DVDs: How about the big picture?

  • Article by: RANDY A. SALAS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 23, 2008 - 1:49 AM

DVD sets presenting the entire run of TV favorites are the ultimate gift for hardcore fans.

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James Gandolfini ,who plays mob boss Tony Soprano, in an episode from the first season of the HBO cable television mob series, "The Sopranos."

Photo: Anthony Neste, Associated Press

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Thousands of DVD titles are vying for attention this holiday season, including cinematic heavyweights such as "The Dark Knight" (coming Dec. 9), "Iron Man," "Kung Fu Panda" and "WALL-E." But there's a new contender: complete sets of popular TV shows.

There's an increasing number of these multidisc boxes, which give serious fans the whole thing in one fell swoop, often with exclusive extras and swank packaging. While the prices are often hefty, they usually can be found at a discount -- 30 percent off or more through online retailers such as Amazon.com and DeepDiscount.com.

Judging from the vintage of many of the TV shows released this year, their target audience is older consumers with money to spare. But the big ticket is HBO's "The Sopranos." The monstrous 33-disc set retails for $400, but Amazon sells it for $255 shipped. For that, viewers get all 86 episodes of the award-winning 1999-2007 series, along with new extras (deleted scenes and interview segments), three soundtrack CDs and a 16-page episode guide. It's sure to be a hit.

While "The Sopranos" comes in a sturdy black box, several other full-series sets offer more creative packages.

The 49-disc "Charmed" (Paramount, $250), whose new extras include the original unaired pilot, is housed in a replica of "The Book of Shadows," the large spell book used by the witches on the show. The 20 discs for the five-season run of "I Dream of Jeannie" (Sony, $175) come in a mock-up of the genie bottle featured on the sitcom. "Little House on the Prairie" (Lions Gate, $280), a 60-disc set that includes all nine seasons and three follow-up movies, comes in a fat binder with a covered-wagn motif.

The 41-disc "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (Warner, $200) comes laden with extras in the ideal container for the Cold War spy series: a working attaché case. The 25-disc set for the spy spoof "Get Smart" (HBO, $200) opens to reveal a phone booth -- the show's secret entrance. The original "Knight Rider" (Universal, $140), covering 24 discs, comes in a black box with a working red light that mimics the front of KITT, the show's tricked-out car.

Other releases settle for a deluxe look, if not innovation. The Britcom "Absolutely Fabulous" (BBC, $130) looks absolutely fabulous in a nine-disc binder with a silver quilted cover. The textured lid of the 20-disc "Fraggle Rock" box (HIT Entertainment, $140), which marks the debut of the Jim Henson show's final season, looks like Fraggle Rock. The 20-disc "The Incredible Hulk" (Universal, $150) is an incredible bulk whose raised green letters show star Bill Bixby changing from the mild-mannered David Banner to the Hulk-tastic Lou Ferrigno. The 27 discs of "The Wild, Wild West" (Paramount, $130) come holstered in a sturdy, western-themed box.

Proving it's the contents that matter, several sets skip the glitz and get right to the good stuff. The latest collector's edition of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (A&E, $160) contains the comedy troupe's classic episodes, live concert performances, cast members' favorite sketches and new documentaries on 21 discs. Besides the original episodes, the seven-disc "Mr. Bean" (A&E, $70) adds related movies, animated episodes, deleted scenes, background features and rarely seen sketches of the hapless title character. The 15-disc set for "M Squad" (Timeless, $120) contains all 117 episodes of the 1950s Chicago crime show and a soundtrack CD. The seven-disc 45th-anniversary edition of the original "The Outer Limits" (MGM, $60) contains only the repackaged episodes of the acclaimed 1960s anthology series, but that might be good enough for fans who want them at a lower price.

And on the topic of cost, a few Sony releases eschew all the frills for episode-only sets of favorites at a budget price. They include the nine-disc "What's Happening," the 12-disc "Soap," the 12-disc "NewsRadio," the 17-disc "Sanford and Son" and the 17-disc "Good Times." The price of each? $60 -- $48 at discount. That's quite a deal for holiday shoppers on a budget.

Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542

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