Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Big Con: "TV on DVD"

I tell you, reissuing TV shows on DVD (or Blu-ray) may have been something the entertainment industry should've never started doing in the first place. There's nothing snobbish about my opinion, as I've a few of these sets in my collection; the problem I have with them --across the board-- is addressed by the photo of this collection of Gomer Pyle - USMC. What catches the eye on this cover, above all else? The word "COMPLETE". Whether a notation like this is on a set's packaging or not, the concept is implied as being there by the companies putting these out due to the DVD format.

Compared to those by-gone days when some of TV's classics got released on VHS tapes in big, bulky sets (mostly with little to no "extras"), the point that these discs were smaller in size, more flexible with holding video and audio than tape (opening it up for all kinds of "special features"), yet still play back with a sharp picture and sound, meant DVD sets could hold more while taking up less space on media shelves. Yes, DVDs trump VHS tapes, but the newer technology doesn't automatically guarantee "COMPLETE"; neither do the DVD makers, as it turns out.

Regardless if you've looked at these box sets in a discount store or online, it probably hasn't been taken long before you notice that the more recent the TV program (broadcast, syndicated or cable), the more complete it will be. (Two examples are NCIS and Friends.) On the other hand, the more you go back in time through the history of television, the more older sets will be less complete. On either end of the spectrum, consumers can be spoiled by the most ambitious of collections (whether they buy them or not); after newer ones, older sets like those for I Love Lucy or Adventures of Superman were lovingly assembled with uncut episodes and an array of extras that make other sets look anemic. (The Lucy sets really raised the bar in this department.) In-between these old and new "deluxe editions", what is there? Where to start?!

Let's begin by establishing this: above all else, what a DVD set of TV shows should contain is complete, uncut episodes, no matter how long it runs/ran; anything more is much overkill! This comes from someone who LOVES "extras", so Brother Fang is amazed he said it as much as the reader may be!

With that established, several sets fall short on this aspect alone for many reasons. Going back to the example of Gomer, once I started reading consumer feedback about all the box sets on Amazon, I was floored by what I read. As the first season set was deemed by purchasers to be COMPLETE, the rest of them weren't. (The other sets of seasons do NOT use "COMPLETE" anywhere in the copy printed on the insert sleeves.) What's missing from these other sets is a selection of songs sung by Jim Nabors, cut due to licensing hassles; how many, I can't recall. On top of this, the same cut shows in dispute run in syndication with the songs intact! (Sure, I can live without his singing, but several fans of Nabors are ticked off by the removal of the songs.) That those at Viacom (by way of CBS Video) would go all out to release complete runs of I Love Lucy, Star Trek and The Andy Griffith Show, then drop the ball on the hit Griffith "spin-off" (ranking as high as number two in the Neilsens in its heyday) is confusing; how bad are those licensing fees that they decided to edit episodes rather than pay off some music publishers? (Thank goodness they didn't sing "Happy Birthday" on all the shows!)

This is the same company who went through the hassle of putting out the first season of Love, American Style (on two sets, the shows presented in their original "hour" lengths), a show many find less essential than the worst Gomer episodes, and it never attained the ratings Gomer did, besides! Then, they dust off "second-tier" programs like The Lucy Show or Petticoat Junction and give them great starts while the long-running My Three Sons has its incidental music score ripped out of what shows have been released so far (replaced with synthesizer music) because of (again) licensing! (The last three noted shows are not completely out on DVD as of this date.) Needless to say, this is but a sampling of many inconsistencies going on at just ONE organization; there are others who contribute to the dilemma.

Space limits a listing of every flawed TV box set, but I can bring up some more examples. For every show that loses some of its music due to licensing (WKRP in Cincinnati has suffered the worst in its initial DVD reissue), there are those sets that contain "syndication prints"; these versions of episodes are all missing minutes of footage [to varying degrees] because of the need to accomodate the extra time for commercials that became the norm on TV since the '70s. All hit shows that have been syndicated over the years got/get trimmed, but for all those programs where complete shows were/are saved in storage for future use in some way (mainly, home video), others got trimmed but their original sources got misplaced or destroyed, leaving only the shorter versions left. While some workers on these collections have gone the extra mile of taking time to complete what shows they can by locating the missing footage from other films (or tapes) and combining them with the syndicated version into a composite edit (yielding a complete episode), some companies disregard trying to please potential consumers and release the chopped-up versions as is; sometimes, they mention this (in fine print) on the cases, or they don't. Oblivious buyers find out the hard way, by putting down their hard-earned money for these sets (like ones for The Real McCoys, ALF or Mama's Family), only to find out they've been had after playing the first disc! (Sometimes "extras" are used to try to make up for these shortcomings.)

If any of the episodes of a given season of whatever TV show in a set cannot be complete in length, the DVD producer should either say so in big letters on the set's case or NOT put out a set at all! It all comes back to what the buyer wants these collections to be the most: "COMPLETE"!

After licensing and source material, other problems would relate to the packaging (cardboard cases and discs in sleeves aren't the best ideas, no matter how they're used in a great design scheme), technical aspects (worst of these, the "flipper" discs that contain stuff on both sides, which are alleged to be less durable than regular DVDs), etc. The mess goes on without any end in sight.

Until all entertainment companies (including smaller reissue labels who license shows from the big guys) treat all TV shows (new or old) equally via the almighty Digital Video Disc, don't expect me to patronize the syndicated reruns of any program on the air now; they are nothing more than "carrots" being proverbially waved in my face to entice me to buy the crap they want me to buy, NOT the stuff Brother Fang actually desires! It's never too late for a company like Viacom to do the right thing; I've got the rest of my life to wait!

Keeping it trivial....

Fang Shih-yu, Shaolin Temple.

2 comments:

  1. I've got quite a lot of old television shows on DVD. I've got all the GOMER PYLE seasons. I used to watch it as a kid, so I can't remember what's cut, or where. It doesn't bother me because of that very reason. Still, I'd rather have them complete.

    However, one show I do remember vividly that has been gutted is CHEERS, my favorite TV show of all time. Seasons 1 thru 8 are complete. But when Fox took over distribution, seasons 9 thru 11 are edited and also have inferior songs replacing what was there originally. In all cases, this musical substitution totally ruins the gags. I can live with it, but would much prefer these could have been left alone.

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  2. Cheers chopped up?

    SHAZAM! :o)

    I thought Cheers would be treated as a "sacred cow", you know? What a big shock!

    Sure, most of us would prefer the comedy on Gomer to Jim Nabors doing songs; happily, it's the comedic content that's not been hacked out of the DVDs! (The finale of "Sunday's Fun Day" with Carter on the chair still BLOWS my mind with laughter!)

    On the other hand, let me add that when Nabors sings "The Impossible Dream" with the Marine band, it's a stirring rendition, and better than the recording he did for Columbia! If one song had to stay on the DVD collections (out of all the shows Nabors sang on), it had to be that one!

    Needless to say, I like a variety of music, including kitsch! As proof of this, I have the Complete Reprise Masters 3-CD set by Tiny Tim!

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