Life to inform them that the photo of all three box sets was not accurate, with incorrect cover art. The company quickly changed the product photo to depict the five-disc set only. That fan also provided screen captures of that same page to prove the initial deception in packaging.
Even with a 24-page booklet inserted between the three box sets, bundled together and shrunk wrapped together as a single set, the $99.95 price tag is a major disappointment. Failure to disclose two box sets released more than five years ago as part of this 12-disc “exclusive” is indeed misleading and deceptive.
An official at Time Life was asked to explain why the product on their website is deceptive and they responded with “no comment.” I for one would have paid $50 or $60 for the TV specials alone, and would be glad to pay even more with TV episodes on DVD never-before released in the manner Shout! Factory did back in 2013. But future DVD purchases from Time Life of classic television program will more than likely encounter hesitation for justified reasons.