10/27/14

The MIDNIGHT SPECIAL Part One - The 2005-2007 DVDs

The Midnight Special is Burt Sugarman's baby.  The Hideaway's "honorary historian", Jim Bartlett, did a great summary of the show in his 2008 post "Special Midnights"
From the Pilot Episode, hosted by John Denver in August 1972, the show was nearly fully formed: musical guest host featuring a wide variety of other acts performing both hits and deep cuts live.  A stand-up comedy segment was added to the show in the first episode following the Pilot and in the episode after that Wolfman Jack (above) made the first of his hundreds of appearances on the show.  The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1997, Sugarman opened his vault of tapes and struck a deal with VH1, bringing the original series back to television for the first time since it left the air, editing episodes down to thirty minutes from their original 90 minute length and calling them The Best Of The Midnight Special.  The rare promotional CD-R pictured above was distributed to journalists to promote the show's return.  It features eleven performances from the show including Johnny Rivers performing the theme song, a slightly transformed cover of a classic folk and blues tune.



In a stroke of genius, Sugarman then licensed his baby to Guthy-Renker Direct Marketing in 2005.  The discs featured remastered picture and sound, allowing each of the fifteen musical performances found on every disc to look and sound better than they ever had before.  Twenty different discs, covering the years 1972-1980, were marketed via the infomercial above, first as a $20/disc subscription model, then a nine disc box set (pictured below) and finally, a complete twenty disc box set, until the official website (midnightspecial.com) went dark in 2013.

year issueddisc titlematrix #time
2005Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: Million SellersMU.00011:33:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: Classic ComedyMU.00021:08:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: 1974MU.00051:16:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: 1975MU.00071:16:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: 1973MU.00091:20:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: 1976MU.00121:24:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: 1977MU.00131:20:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: 1978MU.00141:19:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: 1979MU.00151:17:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: 1980MU.00161:10:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: More 1973MU.00211:15:00
2006Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: More 1974MU.00221:12:00
2007Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: More 1975MU.00231:22:00
2007Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: More 1976MU.00241:10:00
2007Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: More 1977MU.00251:06:00
2007Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: More 1978MU.00261:09:00
2007Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: More 1979MU.00271:07:00
2007Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: More 1980MU.00281:15:00
2007Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: Flashback To 1973MU.00290:53:00
2007Burt Sugarman's The Midnight Special: Flashback To 1974MU.00300:55:00
It's worth noting the unique format in which each disc presented its fifteen performances as they were not presented as episodes but rather as individual music videos.  Each disc's menu resembled the one above, from the very first disc, the multi-year Million Sellers.  Play All would do just that, play all the videos in the order they were mastered to the disc.  Play Shuffle would shuffle the order of the videos.  Selecting Performances brought up the Performers on the disc, five at a time over three screens allowing a viewer to directly access their favorites.  One such screen from the 1978 disc is below:
Each disc had basically the same Special Features - Photo Gallery (a slide show of each disc's artists in performance), a choice of two Comedy Skits and a somewhat pointless choice of Audio Setting (every episode was originally recorded in mono) - as shown in the screenshot below from the More 1980 disc:
As for the performance videos themselves, each one had custom graphics at the beginning (the show's logo with generic crowd cheering) and similar graphics along with a couple of production credits at the end of a performance. HERC found one on YouTube that is completely intact from the 1980 disc:



In late 2007, the final two discs in what had grown to become a 20 disc collection were released with noticeably different cover art than all of the previous releases as well as a drastically different presentation of the performances on each disc. Flashback To 1973 and Flashback To 1974 (cover inserts shown above) featured performances from three episodes that aired in those respective years. It amounts to about a third of each episode's artists and performances as originally broadcast and a somewhat jilting, ultimately disappointing viewing experience for the show's fans.  
For example, the first episode featured on the Flashback to 1973 disc is the first episode of the show's second season and the 34th episode overall though the wrong airdate is printed on the artwork and featured on the disc menu (above) - the episode actually aired on September 14.  (The other episode airdates are correct.)  There are performances on the disc - one song each - from host Curtis Mayfield, Sly and the Family Stone, Jim Croce (who would perish in an airplane crash a mere six days after the episode aired), Wilson Pickett, The Natural Four and The Bee Gees.  Helen Reddy, War and Gladys Knight & the Pips also appeared on the episode but are not on the disc nor are the other songs performed by the artists that do appear on the disc.  Though we couldn't have known it at the time, these discs were a glimpse into the future of the next incarnation of The Midnight Special on home video.
HERC's earliest memory of The Midnight Special is when he was nine years old in the Summer of 1975, specifically the night of June 20, 1975.  Earlier in the evening, HERC's parents took him and his just turned six year old sister to see the new movie Jaws at the Base theater.  HERC could not go to sleep that night for fear of the shark getting him so one of his parents (probably HERC SR.) stayed up with him in the basement with all of the lights on.  (Nearly forty years later, Jaws is still hands-down the scariest movie HERC has ever seen.)  Not expecting to find anything on, HERC turned on the TV his Dad had built from a kit and found Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show.  There was a teaser for The Midnight Special during the show and HERC stayed up to watch it while his father fell asleep.  HERC has since looked it up and found out Herb Alpert was the host of the episode, which meant that hopefully HERC's Texas Grandma was watching because HERC knew she had all of the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass albums and eight track tapes.  The only act that HERC remembers seeing that night however was The Captain & Tennille who performed "Love Will Keep Us Together" which was both the Number One song in the country and HERC's favorite song at the time. HERC would not catch another episode of the show until the following Fall when he was ten and allowed to stay up and watch it on a regular basis which meant once maybe every three weeks cause he had a hard time staying up late back then.
(HERC found this website invaluable in wrting this post as well as the 1997 book pictured above.)


BONUS! DISC MENU SCREENSHOTS
click to embiggen
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979
1980
More 1973
More 1974
More 1975
More 1976
More 1977
More 1978
More 1979
More 1980
Million Sellers

2 comments:

  1. I am trying to locate the 1976 episode 34 show where George Benson and Glenn Campbell played "Affirmation" together. Any hints or pointers truly appreciated.

    thanks,

    Stu Weissman (stuweissman@gmail.com)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment.

      While HERC knows nothing about how to find this episode, maybe one of his viewers will contact you.

      Based on the episode's entry in B.R. Hunter's book (he has it listed as #176 overall), it was a solid Glen Campbell showcase with other musical guests like Benson, Jim Stafford, Dorothy Moore and Stephen Cohn. All but Cohn even duetted with Glen.

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