It's the gift that keeps on giving.

And giving.

And giving.

If you're lucky enough to find "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series" DVD set under your Christmas tree this holiday season, be prepared to spend a whole lot of time in front of your television set.

Consider: If you watch just one hour-long episode a week - as the series was originally broadcast from 1964-68 - the box set will last for more than two years, which means that you won't get around to watching the 1966 feature film spinoff "One Spy Too Many" or any of the other features included among the more than 10 hours of bonus material until sometime in 2010.

"The Man From U.N.C.L.E." was, indeed, a very nifty and smart television series for its time, the first big-hit spy series to come to television in the wake of the James Bond films.

But "U.N.C.L.E." went one step further than Bond, helping to defrost the Cold War-era by pairing the suave, dark-haired American spy Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn, now starring in the excellent AMC con-man series "HU$TLE") with his cool, blond-haired Russian counterpart Illya Kuryakin (played by David McCallum, now co-starring in the CBS procedural "NCIS").

They were both agents for the international law-enforcement agency, the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, and together they fought against bad guys from all around the globe, especially the members of the evil empire T.H.R.U.S.H., an acronym never explained in the television series.

"The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series" - which is available only from Time Life online at www.manfromuncledvd. com - is a whopping 41-disc set that features all 105 episodes of the series.

So the big question is: Does anybody really need to own all of this stuff? Or is this all just some kind of evil plan concocted by the microwave-popcorn industry to boost fourth-quarter sales?

"It's the fans," explains Jeffrey Peisch, who heads up the DVD production department at Time Life, which released a successful complete box for the spy spoof "Get Smart" last year. "The real fans want the whole thing. They want it all. And they want all of the cool bonus material, too.

"The Man From U.N.C.L.E." isn't the only TV series that's available this holiday season in gigantic "complete series" box sets, either. There are dozens of new, massive DVD boxes out there on stores shelves, from the vintage black-and-white "I Love Lucy" (34 DVDs) to recent shows like "Gilmore Girls" (42 DVDs) and even the short-lived "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (a mere six DVDs).

"I think a lot of the other big DVD box sets that are coming out this year were inspired by the success of 'Get Smart,"' says Peisch. "When it comes to TV shows on DVD, traditionally most studios have released the season-one set, and then season-two, etc.

"And then at the end, they'll release the whole collection and include extra bonus material. . . . We decided to go the opposite way by releasing the complete series first and appeal to the real, real hardcore fans. And then afterwards release the single seasons, and we'll get the people who aren't the hardcore fans and don't necessarily want to spend $250."

Actually, it's $249.95 - but that's without the shipping and handling charges.

And "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." collectors set comes packaged in a cardboard faux attache case, which means that it won't fit on any standard DVD shelf.

So the other question is: Where are you going to put it? Is this the TV junkies' equivalent of a coffee-table book?

"Yes, in a way it is like buying some big, 500-page, beautiful coffee-table book," says Peisch. "Are you going to sit down from the start and read the whole thing? Probably not. This is a cool thing to display - whether you watch the whole thing or not." *