Diane Werts writes about television for Newsday. Werts previously was the founding editor of Newsday's trend-spotting magazine TV
Way to make a DVD debut -- here's "China Beach," ABC's entire 1988-91 drama series of a Vietnam War nurse and her battlefield community, all four season sets, plus more than 10 hours of extras, packaged with info-filled booklets in an impressively durable box.
As soulful central caregiver Colleen McMurphy, Dana Delany hit a stardom she retains 25 years later in ABC's "Body of Proof." Marg Helgenberger's earthy wartime "entrepreneur" presaged her "CSI" impact. Producer John Wells and director Rod Holcomb went on to mold "ER." Talk show host-to-be Ricki Lake, war doctor/hologram doctor Robert Picardo ("Star Trek: Voyager") -- we see so many other now-familiar faces and notable names.
It's no wonder. These DVDs reveal an enduring series, one that delivers sensitive human drama, first and foremost, allowing those stories to illustrate the cultural, political, life-changing landscape that was the Vietnam War. Still controversial when this show debuted 15 years after American troops' departure, still controversial 40 years later, that war and its crosscurrents have resonated down through the decades to make "China Beach" an indispensable touchstone.
One reason: The show came from a soldier who'd lived it, Marine veteran William Broyles Jr., whose book "Brothers in Arms" retraced lives from a platoon he'd led in Vietnam 15 years earlier.
EXTRAS Broyles, a former Newsweek editor, heads a 45-minute roundtable on the show's creation (with Holcomb, co-creator John Sacret Young and casting director John Levey), just one of the insightful nuggets emanating from last Dec.'s 25th anniversary reunion. Also crucial, on two bonus discs and the episode DVDs, are cast-crew commentaries and interviews/featurettes in which series principals emotionally reflect on how the show changed their lives and how its legacy lives on. There's also a half-hour on the real-life facility at China Beach.
Broyles finds the DVD timing opportune, with American troop involvement ongoing in Afghanistan. "It's almost the way 'M*A*S*H' came out during the] Vietnam [war]," Broyles says here. " 'China Beach' "illuminates where we are." (And yes, the soundtrack's 300-plus pop songs by the original artists are here!)
LIST PRICE $200 for 62 episodes on 21 DVDs, only at timelife.com.