I don't understand the argument for making the show 16x9 for the Blu-Ray wouldn't doing that be for the same, stupid, reasons that brought us "full-screen" DVDs?
The show was filmed in 4x3, it was originally broadcast in 4x3 it should be presented in that format. Want it to fill the screen either to wear your TV evenly or because the "fill-in color" on your TV can be distracting? Then stretch the picture. Don't like the distortion? Deal with it.
Making it 16x9 would not work it'd very likely expose elements of production we're not meant to see or it'd just plain ruin the framing of shots which could have an impact on the scenes themselves.
Yeah, I watched the Next Level in 4x3 because on the BD the unused portions were black so I didn't find it any more distracting than when I watch a movie that's not 16x9 on my TV. Yeah, I'm slightly worried about un-even wear but I suspect in the long-run I'll be fine, I tried using "stretch" and such but the one that does it best wasn't available through the Blu-Ray (the setting that stretches the edges more than the center.)
Still, watch it in 4x3 and you'll be fine. I'd much rather have that then the mess that'd likely come from making the show 16x9.
I'd just like to pojnt out, while I agree completely with you and I like the fact its preserving how it was originally, with the sampler set at least you cannot stretch the image with your TV. Because they "hard coded" in the two black bars onto the video as opposed to just presenting the video in 4:3, the TV see's it as a 16:9 image and won't stretch it beyond that.
I've tried it on 3 seperate TVs so far (2 Samsung, 1 LG) and they all had the same issue. Even on my PC, It stretches the black bars too.
I'll have to go back and look at it but I can use the "zoom" option on my TV to get rid of the side bars and the picture doesn't become to bad as a result, though the framing issue still remains. I believe the "stretch" option is still there that gets rid of the black bars but it's not a "smart stretch" and stretches the entire picture evenly. The "Just" option isn't there (that option is the one that stretches the edges more than the center.) Then there's a 4x3 option that shows the picture in the middle along with the gray bars common to my TV on the sides.
But, again, I probably need to go back and look to make sure I am remembering this right, TV is a Panasonic.