DVD Review: Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (The Complete Sixth Season)

Did you know that in 1970 network primetime TV used to start at 7:30 p.m. on week nights? This worked to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In‘s advantage. It went head to head with Gunsmoke on Monday nights. Matt Dillon and company went on at 7:30 so that by the time Laugh-In popped on NBC at 8:00 p.m., dad had fallen asleep and a kid could easily snag the remote control to click over. Both shows proved to be ratings winners even going head to head. But things changed in the Fall of 1971 when the Prime Time Access Rule went into effect and the networks couldn’t start their shows until 8 p.m. The two shows started at the same time and immediately Laugh-In fell out of the top 10 in their fifth season. Season Six proved to be the final time for the comedy series as it also had to face off against the hot new cop drama The Rookies. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Sixth Season shows that the show wasn’t losing a step and was continuing the make dramatic changes.

The first huge cast change was when Willie Tyler and Lester arrived. This broke the wood ceiling for minority ventriloquists. For decades Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and SeƱor Wences and Johnny had controlled the business. So it was a serious break when Willie Tyler and his pal Lester got a regular gig on the show. Lester quickly started kids to embrace ventriloquism again with his hip wit. The other major cast addition was Patti Deutsch. The red haired comic had gotten notice as part of The Ace Trucking Company comedy troupe that also featured Fred Willard (Best In Show). After Laugh-In, Patti was a semi-regular on The Match Game. The cast members that left included Larry Hovis, Alan Sues and Johnny Brown. Sues and Brown departures are felt with their perfectly outrageous deliveries. Lily Tomlin and Ruth Buzzi keep pushing their characters in the short format. Richard Dawson (Hogan’s Heroes) steps up in his roles compared to his freshman season.

The show has an amazing amount of famous guest stars popping up for a quick sock it to them or sticking around for numerous skits. Jean Stapleton (All In the Family), Michael Landon (Bonanza), Bill Bixby, Henny Youngman (The Gore Gore Girls), Steve Allen, James Caan, Carol Burnett, Johnny Carson, William Conrad, Sandy Duncan, Dom LeLuise, Phyllis Diller, Jack Klugman, Rich Little, Don Rickles, John Wayne, Sammy Davis Jr. and Olympic legend Mark Spitz. It’s rapid fire cameos from various comics getting straight to their punchline action. Even though this was an hour long show, even today it feels like a only a half hour has passed when the final credits arrive.

The final credits had changed since longtime executive producers George Schlatter and Ed Friendly had gone leaving Rowan and Martin in charge. This really no major difference in direction with the changeover. There’s still the party, Laugh-In looks at a topic and topical jokes. Even though this was an election year, there’s not wall to wall jokes about Nixon running for re-election. You don’t need to check with Wikipedia for names to understand the punchlines. For a fan who has only seen the series in syndication such as when it ran on the long gone Trio channel, this season will seem news. Turns out the sixth season wasn’t packaged with the other five seasons.

Most of the time a TV series gets bumped off the screen when it seems like an antique. The comedy of Laugh-In remains beyond the dumb yucks found on all the other musical-comedy-variety shows that clogged up the network schedules. They even make fun of those shows even when Rowan turns up the studio lights to ask the audience if they have any questions. America was still a few years away from Saturday Night Live making comedy a little bit more dangerous. While it’s sad that this is how the series came to an end, it’s a bit of rejoicing that the show lasted six seasons in a time when networks would rather give a star variety show with jokes that were extra safe. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Sixth Season shows that even with all the change, the series never slowed down.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was shot on standard definition video. The transfers look fine with colors that brighten up the jokes. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The levels are fine so the punchlines don’t get drowned out by laughter. The episodes are Closed Captioned.

No bonus features.

Time Life presents Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In: The Complete Sixth Season. Starring: Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Lily Tomlin, Patti Deutsch, Richard Dawson, Willie Tyler and Lester. Rated: Not Rated. Boxset Contents: 24 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: September 4, 2018.

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