TV (no-)Shows on DVD
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As you already well know if you’ve stepped into a DVD retailer recently, the “Television” section of such stores has been growing by leaps and bounds. To look at the sprawling rows of full-season sets, you might think that there couldn’t possibly be any TV series that hasn’t yet made it to DVD…but, dude, seriously, if you really think that, you’re a naïve fool. (Sorry, nothing personal.) While it’s one thing for a show to be cancelled after less than a season and then simply vanish into the mists of time – although more and more networks are trying to cut their losses by marketing “complete series” sets of such series – how about a show that lasted, say, 10 years? Anything that popular is surely available, right? Wrong, pally. Bullz-Eye has compiled a list of our top 15 shows that remain unavailable on DVD but ought to be, as well as a few additions that we’d like to see come out…even if we aren’t exactly holding our breath.
Fridays (ABC, 1980–1982)
History had written off “Fridays” as little more than a pale imitation of “Saturday Night Live,” and, well, if you ever saw the show, you know there’s more than a little truth to that. In recent years, however, two alumni of the show have gotten pretty high profile: Michael Richards (“Seinfield”) and Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”). As such, a lot of people who’ve never actually seen the show are beginning to wonder what they missed. Truth be told, though, we’re less concerned about the comedy than we are the musical guests. Maybe it’s because they had less to lose, but “Fridays” was never afraid to book outside the mainstream. Among the artists who performed on the show were Pat Benatar, the Boomtown Rats, the Cars, the Clash, the Jam, King freakin’ CRIMSON, Kiss, the Pretenders, Rockpile (featuring Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds), the Stray Cats, Graham Parker, and the Plasmatics, among others.
DVD Status: Unfortunately, music fans, it doesn’t really appear to be under discussion, but what we do know – thanks to Billy Ingram’s great website, TVParty.com – is that if talks ever do get started, it’s going to hinge on one person’s approval. "Michael Richards was the only person that in his contract had approval (over) anything that was not a rebroadcast," said John Moffit, one of the show’s directors, to TV Party. "There's a clause in there which prevents us from doing a home video without his permission. Unfortunately, in our ignorance at the time, we signed it." Damn Richards and his incredible foresight!
Newhart (CBS, 1982–1990)
When someone says they’re a big fan of the Bob Newhart show, you always have to ask, “Are you talking about the one where he’s a psychologist, or where he owns an inn?” They’re both classics, but it was the latter show that found Bob as seemingly the only sane man in the state of Vermont. The late Mary Frann played Bob’s wife, Joanna, with Tom Poston as George the handyman, Julia Duffy as the prissy Stephanie, and Peter Scolari as the love of her life, local TV producer Michael Harris. You’ll also remember the ever eccentric brothers Larry and Darryl…oh, right, and their other brother, Darryl. The last episode of the show, where Bob wakes up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette (who played his wife on the series where he was a psychologist) and we realize the entire series has just been a bad dream, remains one of the greatest series finales of all time.
DVD Status: Maybe it’s because they wanted to get “The Bob Newhart Show” on the market first, but there hasn’t been so much as a whisper about “Newhart” coming to DVD. A few episodes of the show were released on VHS in the early ‘90s, but you’d be hard pressed to hunt those down outside of eBay nowadays…and, plus, who uses their VCR nowadays? Well, if you want to see “Newhart,” I guess you will! On the up side, whenever it does show up in an official DVD release, it’s likely that Newhart will contribute special features to the sets, since he’s made a point of offering up audio commentary for the other series, along with his co-stars…but if you find a track that appears to be silent, it’s probably just the Darryl and Darryl commentary.
