The Phil Silvers Show was groundbreaking for several reasons, but to look at the list of those who appeared on the show during its four season run is to look at a “Who’s Who” of television ancestry and history. Allen Melvin played Sam the Butcher on The Brady Bunch, Harvey Lembeck previously appeared in Stalag 17 and his son Michael became an accomplished television director. Joe Ross played one half of the cop team in Car 54, Where Are You? next to a guest star of the show, a guy named Fred Gwynne, who also appeared in a show called The Munsters. Billy Sands went on to appear in McHale’s Navy with a friend (and other Silvers show guest star named George Kennedy). Dick Van Dyke even showed up once in a blue moon.
Sometimes with projects like that, the stars in space seem to last longer than the television planet they orbit. But with The Phil Silvers Show and its star of the same name, there was an irreverent comic talent that not only was hilarious in his own right but helped to complement other members of the cast and giving them their chances to shine. Based around the fictional Ernie Bilko and the soldiers stationed on Fort Baxter, Bilko was sharp and a bit of a schemer, and his schemes involving other soldiers were the perfect vehicle to help Silvers offload some prime comedic moments to other actors. With Silvers and his co-creator Nat Hiken, the two managed to put together a show based on their sensibilities and wrote it the way they wanted to.
Paramount has put together a respectable compilation of episodes from the show’s first season, where it fell into a group of other similarly released shows of the era as “appointment level” television. The fact that it was so successful caused the first “excellent” decision by a broadcast network; it was cancelled because of its popularity, so that any future repeats could gain top dollar. Why not run the show into the ground comedically and financially like networks do nowadays? Oh well, go figure. Anyway, onward and upward.
In 1955, there wasn’t a helluva lot of audio breakthroughs going on in the world, so all that’s available is a mono track that is perfectly capable of bringing you the action and humor.
Well, it was the dawn of television, so all that’s going to appear is the original black and white footage of the show. But it looks quite good, as blacks are reproduced accurately and the picture is as clear and as good as it will look.
For such a memorable show, Paramount has included just about any and everything possible for the Bilko fan to enjoy this. There are commentaries with the surviving members of the cast, including Kennedy, Storch, Freeman and even Van Dyke discuss their memories about appearing on the show. But there are a solid, substantial amount of extras spread over each disc that put a lot of other TV seasons to shame. On Disc 1, there’s an old audition tape full of prospective cast members, along with some footage of the show and its cast at various awards shows through the decades. The folks involved in the movie remake in the mid ’90s (specifically Steve Martin and Phil Hartman) talk about their work in it along with providing some introductions to the episodes when they aired on Nick at Nite. Disc 2 features some old commercials that the cast shot for such wholesome mid ’50s products like cigarettes. Disc 3 has some more footage of the star outside of the show, and Silvers’ final TV interview is included as well. All in all, these are a great addition to the set.
The Phil Silvers/Sgt. Bilko Show remains funny to this day and helps illustrate why the sitcom still lives on, as everyone here is great, the extras are great, and the show looks perfect. Anyone who has ever watched and enjoyed a situation comedy, ever, should take some time to see a few episodes and you might even wind up buying it. Some may want to forget about it since Lucy and Uncle Milty, but The Phil Silvers Show is the beginning of a lot of comedic moments and talents, and its appearance on DVD is a welcome one.