MPI has released the fifth and final season of The Doris Day Show, the CBS sitcom ratings winner that starred the incomparable Day. Loaded with plenty of extras - the most standout being two audio commentaries featuring Day -- The Doris Day Show: Season 5 should, no doubt, please Day fanatics, while providing a mildly diverting look at transitional sitcom comedy from 1972-1973, for the uninitiated.
Now I gave a somewhat grumpy review of The Doris Day Show: Season 4, where I went into the complicated background on the series' inception and its multiple reworkings during its sometimes bizarre, chaotic production (please click here to read that review). So I won't go into a lengthy rehash of the series' production, nor of that season. But the gist of my complaint was that The Doris Day Show, while certainly breezy and moderately entertaining, wasn't worthy of Day's talents, nor was it a particularly memorable representation of the sitcom genre. Pleasant, yes. Especially noteworthy, no.
Watching Season Five, it was nice to see that producer, Edward Feldman (Hogan's Heroes), and executive producer Doris Day, didn't rework the show's premise yet again. The framework of Season Five is the same as the previous year's: Doris Martin (Doris Day) still writes for Today's World magazine; she still lives in San Francisco as a liberated, single career woman (still no word on what happened to her kids from Seasons 1-3); her boss is still Cy Bennett (John Dehner); her best friend is still Jackie Parker (Jackie Joseph); and she's still "dating" Dr. Peter Lawrence (Peter Lawford).
What does differ this season from the previous fourth, is the almost total elimination of Lucy-like slapstick (that fell flat for Day) in favor of notching up the romance in Doris Martin's life. The concept of "marriage" is thrown around quite frequently (I believe she's asked at least three times this season, by three different suitors), with the series trying mightily to bring Doris and her image up to date with 1972 TV standards. Perhaps seeing the impact that series like All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (both on the same network), and NBC's Sanford and Son were having in the ratings, the producers may have felt that Doris now had to be "with it," and "hip" to the times. There's a determined effort to have Doris and company lay out more "counterculture" slang (which of course now sounds ridiculously dated), such as: "Right on," "I'll split," "bread," "dig him," "cool," "groovy," "Hey, man," and so on, with decidedly mixed results (it just never sounds right, hearing Doris Day say, "I'll split.").
More importantly, Doris' character not only talks the talk, but really walks the liberated 70s' walk here. No bones are made about the fact that Doris is quite comfortable sleeping with Dr. Lawrence - as well as with other men, if it suits her. The series tries to cage the more obvious examples of this behavior (once or twice, someone will ask Doris if "anything happened," to which she of course says no), but most scenes make it quite clear that Doris is enjoying a healthy, guilt-free sex life, with multiple partners. The opening episode, No More Advice, Please, shows Doris and Lawford's Dr. Lawrence comfortable with their romantic arrangement (which obviously includes "staying over"), while both shun the notion of marriage. One perhaps suspected, watching Mary Richards over on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, that although she would never get married just for the sake of getting married, she most certainly would if the right guy came along. Not so with Doris. She's single, and she likes it that way. But that doesn't mean she can't sleep with men when she feels like it (she even gets to dump a young guy - a rock star - who naturally falls in love with her and proposes marriage. How groovy is that?). Another successful suitor, Jonathan Rusk (Patrick O'Neal) shows up a few times this season, but there's no point made to the audience that Doris has broken it off with Dr. Lawrence to date Rusk. And despite Doris' acceptance of Jonathan's engagement ring towards the end of the season, their commitment to marriage is entirely dependent on whether or not they can fit it in between their two careers - and that's left up in the air. Literally (the show was cancelled before Doris really had to commit).
Other signs point to the show trying to be more in tune with the times (in one episode, we get a peek at Doris' "out" gay couple neighbors, Lester and Lance), including Doris' increasing independence from her boss Cy (she even gets to run, temporarily, Today's World in one episode), as well as her unwillingness to be treated as anything other than an equal to the men in her life. When The Doris Day Show sticks to those modernizing themes (with the majority of those episodes written by old pro Laurence Marks), it's not half bad. Again, you won't find here the convention-shattering experiments going on over at the Bunker house, nor the tightly-scripted hilarity over at WJM-TV, but on occasion, a genial, if featherweight, sitcom.
Not all of the scripting can be so easily forgiven (beware the Arthur Julian ones), but the competent cast helps smooth over the rough spots. Day, of course, is always a delight. She's particularly loose this season (perhaps because she knew this was her last year of having to do the series), putting out a determined, yet impish spunkiness - as well as some nicely modulated mid-life heat with her various romances - that serves her well here. Joseph, Lawford and O'Neil are fine, too, but the real standout this season is John Dehner as the ridiculously pompous, rigid Cy Bennett. Dehner, stentorious in that commanding voice of his, is almost cartoonish (and wonderfully so) in his blustering annoyance with Doris' frequent infractions. Watching him carefully, he's really a marvel at reaction shots, always finding a bit of business to do that perfectly accentuates his character.
In Day's autobiography, she made it clear that she didn't want to do TV, but once she realized she had to (read my previous review for the backstory on that), she committed 100%. The Doris Day Show started off slowly its first year (30th in the year-end Nielsen's), but it surged its second go-around, landing at number 10 for the 1969-1970 season. But too many format changes leveled off viewers, eventually driving them away from the series. The next two seasons The Doris Day Show would hit 20th and 23rd in the year-ends, while this final season, buffeted by strong competition over on ABC (Monday Night Football) and NBC (Monday Night Movie), it failed to crack the Top Thirty. Since most sitcoms start to bottom out their fifth year, it's not surprising that audiences didn't find it novel anymore to see the number one female movie star of the 1960s in their living rooms every week. And without strong scripts, the show understandably faded away.
