Beginning as a summer replacement in 1971, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour earned its own regular time slot that same year, running for three straight seasons and then returning in 1976 (as The Sonny & Cher Show), after the couple's divorce. The show's formula, which had already been established both onstage and on the small screen (their '69 pilot episode is among the extra features), includes plenty of music (duets, Cher's solo performances in typically outlandish Bob Mackie gowns, various guest shots); lots of shtick (consisting mostly of Cher's put-downs of the minimally talented but good-natured Sonny); and sketches and skits (ranging from lame to inspired, including a mock-opera based on All in the Family and starring Metropolitan Opera tenor Robert Merrill as a warbling Archie Bunker). Guests range from the obvious (TV stalwarts like Harvey Korman, Ruth Buzzi, and Don Knotts) to the downright weird (then-California governor Ronald Reagan). It's all fairly middlebrow, but Sonny & Cher's unpretentious, unself-conscious charm carries it; and once in a while everything congeals into one surreally entertaining package, like the '72 show featuring the Jackson 5 (led, of course, by Michael, who was then 14 and still apparently normal), who are followed to the stage by Reagan (telling jokes, sort of) and singer-actor Howard Keel, veteran of numerous movie musicals.
Bonus features include 2003 audio commentary by a nostalgic Cher, interviews with the producers, the '69 pilot, bios, discographies, and a show history. The DVD set also comes with a music-only CD, featuring live performances of "The Beat Goes On" and "I Got You Babe." --Sam Graham