The 2021 Blu-ray release of Season 1 of The Abbott and Costello Show was an unprecedented achievement. The meticulous restoration led by the 3-D Film Archive’s Bob Fumanek and Jack Theakston set a new standard for vintage TV shows on Blu-ray and DVD. The Digital Bits called it “a monumental release for fans of the boys themselves and for comedy in general.” GeekVibesNation wrote, “ClassicFlix has delivered one of the Blu-Ray releases of the year with this first season set that features an astounding A/V presentation and a ton of great special features that makes the package even sweeter. If you are a comedy fan, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up.”
Work on Season 2 began in earnest last December following a Kickstarter campaign that quickly and easily surpassed the original goal. Some 120,000 feet of original camera negative on 156 reels was scanned frame by frame in 4K resolution. Each episode became a series of hi-res images that took up 36 terabytes on 14 hard drives.
Working with the original negative, subtle (and sometimes no so subtle) variations in lighting, exposure or even lab processing are more obvious. Some of these differences were mitigated when the lab made the original fine grain prints in the 1950s. But Furmanek and Theakston not only were starting from scratch with the negatives, but the finished picture is intended to be viewed on today’s big, high-definition monitors—not the small, standard definition black and white TVs of old.
The raw 4K scans must be corrected, or “graded,” so that the shots seamlessly match within a scene and throughout an episode. As with Season 1, grading was divided between Theakston and Dave Northrop at FILMmedia.
After grading, the drives went to Thad Komorowski, who worked frame by frame to remove seventy years of dirt and damage. At the same time, Ray Faiola at Chelsea Rialto Studios was doing the equivalent with the audio tracks. Ray worked on the Season 1 and Jack and the Beanstalk restorations. He also contributed a commentary track for the “Alaska” episode and a featurette on the music in Beanstalk.
Meanwhile, a unique package of bonus extras was being assembled. There were several unproduced scripts in Season 2, and Furmanek considered adding one as a bonus feature using a series of still images. But which script to choose? Then Ron Palumbo discovered that only one of these spare scripts, “Star Reporters,” by Clyde Bruckman, was actually set to be filmed but was bumped at the last minute by “Barber Lou.” The script is reproduced in a bonus featurette that also offers a brief bio of Bruckman, a great comedy writer who tragically took his own life.
Two episodes feature commentary tracks. Stu Fink, who did the commentary for “Music Lover” in Season 1, did one for his favorite episode, “Amnesia.” Stu is a big fan of Season 2, and Jack Townley’s scripts in particular. Ron Palumbo did a commentary for the Bruckman episode “The Pigeon” that leverages an interview he did with guest star Gloria Henry in 2015. Ron did the commentary for “Hungry” in Season 1.
The first season theme song was custom-written for the show, but the second season theme was a stock music track from the Mutel (Music for Television) library. The piece was edited and sped up for the show, however, and the restoration team wanted to find the original track. No one wanted that more than Stu Fink, who doggedly tracked down TV production music historian Paul Mandell. Mandell not only knew the murky history of Mutel’s low-budget tracks, which were ubiquitous on 1950s TV, but revealed that there were two versions of the theme. You’ll hear both of them uncut and at normal speed in another featurette.
In the late 1970s a “Mystery Theme” inexplicably appeared on the episodes “Killer’s Wife” and “$1,000 TV Prize.” A brief featurette explains how that theme landed on those episodes, but why it did remains a mystery. The correct theme has been restored to the episodes in this release.
In 1954, a year after Bud and Lou finished shooting the second season, the boys filmed commercials for Campbell’s and EZ Pop popcorn. The soup company was sponsoring reruns of the first season on CBS on Saturday mornings, while EZ Pop advertised on local stations that were rerunning Season 2. These commercials are also bonus extras.
Some orphaned footage from Season 1 turns up in Season 2, including the “Handcuff Gag” in the episode “In Society.” A scene that was cut from the opening sequence of “Actor’s Home” in Season 1 appears in the opening of “Fall Guys” in Season 2. The original sequence has been reassembled as a bonus feature.
Several episodes in Season 1 were presented with and without the audience tracks. A portion of “Vacation” minus the audience was found and added to this set. There are also supplemental credit rolls that acknowledge the people who worked behind the scenes on the original series as well as the members of the restoration team.
Finally, you may notice that the episodes are arranged in a slightly different order on these disks. The traditional order, which was by script number, was essentially random; the episodes were not filmed or broadcast in that order. The traditional order begins with “The Paper Hangers,” but that was actually the nineteenth episode to be filmed. “Car Trouble” was the first episode to be broadcast in Los Angeles, but the thirteenth episode in script order.
Since there was such inconsistency, Palumbo suggested placing the episodes in order of production for the very first time. Furmanek and Theakston agreed, and we can now watch the season unfold as it was filmed.
All of this work on the episodes and bonus features was proceeding like clockwork until
June, when a major computer crash took out most of Furmanek and Theakston’s equipment. Fortunately, the hard drive was intact, but the computer had to be replaced. It was an expensive and laborious process to replace and reconfigure the workstation but, on top of that, the replacement computer turned out to be faulty and had to be returned to the manufacturer.
In the interim it was also discovered that one of the drives with the cleaned masters had crashed. The contents were checked and found intact, but the files had to be professionally migrated by Seagate Technology due to the complexity of data
This was a first for Furmanek and Theakston, who have managed more than thirty restoration projects without incident since 2014. To their credit, Bob and Jack were transparent about these issues and posted their progress, setbacks and profuse apologies
After the corrupted drive was recovered in September, final mastering began. Furmanek and Theakston redoubled their efforts to get Season 2 out the door and to Duplitech’s Blu-ray authoring facility in California as quickly as possible. As an extra precaution, they asked Duplitech and the distributor, ClassicFlix, each do a quality control report on the files. After a small handful of glitches were noted and corrected, Furmanek and Theakston shipped the files to Duplitech for final mastering and replication.
Furmanek reports that the shows look and sound “absolutely fantastic, even on a ten-foot screen.”
The official release date is January 30, 2024, but fans who contributed to the Kickstarter campaign should have their copy well before then. If you weren’t part of the Kickstarter funding, you can pre-order Season 2 on Blu-ray for $34.99 or on DVD for $27.99 at classicflix.com.
In case you missed Season 1, both seasons will be available in Blu-ray or DVD bundles.
Frankly, if you don’t have these stunning Blu-ray releases of the boys’ classic TV series, you cannot call yourself an Abbott and Costello fan.•