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Television fans know Betty White from her iconic, Emmy-winning roles on The Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But a particular favorite program of hers has, for the most part, remained unseen for 50 years. That’s the case no more, as Darren Wadyko Media, White’s Albets Enterprises, and MPI Media Group have teamed up to release on DVD the long lost 1971 series, Betty White’s Pet Set: The Complete Series.
Originally titled The Pet Set during its airing, the half-hour show was created, written, and cast by White. Her husband, legendary Password and College Bowl TV host Allen Ludden, was the program’s executive producer and announcer. The Carnation Company sponsored the broadcasts.
In 2014, Wadyko created and executive produced a two-part TV special titled Betty White’s Smartest Animals in America. After the shows aired, White’s agent asked Wadyko if he could find the long-lost Pet Set series. Joined by video curator and producer Jim Pierson, Wadyko discovered that LA’s Paley Center had copies of the show. Then, by chance, White’s lead assistant located a duplicate set in White’s own archive.
Unfortunately, the 50-year-old videotapes were so brittle that they had to be put in an oven at 125 degrees for several days to physically restore the recordings. The shows were then digitized, with the video sharpened and color corrected. Thousands of glitches and dropouts were worked on. The two sets of tapes were used to rebuild each show from scratch. Following six months of work, the shows were reborn.
39 half-hour Pet Set episodes were broadcast in syndication during 1971 and 1972. All are included in this six-DVD collection, and they are extremely entertaining and educational as well.
The programs consisted of four main segments. The show opened with White speaking with her celebrity guests, such as Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, Doris Day, Burt Reynolds, or Jimmy Stewart, who would take along their pet or pets to the show. A follow-up section of the broadcast had different examples of the particular pet, say Poodles of different ages, sizes, and colors, as examples of Moore’s pups.
An animal expert would join the show to discuss a certain species. Finally, an exotic animal was brought on the telecast in a segment titled The Wild Spot.
Often times, 16mm film footage would accompany the conversations, such as movies of a pair of the Arabian oryx species of antelope at the LA Zoo; a bloodhound being trained by the Sierra Madre, California Search and Rescue Team; and a California condor, soaring in the sky.
White made for a very charming host, proving she was extremely interested in the subject of animals. Moreover, the celebrity guests were all relaxed and calm on camera with her. The segments were well paced, with the conversations light and breezy. Yet, you still feel like you’re learning something new through White’s enthusiasm over the different animals.
Ralph Helfer and The Wild Spot Segments
Animal trainer/behaviorist Ralph Helfer was a weekly contributor to The Wild Spot portion of The Pet Set. Helfer was a well-known handler of animals used in Hollywood productions, including 1960s TV shows Daktari, Gentle Ben, and Cowboy in Africa. Helfer used “Affection Training” with the exotic animals at his Africa USA ranch in southern California. “Affection Training” is a method using love, understanding, and respect toward the animals instead of force, physical threats, or punishment.
Helfer brought numerous animals to The Pet Set studio tapings, including wolf pups, a wallaby, cougar (the star of the Mercury Cougar automobile commercials), cheetah, and many others.
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A particularly notable Pet Set segment had Helfer “introduce” teenager Kathy Atcheson, blind since birth, to Zamba the Lion. Atcheson was able to “see” a lion for the first time by touching Zamba’s mane, stomach, ears, and one of his paws. The lion was not tranquilized, by the way.
Additionally, Helfer and Burnett were childhood friends, as they both grew up in the same Hollywood apartment building. In one of many fun Pet Set series moments, Helfer helps Burnett feed a baby elephant by bottle.
Betty White's Pet Set Promo
Three and a half hours of excellent special features make up the sixth disc contents:
Betty White’s Pet Set: Behind The Scenes: Wadyko and White’s agent, Jeff Witjas, discuss how the idea to find the The Pet Set videotapes came about, followed by scenes of the show and current interviews with original Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall and singer/actor and motivational speaker Tom Sullivan. Additionally, footage of White from Betty White’s Smartest Animals in America is briefly highlighted.
Betty White: Queen of Television: A snippet of a 1954 NBC daytime talk/variety series The Betty White Show plays first. That's proceeded by an episode of her first TV sitcom, 1953's Life With Elizabeth, as well as another program starring White, 1958's Date with the Angels.
The Pet Set Promo Spots: 21 minutes of video ads for the upcoming shows with each week’s celebrity guest are included, in order of air date.
Betty White: Game Show Goddess: White wasn't a stranger to American game show audiences during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In fact, she became the first female game show host to win an Emmy for her work with the 1983 program, Just Men!
A black and white kinescope from a March 1975 Password episode (via the AFTRS-Armed Forces Radio and Television Service), finds White taking over the hosting duties while Ludden is one of the celebrity players. Ludden and White are next seen as the mystery challengers in a September 5, 1965, edition of What’s My Line.
A February 14, 1964, broadcast of The Price Is Right, hosted by Bill Cullen, finds White as the only celebrity in a four person panel. Longtime Jeopardy! announcer Johnny Gilbert performs the same duties for this show. On a music-related TV note, it’s interesting that Cullen references The Beatles as he’s introduced to the studio and at home audiences by Gilbert, “Thank you very much for that ovation, reception that rivals The Beatles" Cullen says, You know the little ones with six legs." This program aired five days after The Fab Four made their U.S. TV debut on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The Game Show section ends as White is part of the celebrity panel on a 1955 quiz program titled Make The Connection, emceed by a pre-Wide World of Sports host Jim McKay.
Betty & Allen: The couple appear in two sequences from a 1976 episode of The Peter Marshall Variety Show, which includes White and Ludden duetting on “Just In Time."
Additionally, there’s a photo gallery, Betty & The Pets, as well as her Public Service Spots for The Morris Animal Foundation and the Fauna & Flora International conservation charity.
Picture quality has the early 1970s TV video look to it, however, you’re not expecting a visual showcase from a 50-year-old taped program. The fact that two different sources were joined together to make up complete episodes of the program, and it isn’t noticeable, is quite a feat.
Total running time is approximately 18 hours for the discs. The media format is NTSC All Region, with English subtitles on all the DVD’s except the Special Features one.
Betty White’s Pet Set: The Complete Series can also be streamed through the Apple TV+ , Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, and Fandango Now platforms. However, the Special features are only available in the DVD collection.
In a March 2021 edition of the TV Confidential podcast, Wadyko explained the attractiveness of the Betty White’s Pet Set: The Complete Series DVD collection to host Ed Robertson, “It appeals to everyone. It’s the entertainment trifecta. It’s Betty White, animals, and celebrity guests, and what’s not to love about all three of those things.”
Highly recommended. As White said to end each Pet Set program, "Meeting Adjourned."
Pet Set Segment With Eva Gabor and Klara Benis
© 2021 Marshall Fish