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TV on DVD: Sample 'Howdy Doody,' Mel Brooks

Bob Smith and Howdy Doody from the TV

Bob Smith and Howdy Doody from the TV show "Howdy Doody." Credit: Handout

Sometimes, once really is enough. You'd like to see your childhood Saturday morning shows. You're curious whether a vintage sitcom holds up. You remember some short-lived crime drama. But a season set is more than you need.

Maybe that's why TV DVD compilations seem to be surging. Instead of (or in addition to) season sets and series boxes, these affordable releases can sample throughout a series' run or encompass an entire genre/theme, by cherry-picking specific episodes.

"Howdy, Kids! A Saturday Afternoon Western Roundup" arrives Tuesday from Shout! Factory, holding 24 episodes from 14 different '50s-'60s oaters. From kid stuff ("Annie Oakley") to prime-timers ("The Rifleman"), it's an inexpensive ($25) way to revisit an era.

This three-disc set follows Shout!'s 2008 DVD hit "Hiya Kids! A '50s Saturday Morning Box," with its random episodes of early TV treats like "Howdy Doody," "Winky Dink," "Pinky Lee" and "Ding Dong School." The brain trust behind Shout! previously spent years at Rhino, a boutique distributor known for its music salutes and rereleases. "We have that compiling mentality," says executive Garson Foos, "to celebrate a theme or genre, to evoke memories. The Western theme brings people back to the early TV days when the family gathered around the TV together."

So that's time and place. How about a person? Shout! last year compiled the DVD/CD/book package "The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistable Collection of Unhinged Comedy." The company scrounged archives to sample the range of Brooks' TV work -- series ("Get Smart," "When Things Were Rotten"), specials, interviews, music videos -- plus movies, audio and more. Then, it got Brooks to record fresh memories about it all.

DVD samplers from other studios have tended to grab what's handy in the vault. Back when it was called Columbia, Sony put out 2003's "The Greatest '70s Cop Shows," with one episode each of "Charlie's Angels," "Starsky & Hutch," "Police Woman," "The Rookies" and "S.W.A.T." Producer Stephen Cannell's company packaged his '80s-'90s oeuvre into 2010's "Prime Time Crime," 10 discs from 13 series, both unreleased short-runs ("Missing Persons," "Palace Guard") and top episodes from better-known dramas ("Wiseguy," "21 Jump Street"). The immense 2009 "Norman Lear Collection" box held the first seasons of seven Lear sitcoms ("All in the Family," "The Jeffersons" and others).

Soon comes a character-centric set -- "Superman TV Collection," part of the 90th anniversary Best of Warner Bros. celebration. Due May 7 on 30 discs for less than $100, it includes first seasons ("Smallville," "Lois & Clark," "Adventures of Superman"), archive films (old-time serials, cartoons) and animated adventures. Also from Warner: May 21's "25 Cartoon Collection: Hanna-Barbera" samples '60s shows like "The Flintstones," "Space Ghost," "Magilla Gorilla" and "The Abbott and Costello Cartoon Show."

More typical are Fan Favorites-type releases, mostly a single disc from one series. They let thrifty buyers refresh their memories (and test print quality) for shows from '60s oldies ("Hogan's Heroes," "Bewitched") to '90s hits ("The King of Queens," "Roseanne"). They can help test sales waters for prospective season/series sets, as later arrived for "Maverick" and "Barney Miller."

Foss says samplers also lure casual fans to shows already on DVD, "once we've done season sets and they've run their course." Shout! then offers less pricey releases like its 20 Timeless Episodes sets of "Designing Women" and "Dennis the Menace"; due May 7 is "Leave It to Beaver," along with "Route 66" and "Adam-12." Other money-saving best-ofs have been compiled from various seasons of "The Twilight Zone" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Those series later returned yet again, in Blu-ray.

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