File this under the category, “good things come to those who wait,” and brother, has it been a long, long wait for this Classic TV gem to be rediscovered and released on DVD. Now, thanks to Shout! Factory, the complete first season of the iconic comedy-drama, Room 222, is being released for the first-time ever in a four-disc DVD boxed set.
The series, which premiered on ABC in 1969, explored life at integrated Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles, as seen through the eyes of Pete Dixon, a black American history instructor whose classes are held in Room 222. It’s amazing to look back and realize that integration was considered fairly “new” in 1969!
(The basic plot was similar to the popular 1967 film, To Sir, With Love, which starred the brilliant Sidney Poitier. In the movie, Poitier portrayed an idealistic teacher-trainee dealing with rambunctious white high school students from the slums of London’s East End.)
Room 222 was a half-hour comedy-drama that aired on ABC from 1969-1974. While seldom seen in syndication today, the show broke new ground that would later be developed by the major sitcom factories of the 1970′s.
Mixing dramatic elements with traditional TV comedy, Room 222 also predated the “dramedy” form by almost two decades! (Note: Director James L. Brooks worked on the series and went on to fame for his efforts in everything from the Mary Tyler Moore Show to the Simpons, as well as countless movies.)
The plots of Room 222 centered around dedicated and student-friendly teacher Dixon (played by Lloyd Haynes) whose mild-mannered style was admired and respected by students. He used American history class as a spring-board to teach real-life lessons in understanding and tolerance.
The series also depended on an ensemble cast of students and other school employees. The optimistic idealism of Pete, his compassionate girlfriend and school guidance counselor Liz McIntyre (played by Denise Nicholas), and student-teacher and later English teacher Alice Johnson (played by Karen Valentine) was balanced by the experienced, slightly jaded principal, Seymour Kaufman (played by Michael Constantine). Among the students were shy Helen Loomis (played by Judy Strangis), Bernie with the wild hair (played by David Jolliffe), militant Jason Allen (played by Heshimu Cumbuka) and genius Richie Lane, (played by Howard Rice.)
These high school employees and a handful of others debated among themselves how to best handle the academic and personal challenges of their students. Each episode also explored serious cultural issues of the day in a realistic way and in a realistic setting, predating later “relevant” comedies known for using comedy to do just that.
During its five seasons on the air, the series dealt with racism, sexism, homophobia, war, dropping out of school, shoplifting, drug use among both teachers and students, illiteracy, cops in school, guns in school, veterans’ issues, teenage pregnancy and death. In one controversial episode, a young male student contracts venereal disease and an elderly female teacher loses her job because she gave him advice to deal with the problem.
The series garnered a number of community and educational awards for its positive portrayal of important social issues seldom discussed on TV at the time, and won an Emmy for Outstanding New Series in 1969.
The episodes from the first season included a laugh track. However, by the second season the laugh track was gone, emphasizing that the show was now primarily a drama, rather than a comedy.
The series was broadcast on Friday evenings at 9 p.m., following both The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, but preceding Love, American Style. Room 222′s initial episodes garnered weak ratings and ABC was poised to cancel the program after its first season. But because of the awards the show earned, ABC relented and renewed the series.
The effervescent Valentine became a fan-favorite and a break-out star worldwide. She was frequently depicted in all of the teen magazines of the day.
Include in this four-disc boxed set are all 26 First Season episodes: Richie’s Story; Naked Came We into the World; Funny Boy; The Coat; The Flu; First We’ll Eat – Then We’ll Strike; Teacher’s Dropping Out; Out Teacher is Obsolete; Triple Date; Fathers and Sons; Alice in Blunderland; Clothes Make the Boy; Seventeen Going on Twenty-Eight; The Exchange Teacher; El Genio; Arizona State Loves You; Operation Sandpile; Play it Loose; Goodbye, Mr. Hip; One Upon a Time there was Air You Couldn’t See; The Whole World Can Hear You; Ralph; I Love You Charlie, I Love You Abbie; The New Boy; Funny Money; and Just Between Friends.
The series’ unforgettable theme song was composed by famed film composer Jerry Goldsmith, and written in a 7/4 time signature, which was unusual for the genre…
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With so many TV series being abandoned by the larger studios, I caution reviews with the words they use to discourage shoppers from purchasing this wonderful series. I believe you can provide accurate information concerning the quality of this release without bashing it and scaring shoppers away. Room 222 in a charming, well written show that needs to see all of its seasons released. If sales are not good we may certainly not see any further seasons released. I am very happy to have this in my DVD collection. Of course I wish the video/audio were perfect, but it’s completely watchable for a show from 1969. Please support this release and enjoy a great show from the past.
Despite the poor-to-fair, and inconsistently so, picture quality, I am so GLAD that this 1st season of Room 222 was released! Let’s hope all the seasons are issued.
Also, it is apparent that the studio did the best job they could–for example, the episodes are about 26 minutes long, not shortened syndication versions.
We wanted very badly for this set to be released; let’s not complain. It’s not like Shout Factory regularly makes junk, it’s normally pristine stuff; they obviously did the best they could with this, and it IS appreciated.
Let’s see season #2 of Room 222 very soon!