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DVD: Playboy Fare, Bruce Campbell, JAG

By RD Heldenfels Published: August 1, 2006

As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been catching up on DVDs, including some packages that would make apt double features.

-- In stores today is ''The Girls Next Door: Season One,'' the E! series starring three of Hugh Hefner's current girlfriends -- Holly, Bridget and Kendra. You can tandem it with the already-released ''Playboy After Dark,'' a DVD sampler of episodes from syndicated shows Hefner hosted in the late '50s and '60s.

I happened to see the Girls Next Door during my recent trip to Hollywood, and I find them much more appealing on TV; their real-life looks seemed artificial and overly elaborate. In the TV series, their personalities are intermittently pleasant, although the show itself is slight. For people who don't care about personalities, the DVD extras include uncensored video and audio of the Girls.

''Girls'' also included appearances by Barbi Benton, Hefner's former flame, who is also at his side in the '60s selections on ''Playboy After Dark.'' And one of the interesting cultural comparisons between the two DVD sets is to see how Hefner's preferences in women haven't really changed; Benton's slightly ditzy persona on ''PAD'' is a close companion to the Girls. (And, in spite of the passage of decades, the ''Girls Next Door'' fit linguistically with the references to ''girls'' on ''PAD.'')

But I was far more fascinated by the '60s ''PAD'' than I expected. I remember watching bits of the show when it first aired, and it seemed boring -- Hefner a sometimes awkward host in formal wear, seemingly more comfortable with jazzy crooners than the rock acts I might wait up to see. (He seems far more at ease in the '50s show, where the counterculture consists of a clean-shaven, necktie-wearing Lenny Bruce.)

The episodes included here can still be dull, even bizarre. (Hef and the crowd play ''Simon Says'' in one segment. Really.) But they're still of interest for the way they reflect the clash of the Playboy Philosophy with a younger generation -- Billy Eckstine singing with Linda Ronstadt, for example, or the ultra-tidy Hef introducing Joe Cocker at his most slovenly.

Then there are the little things: Bill Cosby messing with an upright bass behind Cher (with Sonny on cowbell), or a chatting crowd including Vic Damone, Sonny, a bored Cher, Dick Shawn, Bob Hite of Canned Heat and -- next to Hite -- a little-known Lindsay Wagner. As artifacts go, it's pretty good.

-- I've long been a fan of Bruce ''If Chins Could Kill'' Campbell, for his screen work and his clear-eyed attitude toward his career. Also for his doing a stunt back-flip during a press conference in 1993 to promote ''The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.,'' his single-season Fox series. A ''Complete Series'' package is now on DVD, along with ''Jack of All Trades: The Complete Series,'' the syndicated adventure comedy that starred Campbell.

The ''Brisco'' set is loaded with extras, but I haven't gotten around them because I have a hard time just sitting through the show. Even though I like Campbell, the show tried to do too many things at once -- western, scifi fantasy, comedy -- and ended up not doing any one thing very well. (That said, I should note that others, including my stepdaughter Target Demo, have a great fondness for the show, to the point of her naming a dog after Campbell's character.) ''Lost'' fans, though, may want to take note because of the involvement of producer Carlton Cuse, now on the ABC series; you can even spot him in a small role in the ''Brisco'' premiere.

''Jack of All Trades'' -- with Campbell as an anachronism-laden spy working for Thomas Jefferson on a tiny, French-run island during the Napoleonic era -- did not delight me either when it premiered in 2000; I think the word ''stupid'' appears more than once in my review of its premiere. But in his autobiography Campbell says he will ''defend (the show) to the end.'' And I might have said that it's endearingly stupid. I still grin at lines like ''I would have knocked but my fist had other plans'' and this dialogue:

Jefferson: ''You wouldn't want to be speaking French for the rest of your life, now would you, Jack?''

Jack: ''Oh, all those silent X's. ... My throat hurts just thinking about it, sir.''

-- Then there's ''JAG: The Complete First Season,'' a collection of an odd chapter in the show's history.

Fans of the show will recall that it began on NBC in 1995; the network dropped the show after a single season, but CBS promptly picked it up and it enjoyed a long run on that network. In the DVD extras, Bellisario is more mellow about this season than he was when I interviewed him late in 1996, as the CBS run was about to begin. But it was a challenging year, as this DVD of the NBC episodes shows.

The NBC season had some building blocks in place, including David James Elliott as Harmon Rabb, but in so many other ways it's a work in progress. These are episodes before the arrival of Catherine Bell as Mac, for starters. Andrea Parker was Harm's partner in the feature-length pilot, but NBC insisted she be replaced for the series, so Tracey Needham came aboard. NBC wanted more of an action show than Bellisario had envisioned. Kevin Dunn plays the JAG boss in the pilot, as well.

Then there's ''Skeleton Crew,'' rightly referred to as a ''rarely seen'' episode of the series. It was meant to be the first-season finale, with a cliffhanger involving Harm charged with murder -- and the victim was played by Catherine Bell. According to several ''JAG'' references, NBC decided not to air the episode because it had canceled the series before its scheduled telecast; footage from it was later edited into a CBS episode.' Here you can see the telecast in its original form, as well as some decent DVD extras.

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