It is the holiday season friends. That means that the studios are trying to put forward their best stuff in hopes that their special editions and mega-sets will make it to your gift giving list this year; I’ve been receiving this stuff on a daily basis now for a couple of weeks. I’m on a first name basis with the delivery people who come to my door twice a day. I suppose the studios are hoping I’ll be able to put together a gift guide for my readers as they try to find a gift for that hard to shop for relative, or the DVD collector who has every title available. Since there are so many great titles coming out around the holidays this year, I’ve decided it would be impossible to put together a gift guide. Instead, I’ll just point out when a boxed set comes along that is perfectly designed for gift giving.
Such is the case with I Dream of Jeannie – The Complete Series, which comes in an elaborately decorated cardboard “bottle” that’s a replica of the 1964 Jim Beam decanter that inspired the show’s most famous prop. It’s designed to be displayed on a countertop, table, or shelf. The bottle is 11 1/2″ tall, 5 1/2″ across at the widest spot, and 2 1/2″ deep. The bottle has a hollowed-out bottom that holds an accordion-style round expandable file that contains all 139 episodes on 20 discs. A cardboard decorative stopper is included, along with a matching separate box that holds 55 full-color trivia cards with a photo illustration and trivia snippet on one side and a description of three episodes on the flipside. There’s more information on the cards down in the section about the extras.
I Dream of Jeannie debuted in September of 1965, on NBC. Created by Sidney Sheldon (The Patty Duke Show), I Dream of Jeannie was a response to the popularity of Bewitched, which had gone on the air in 1964. Sheldon got the idea for I Dream of Jeannie from the 1964 movie, The Brass Bottle starring Tony Randall, Barbara Eden and Burl Ives. In the film, a man accidentally acquires a male genie who wants to grant his every wish. Sheldon devised a story where a female genie wanted to grant her masters every whim. NBC was hoping Jeannie would recreate the successful ratings Bewitched was pulling at that time.
It seems unthinkable now but Sidney Sheldon didn’t envision Barbara Eden in the role of Jeannie to begin with. He didn’t want a blonde actress, because there would be too much similarity with the blonde witch on Bewitched. However, after countless auditions with other actresses, Sheldon met with Eden, who had played the part of the girlfriend in The Brass Bottle and she was cast. The then relatively unknown Larry Hagman (Dallas) was cast as Jeannie’s master and a NASA astronaut.
The premise of the show, for lack of a better word was “wacky.” Jeannie (Barbara Eden), born April Fool’s Day, 64 A.D. was turned into a genie because she refused to marry the Blue Djin. The all-powerful genie gave her immortality, but he also popped her in a bottle and corked her up for what would turn out to be 2000 years.
In 1965, NASA astronaut Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) found the bottle near a deserted island where his space capsule landed after an aborted mission. Once released, Jeanie becomes a doting, eager-to-please woman whose only desire was to grant his every wish. After Jeannie rescues him from the deserted island, Tony tries to set her free but Jeannie reenters her bottle and deposits it in Tony’s duffel bag. Jeannie makes the trip back to Cape Kennedy and Cocoa Beach, Florida, where her new “master” lived and worked. With that, a legendary sitcom was born.
Surprisingly, I Dream of Jeannie was only moderately successful during its original run from 1965-70. The series cracked the top thirty in the Neilsen ratings during its first season, at #27, while Bewitched finished at #7. After the first season, I Dream of Jeannie dropped out of the top thirty for the remainder of the series original run. The series would gain its legendary status when it began running in syndication during the seventies. The show reached a bigger audience in syndication than it had during its original run on NBC. According to the October 6, 1971 edition of Variety, it was the first off-network series to best network competition in the ratings: “The big switch no doubt representing the first time in rating history that indies (local stations) have knocked over the network stations in a primetime slot was promoted by WPIX’s premiere of the off-web Jeannie reruns back to back from 7 to 8 p.m.”
The popularity of I Dream of Jeannie isn’t difficult to understand. Though Larry Hagman is undoubtedly best known for his portrayal of J.R. Ewing on Dallas, watch a few episodes of Jeannie and you’ll realize he really was an underrated comic actor. He was great as Eden’s comic foil and their chemistry is undeniable. Kudos also go out to Bill Daily, who played Tony Nelson’s swinging bachelor buddy, Captain Roger Healey; perennially confused but forever lovable was funny at nearly every turn. Hayden Rorke was also outstanding as the often befuddled base psychiatrist who kept trying to catch Nelson in what he thought he knew was craziness.
Of course, Barbara Eden deserves a lot of the credit for the legendary status of I Dream of Jeannie. At the same time, it is probably because of her character that the series didn’t receive the critical acclaim and Emmy nominations that Bewitched did. While Bewitched’s Samantha Stephen’s (Elizabeth Montgomery) was a perky housewife with kids who just happened to be a witch, Jeannie was an undeniably sexy woman, who represented the fantasy of millions of men around the world. Will Jeannie and Tony finally get together was the big teaser from season to season.
There are a couple of things potential buyers should know about I Dream of Jeannie – The Complete Series before making the purchase. First, Sony released Season 1 in two versions, the original black-and-white and colorized. This set includes the colorized version. Secondly, the two reunion movies, I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later (1985) and I Still Dream of Jeannie (1991), are not included on this set. Despite that, this set remains a great gift idea for any I Dream of Jeannie fan.
There’s some graininess, but the video quality is surprisingly good. The colors are sharp and well-delineated, with no bleed. I Dream of Jeannie is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
The audio is a Dolby Digital Mono, with the sound concentrated in the center speaker. Sometimes Mono can sound perfectly natural, while other times it sounds pretty flat. Later episodes are, predictably, a little more distortion-free. Considering this is a show from the sixties, the audio stands up well.
Two bonus features from Season One are included. An audio commentary with Eden, Hagman, and Daily on the pilot episode isn’t full of much information–mostly Daily commenting on how good the show is and how surprised he is that it’s good, with the trio mostly reminiscing about who’s. The most interesting remarks come from Eden, who tells about the professor who taught her Farsi, recalls how a driver gave her bourbon one day when he noticed her goose bumps, and points out a scene where she broke her tooth and hurt Hagman’s knee. The other feature is a short I Dream of Jeannie: Out of the Bottle reminiscence which shows the trio on camera. Eden looks the best, and also provides the most insight. But Hagman explains the special effects, and it’s also fascinating to hear Sheldon talk about the no-navel censorship issue and explain how he wrote “a script a day” that year as he commuted between New York and writing for The Patty Duke Show and L.A. and I Dream of Jeannie.
The bonus feature that’s exclusive to this set is that 55-card deck of trivia cards, which are handsomely produced. Here are a few random examples:
Color photo of the Nelson home, with this bit of info: “The Nelson home still stands on the Warner Brothers Ranch in Burbank, CA, where it has a new role as the Ranch Operations office. Besides minor cosmetic changes, the house remains almost exactly the same after nearly fifty years.”
Color screenshot of Daily and Farrah Fawcett: “Michael Ansara returns for one last appearance as Biff “Jet-Stream” Jellico in the final episode featuring Jeannie’s wicked twin sister. Farrah Fawcett also makes an appearance as Roger’s date.
For episode descriptions you have to turn the cards over and shuffle through them, which means keeping them in order. The flipside of each trivia card lists the season number, episode number, and brief description for two or three episodes.