DVD Review: "On the Road With Charles Kuralt"

On the Road With Charles Kuralt
Rediscover the spirit of America with Charles Kuralt's revered series, now on DVD for the first time. (Acorn Media)
By Jen Chaney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 27, 2009; 12:00 AM

For more than 20 years, Charles Kuralt meandered across America in a motor home, stumbling upon little-known places and everyday people and making them the focus of his "On the Road" segments for the CBS Evening News. It was the sort of slice-of-life feature reporting that we rarely see on television anymore. (The only exceptions might be "CBS Sunday Morning," a show Kuralt also anchored for many years, and "This American Life," a less folksy, contemporary sibling of "On the Road.") In today's 24/7, Tweet-while-you-cover-it journalism world, there isn't a whole lot of time for amblin'.

That's why TV news junkies may be particularly pleased to spend a few hours with "On the Road with Charles Kuralt, Set 1" ($39.99), a collection released today that includes 77 of Kuralt's CBS segments, bundled into blocks of 18 episodes from the 1990s courtesy of the Travel Channel and presented here by Silver Spring DVD distributor Acorn Media. True, the picture quality isn't even semi-high-def and the decades-old portraits of toothpick artists, volunteer pothole fillers and competitive stone-skippers don't exactly qualify as breaking news. But a good story is a good story, and Kuralt tells plenty of them, enough to make those who miss these regular "Road" trips feel warm, fuzzy and primed to get behind the wheel of their own roving Winnebago.

That said, there's a part where, as a DVD consumer, I had to pump my brakes. The collection's box touts a trio of what I assumed would be featurettes: "About 'On the Road,'" "'Road' Updates" and a biography of Kuralt. Once I delved into the discs, though, I discovered that these extras merely appear as browsable text. It's somewhat informative to read a quick summary of Kuralt's career or, via the "Updates," to discover that the Twidd -- a specially carved dowel designed for bump-free thumb twiddling (the subject of one of Kuralt's reports) -- is no longer available for sale. But honestly, most of the details could easily be accessed via a quick Google search or a virtual road trip to that magical land called Wikipedia. It's a shame and a missed opportunity that the set doesn't include a more in-depth documentary about Kuralt or newly produced video vignettes about the subjects in his series.

Of course, it costs money to produce that kind of content, just as it costs money to give a reporter permission to keep driving until he stumbles upon an American tale worth telling. As we all know, everybody's short of cash these days. So maybe those who still remember the "On the Road" segments that first introduced them to prize-winning cheerleaders and newly naturalized U.S. citizens will be satisfied simply to reacquaint themselves with these colorful, distinctly American characters, and to remember a time when the nightly news, briefly, shone a light on the regular and extraordinary people who live and roam among us.

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