We're breaking our tradition of "High-Def" for "Standard-Def," but in this case it's worth it. Not sure if you've noticed but the streaming wars aren't exactly going well... for streaming services and customers alike. Sure, there's tons of stuff out there, but a lot is disappearing or just plain unavailable. The COVID pandemic gave various studios the impetus to start shuffling their wares online day and date with their theatrical runs and they saw a bump in funds because everyone was stuck at home. But that bump was short-lived. As some studios also started shorting out their physical media output while shelling out literally billions of dollars for new content, each studio started to see their ledgers dip into the red one by one. Netflix, Disney, Paramount, and Warner Bros. - all are seeing losses mount as they suddenly realize streaming subscriptions are a poor substitute for theater ticket sales, and people willing to shell out real money for the more expensive physical media release. After all, you can't cut off your feet and hope to run a marathon for too long. Some streamers are forcing frustrating rate hikes, eliminating a perk like password sharing, or simply even deleting content to shore up their finances. In recent months we've seen a welcome course correction back to physical media from some of the major studios. That's why - even if it's only on DVD - classic television releases like Bonanza: The Official Complete Series are worth celebrating. The show's also a ton of fun so it has that going for it!
In an era where shows and films are being pulled or outright deleted from streaming services to save a few bucks in tax breaks, Paramount/CBS Home Entertainment steps up to the plate to give classic western television fans a full series release of one of the best, longest lasting western television shows ever produced. For those who haven't experienced Bonanza yet, for 431 episodes (over 370 hours of content), the series focused on the Cartrights, a father and three sons who've staked a cattle ranch called The Ponderosa in Nevada. Together, Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and his sons Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker), and "Little" Joe (Michael Landon) face down any number of obstacles from drought to range wars to local competition. The series was the first full-color western to hit television when it aired on NBC and remained an entertainment staple from 1959 to 1973. While Pernell Roberts eventually drifted out of the series and Dan Blocker sadly didn't live to see the series' end, Michael Landon and Lorne Greene were the stalwart figureheads to the end.
After starting its run on DVD in various full seasons and separate volume releases, Bonanza can finally ride off into the sunset of your physical media shelf. Fourteen seasons, 431 episodes, 112 discs, one glorious box set ready for valuable shelving real estate in your home video collection. Now as a longtime fan of the series, I admit I've never seen the whole run of the show. I would frequently catch reruns here and there and tried to keep up with it as best I could, but I've never really sat down and tried to watch it from beginning to end before. Given that the series doesn't really have a steady arc to follow and as I recall there aren't many multi-part stories, you don't have to start at the pilot episode or know much about the show before jumping in. It's accessible from virtually any point. That said, as I've busied myself this month with a range of Blu-ray and 4K reviews, the show has been a hoot to dig into starting with the pilot. The early episodes are a little rough around the edges, there's a funny need to have someone emphatically say the title of the show, but it's pretty good stuff. Some representations of various ethnic groups are certainly problematic by today's standards, but thankfully it's not a show out to punch down to various groups of people. Like Rawhide, the show plays as an entertaining family drama with plenty of action to keep your attention. There's nothing quite like seeing Michael Landon fling himself at people during a fight!
On the A/V front, with my Blu-ray player's upscaling settings and my receiver's various audio enhancement options, Bonanza strikes it rich on DVD. On top of trying to keep going from the very beginning, I've ducked through the series for several episodes over different seasons and each one holds up nicely for the format. Details are strong for where the show currently stands and audio tracks are well mounted. There's some occasional hiss in a few episodes I observed, but nothing disastrous or distracting. A few of the episodes like the Pilot have the NBC and RCA sponsorship bumpers and those are a bit rough to say the least, especially compared to the main episode. All told I think I've watched just over twenty episodes (roughly 5% of the series!) and it's been a blast. I won't lie, a 1080p transfer for each episode would be nice, but this set is still very good for letting you enjoy hundreds of hours of content any time you want.
Now for the Ponderosa-sized elephant in the room - while it is a damned shame that we didn't get the series on Blu-ray, I understand why it didn't come that way. Since Paramount/CBS stalled out finishing the DVD run a while back, they had to first wrap up the series for those who were buying the sets individually. So there's the want to serve those collecting it in the first place while appealing to new owners. The other side of this I imagine is the incredible cost it would take (on both sides) to get the series to Blu-ray. Again, that's hundreds of episodes of content that would need to be rescanned, restored, color-corrected, yadda, yadda, yadda. Not impossible - but also probably not very practical from a cost point of view. Then there's the consumer side of the cost coin. This complete series set currently goes for $194 on DVD. A Blu-ray could easily run twice that amount if not more. Now I don't always advocate "be glad to get what you get" when it comes to discs, but in this case, a reality check is somewhat in order. Rolling the dice and waiting for better just didn't seem like an option here. Plus, I've really wanted to watch this show again so it was the right time.
At a time when so much content lives and dies on streaming without ever getting a physical media release - or like Stranger Things and only gets a couple of seasons on Blu-ray or 4K with no sign of any future offerings - I'm happy to see a set like Bonanza: The Official Complete Series come along. Even on lowly DVD - which ain't all that bad - it's nice to have it. Admittedly as a stalwart physical media collector, I've all but been done with DVD for a stretch now, and let's face it, if 4K isn't available Blu-ray is just a more pleasing format when and where you can get it even if it means importing it like Knight Rider. With that - DVD still works. A proud owner of every Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode available on DVD, I've been happy to pick up complete series DVD sets like Aqua Teen Hungar Force or Schitt's Creek. As various series shuffle from one streaming platform to another or briefly disappear altogether, I like that I don't have to sign up for every service out there just to ensure the content I like and will revisit frequently is accessible. After all, it's a pain in the ass when shows like South Park jump from Paramount+ to Max and back again between episodes and specials or even when Schitt's Creek jumps from Netflix to Hulu. With Warner Bros throwing their own content on Tubi to score advertising revenue, I'm not one to want to follow a show from service to service and then have to endure oddly placed ads. It's not worth it when I can bare the burden of going to my shelves and grabbing a stylish box set and popping a disc into my player.