Thursday, March 5, 2009

SFTV series on DVD

It’s encouraging and exciting to see that boxsets of TV shows on DVD are popular and plentiful. It’s a route for all of us to re-live our childhood memories of favorite shows we watched as a kid. TV show boxsets are also great for more recent shows just to get all the episodes and enjoy the high-quality and extra value that DVDs brings.

As a last-minute feature, we added to 33 chapters of our second book, information on the status of their DVD releases. With 58 series titles covered in the book, that’s just 56% coverage which is great. But so many more titles should be released.

Among the titles that deserves to be on DVD includes a complete series for the revived Outer Limits (now only as season 1), Jeremiah season 2, and a whole spate of one-season shows that should get a good audience outside of TV broadcasting: Mann & Machine, Mercy Point, Night Visions, Sleepwalkers, Space Rangers, Welcome to Paradox. Short-lived shows, in a funny way, are good for DVDs because they often don’t require a lot of discs and can be sold in one small box due to the low number of episodes. Quite a few one-seasoners have already been released such as Crusade, Earth 2, Firefly, Harsh Realm, Odyssey 5 and Starhunter.

One title in particular that has gained attention on the Internet is Bryce Zabel and Brent V. Friedman’s NBC production of Dark Skies. It’s a one-season show that has a strong cult following and Zabel has just created a Facebook page, encouraging devoted fans to sign up and show their support. The page is here:

At this writing there were 93 members joined up.

One of the recent releases that also serves as an indicator of how a one-season show can be marketed to today’s audience, was the SF comedy Quark starring Richard Benjamin. It would be fascinating to see the sales figures of a DVD release such as this, to learn if there is an audience out there for such a show from 1977, produced in the era of the Star Wars phenomenon. Saturday morning TV genre fare such as Ark II, Space Academy and Land of the Lost were also finally resurrected for DVDs.

But the costs of releasing DVDs can be extensive. According to Gord Lacey, webmaster of the excellent newszine,, the success of a DVD release is difficult to estimate. “Each set has a different ‘breaking point’ when it comes to profitability, since every show and season have different costs,” explains Lacey. “An example of some costs would be music clearances, and profit participation. Do the stars make money off the DVDs? What about the producers? So it's hard to say ‘20,000 copies of a set and it reaches profitability,’ because it may be 5,000 for one show and 50,000 for another. Studios don't release their sales numbers, and even if they did you couldn't use them to determine whether the set was profitable or not. Frustrating, isn't it?”

In the past year quite a few series from our first volume, which covers the era of 1959-1989, have had DVD releases. They include: The Incredible Hulk, The Invaders, Night Gallery, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. In a future blog, I’ll discuss a complete list of all 1959-1989 SFTV titles that are currently available on DVD.

It has also been announced that the first season of Earth: Final Conflict (1997-2002) will see an official DVD release complete with extras.

In today’s robust online video community, DVD is not just the only outlet where fans can see or purchase “old” SFTV. There’s also commercial Internet services like Hulu, NetFlix, Joost, AOL Video and iTunes (where 33 SFTV series from the 1990-2004 era are available). The diversification of how we consume our entertainment, thanks to iPods, Internet and other technologies, are giving us something truly wonderful. We are enjoying our favorite shows of yesteryear today and in formats of our choice. The only problem is that Hollywood often takes their time in picking and choosing from their libraries the titles they consider as marketable. However, there are also extenuating circumstances where certain series are unable to be released on DVD due to legal entanglements like 1966’s Batman and Max Headroom. In the case of Roswell, they had to rescore the songs before appearing on DVDs due to rights issues.

Recently it occurred to me that movie-of-the-week titles from the 1970s are really buried. It’s not likely that everything will be released. But as long as consumers demand their favorites, it can happen. It took PBS/WNET decades to release on VHS/DVD, after pent-up demand by dedicated fans, their 1980 production of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven starring Bruce Davison and Kevin Conway. So -- it can happen. But you, the viewer, have to be empowered and demand for it.