Wednesday, April 10, 2019

My Three Favorite Commentary Tracks – and One That Should Have Been

As the DVD market continues to contract, it takes with it not just the pleasure many of us feel in owning the shows we love, but the bonus content packaged on many television season sets that adds to our appreciation of each series. 

Among the most enjoyable of these features are commentary tracks, featuring series creators, writers, directors and cast members.

They’re not always done well, but when they are they give the viewer the experience of watching an episode alongside some of the talented people who made it special.

What makes for a good commentary track? It might seem obvious, but it starts with actually watching the episode. My favorite tracks are those in which you hear the participants reacting to what is happening – laughing at the jokes, sharing behind-the-scenes stories, and describing locations where scenes were shot. I don’t mind the moments where they get so caught up in the story that they stop talking – it’s a testament to the enduring quality of the show.

Here’s how you know you’re hearing a bad commentary track: After long stretches of silence, the commentator will start talking about how they were cast on the series, or why they believe the show is still popular decades later. They’re being prompted by someone supplying topics to discuss, because they can’t think of anything to say.

I’m always disappointed when that happens. And it happens more than you might expect.

But let’s focus on the positive first. Here are three of my favorite commentary tracks.

“What? And Get Out of Show Business?”

The Partridge Family

Commentary by Danny Bonaduce

“There’s something you almost never see – Susan Dey eating.”

Part tribute and part roast, Danny Bonaduce watches the first Partridge episode more than 20 years after it debuted, and can still quote most of his lines from memory. 

He mocks his own fake bass playing, asserts his certainty that David Cassidy could beat up Bobby Sherman, and expresses great admiration for costar Dave Madden (“Every muscle in that man’s face acts”). “This is so fun,” he says while he watches the moment his life changed. His observations, appreciations and wisecracks are delightful from start to finish. 

“Those Friars”

That Girl

Commentary by Marlo Thomas and Bill Persky

There were five seasons of That Girl, each packaged in season sets with four DVD discs. 

Every disc contains at least one episode with a commentary by series star Marlo Thomas and series co-creator Bill Persky. Their mutual admiration for the show and each other makes every one of these tracks a gem. I selected “Those Friars” for a moment that illustrates how memorable a commentary can be. Marlo’s father Danny Thomas appears in the episode as himself, and the story ends with Danny and Ann Marie performing a vaudeville skit together. At one point Ann says, “I was afraid you were going to go and leave me out here all alone.” Danny responds, “Me? Leave you? Are you kidding?” 

Marlo, hearing those words, falls silent, and then you hear sniffles. “You don’t have to talk, you can cry,” Persky tells her. It’s such a sweet moment, but Marlo quickly recovers like any showbiz trouper. “I’m having a lovely afternoon” Persky says as closing credits roll. So are we all.

“Lucy and Ann Margret”

Here’s Lucy

Commentary by Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr.

For the children of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, watching all the classic Lucy shows is like watching home movies. On this track you’ll get some fun backstage stories from TV’s first family about how Ann-Margret was booked for this episode, and the crush Desi Jr. had on her, inspiring the show’s funniest scene. 

But you’ll also get Lucie and Desi Jr. both doing their best Desi Sr. impressions, and poking fun at each other like any brother and sister:

Desi: “They don’t make suits like that anymore.”
Lucie: “There’s a reason for that.”

The episode closes with a big musical number, in which Desi informs viewers that the guitar he’s playing belonged to James Burton, a Rock Hall of Fame member who played for Elvis and Rick Nelson. Responds Lucie to what was obviously a pre-recorded music track, “The guitar started playing before you did.” 

I’m so glad that so many of these commentaries were recorded during the heyday of classic TV on DVD releases. But sometimes they don’t live up to their potential.

“The Lady In the Bottle”

I Dream of Jeannie

Commentary by Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman and Bill Daily

This should have been time capsule stuff. To have the three stars of a TV classic come together more than 30 years later and watch the pilot episode – it’s something that sadly was not even possible with so many other shows from this era. 

But here it just doesn’t work. Barbara Eden is cordial but quiet too often, Larry Hagman was never a fan of the series and also didn’t have much to say. That leaves Bill Daily to carry the conversation. And he rarely offers anything more insightful than “Oh wow!”, “Oh boy!” and “Gorgeous! You guys look great!” These expressions are repeated multiple times throughout the episode, to the point where they become more annoying than affectionate. If that’s the best they could do, they should have brought in Danny Bonaduce. 


  1. Regarding the decline of physical media, Mr. Hofstede, you might want to check out Stuart Galbraith IV's review of the DVD set "Gunsmoke: The Fourteenth Season, Volume One," which can be reached at the following URL:

    If streaming IS the future, then why are no Quinn Martin crime shows available via CBS All Access at the present time? Last I checked, there were a significant number of eleventh-season episodes of the original "Hawaii Five-O" series that were unavailable via CBS All Access. One of them was "A Long Time Ago," the only "Five-O" episode featuring the late Burr DeBenning. (In case you don't know, Burr DeBenning was a character actor who made guest appearances on a LOT of TV crime shows in the '70s, often as a villain.) Will an uncut verison of the 1978 TV movie "Hunters of the Reef" turn up on CBS All Access in the near future? How about uncut episodes of the short-lived Stacy Keach crime series "Caribe"?

  2. I have the Video Service Corp. DVD for the controversial 1993 TV docudrama "In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco." It has a commentary featuring actor Timothy Daly and director Dick Lowry. Unfortunately, the commentary doesn't last for the length of the movie. Worse yet, there is an "outage" within the commentary itself, presumably due to technical problems. Dick Lowry didn't have all his facts straight even though both he and Timothy Daly provided some useful information.

    Video Service Corp. also released a DVD for "In the Line of Duty: Blaze of Glory," a 1997 telefilm starring Lori Loughlin and Bruce Campbell. Lori has been in the news lately for practically all the wrong reasons, so the flick would be particularly interesting to check out at this point. (Hint, hint.) Mr. Hofstede, have you thought about possibly doing a Comfort TV commentary about Ms. Loughlin? I know she began appearing on "Full House" when the Comfort TV era was winding down, but that sitcom meant so much to so many children of the late '80s and early '90s. It seems to me that celebrities with particularly family-friendly images fall the hardest when it comes to scandal. Um, does Video Service Corp. DVD for "In the Line of Duty: Blaze of Glory" have a commentary?