Here are the twenty-four, one-half hour, color episodes of The Doris Day Show: Season 5:
No More Advice, Please
When Doris spends time with a novelist she is interviewing, her boyfriend Peter becomes jealous.
The Great Talent Raid
After allowing a competitor to lure her to his firm, Doris yearns for her old pals of Today's World.
Just a Miss Understanding
In order to solve a pressing economic problem, Doris gets a job as an all-night radio personality.
The Press Secretary
Doris takes a leave of absence from her job to serve as press secretary to a congressional candidate.
Cy's chance to win the Man of the Year award is jeopardized when he is arrested b y the police in error.
Forgive and Forget
An infuriated Doris becomes convinced that her boyfriend Peter has been romancing a beautiful actress.
Debt of Honor
When a couple defaults on their loan, co-signer Doris has to raise money or loose her possessions.
Jimmy the Gent
Doris masquerades as an accident victim and a nurse in order to interview a notorious safecracker.
The Music Man
Word spreads that Doris has a new flame after she spends so much time interviewing a young rock star.
Doris becomes the prey of an European general when she tries to investigate a report that he plans to defect.
Doris and her neighbors are horrified when their fellow tenant, the ill-tempered Mr. Jarvis, becomes their landlord.
Peter makes one of Doris' fondest dreams come true by buying her a quaint 1928 automobile as a present.
The New Boss
Colonel Fairburn shakes up the staff at Today's World and assigns Doris to replace Cy Bennett as editor.
Follow That Dog
A stranger offers to pay Doris a large sum of money is she will take care of his small dog for two weeks.
On assignment, Doris pretends to be an aspiring actress in order to expose a Hollywood agent as a fraud.
The Last Huzzah
Doris decides to save an elderly but feisty co-worker from being forced into retirement by her boss Cy.
Doris offers to help Peter by producing and appearing in a fashion show to raise funds for his hospital.
It's a Dog's Life
After Doris rescues a couple of stray dogs, she has to deal with her landlord, Mr. Jarvis, who forbids pets.
Cy tries to kindle a romance between Doris and an author in order to secure magazine rights to his new book.
A Small Cure for Big Alimony
Cy is ecstatic that his ex-wife may be on the verge of remarrying, thereby relieving him of paying alimony.
The Magnificent Fraud
Doris risks arrest for grand larceny in order to save her Uncle August, a loveable art forger, from taking the rap.
Mean For Each Other
Television correspondent Jonathan Rusk makes a surprise visit to San Francisco and proposes marriage to Doris.
Welcome to Big Sur, Sir
Doris and Jonathan plan a weekend at Big Sur, only to see their plans shattered by Jackie and her boyfriend.
Byline, Alias Doris
Pleading that he'll be fired otherwise, Doris' co-worker Scotty persuades her to write his magazine articles.
No improvement has been made from Season Four to Season Five's full-screen, 1:33 video transfers. The Doris Day Show: Season 5 looks very rough, with faded, washed out colors, lots of dirt and scratches, and a soft picture transfer that's made even worse during Doris' fuzzy close-ups. There's a moment in the audio commentary featuring Day, where she's upset about the bad color values of her dog and slacks, blaming the lighting of the original cinematographer. Clearly, the fault isn't in the original work, but in these faded, incorrectly hued transfers. However, the commentator host (who also produced this DVD set) doesn't tell Day the real reason the colors are off. There's been no restoration of the picture elements that I can discern, so it's a fairly harsh viewing experience (just compare some of the outtakes in the special bonus feature, which were obviously stored differently - they look much improved over the regular episodes).
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 mono soundtrack approximates the original broadcast presentation. As with Season Four, I have reason to believe these episodes of The Doris Day Show: Season 5 have been time compressed for the DVDs. Each episode times out on my DVD player at a little over 23 minutes - a full three minutes less than the standard 26 minute time limit for most half-hour programs from that period. As well, the music cues (the easiest way to tell) seem herky-jerky in their tempo, suggesting tampering during the DVD transfer (particularly during the final credits, that whip by way too fast for most network TV shows).
There are quite a few extras included in The Doris Day Show: Season 5 set (as is typical for most high-profile MPI releases). Certainly the most notable here are the two commentary tracks for Hospital Benefit and It's a Dog Life, featuring Doris Day herself. Recorded in 2006, and hosted by DVD producer Jim Pierson, I can't say these commentaries were the most informative. Certainly, Pierson tries mightily to get Day to comment on various aspects of the series, but often times, she remains resolutely not interested in elaborating beyond a few words (When Pierson asks her what it was like working as the series' executive producer this season, she replies, "Same as it was before," with a laugh - and that's it). Day only really perks up during the second episode, where two of her own dogs are featured in the show. Fans looking for a lot of tidbits on the show, or insight into Day's own thinking, will have to look elsewhere than these extremely thin commentaries. Three new Humane Society P.S.A.s featuring Day's voiceover are included. Outtake footage from the Hospital Benefit episode is included. There's a vintage Easter Seals Theater P.S.A. that Doris must have filmed in the late 40s or early 50s. As well, there's a trailer for one of her best films, Teacher's Pet, co-staring The King, Clark Gable. There's a French-dubbed version of the Follow That Dog episode included here (why, I don't know), as well as a preview for MPI's release of Doris Day Now, her 1975 TV special (please click here to read my review of that release).
Dropping the slapstick and upping the romance, The Doris Day Show: Season 5 is a marked improvement over Season Four. Still, it's a slight sitcom, not especially worthy of Day's enormous talent. Genial, take-it-or-leave-it, with some good support in the cast (actor John Dehner is a standout), The Doris Day Show: Season 5 will be required viewing for Day fans, but the uninitiated better rent it first.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.