China Beach (ABC, 1988–1991)
Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” begat a renaissance of Vietnam-themed material both in theaters and on TV; CBS gave us “Tour of Duty,” but ABC’s entry, “China Beach,” was probably as close as you’d get to a ‘Nam version of “M*A*S*H.” Mind you, it’s more like the less funny, more dramatic later years of “M*A*S*H,” given the harsh realities of war that “China Beach” was prone to show on a regular basis, but, still, the comparison is a valid one. It’s definitely a character-driven series, with a cast that included Dana Delaney (who won two Emmys for her role), Michael Boatman (“Spin City”), Chloe Webb (“Sid and Nancy”), Marg Helgenberger (“C.S.I.”), Robert Picardo (“Star Trek: Voyager”), and even Ricki Lake, in her last major dramatic role before becoming a talk show host and losing all credibility as an actress. What made it particularly unique was that, in addition to showing the military’s side of things, it also covered the civilians, as well as the lives of some of the soldiers upon the completion of their tour of duty.
DVD Status: A call to the production company run by John Wells, co-creator of the show, resulted in uncertainty about the show’s DVD status, but they had no hesitation about at least trying to answer our question. After being put on hold a few times and then asked if we could be called back in a few minutes, we were called back…and then asked to call Wells’ publicist, who in turn told us they’d call us back, too. After playing a highly unsatisfactory game of phone tag that eventually led to no quote by our deadline (as of this writing, we're still waiting), the best we can do is shrug our shoulders and say we have no idea when to expect it; for the record, though, the licensing of Vietnam-era pop and rock music isn't cheap, so it's mostly just a waiting game to see if anyone's willing to pony up the dough to release the show intact.
Daria (MTV, 1997–2001)
A highbrow spin-off from “Beavis and Butthead”? Strange, but true. Daria was basically the smart chick to the walking stupidity that was Beavis and Butthead, but when their show ended, she moved away and, as luck would have it, walked straight into her own series. Daria was about as cynical a teenager girl as you’d find, so much so that, to this day, people are still convinced that she was voiced by the always-pissed Janeane Garofalo. (In fact, her voice was provided by Tracy Grandstaff…but Garofalo admitted that she was flattered to be considered “cool enough” to voice the character.) If “B & B” was the show for metalheads, then “Daria” was the series cool enough for the Gen-X alt-rockers, particularly given its references to Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction, and the Misfts, as well as the guest voice appearance from the Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl.
DVD Status: In 2004, the show’s executive producer, Glenn Eichler, was quoted on the “Daria” newsgroup – alt.tv.daria – that “there's no distributor and no release date, but what there is, is very strong interest from MTV in putting ‘Daria’ out, and steady activity toward making that a reality.” After two years, however, there’s been no further development. Even more disappointingly, MTV just couldn’t be bothered to help us with our questions about “Daria,” let alone any of their shows that made this list. We left voice mails at both their East and West Coast offices, and we sent E-mails, too, but we received absolutely no response. Thanks, guys. As it happens, the only “Daria” currently on DVD are the full-length movies, “Is It Fall Yet?” and “Is It College Yet?”, each containing two episodes of the series. Hardly a substitute for the five seasons’ worth of the show that are gathering dust in MTV’s vaults.
The State (MTV, 1993–1995)
During its run on MTV, the sketch comedy show known as “The State” scored a lot of critical acclaim…and a fair amount of scorn. Turning their lemons into lemonade, however, the group put together a promo for the show, gladly broadcasting the various awful reviews they’d received. (“State” mythology refers to this as the “Miserable Crap” promo.) After moving from MTV to a short and less than enjoyable stint with CBS, the members of “The State” went their separate ways…but since those ways led to “Reno! 911,” “Stella,” and, uh, “Wet Hot American Summer” (hey, I thought it was funny), it’s hard to complain…well, except for the fact that the show still isn’t out on DVD.
DVD Status: Unlike their former network, you can’t say the members of “The State” aren’t approachable. An E-mail to their official website resulted in a quick reply from member David Wain, who’s now working with other alumni of the show/group on the Comedy Central series, “Stella.” Even better, he had good news. “After 10 frustrating years of bureaucratic stalemate,” writes Wain, “the ‘State’ DVD is finally going through some early steps. We've been replacing unclearable music in Season 1, in anticipation for a release on iTunes, and then, hopefully, maybe, finally, a DVD.” Okay, so it’s not a slam dunk…but, hey, if the episodes make it to iTunes, at least fans can burn them to their own DVDs. It’s a start.
It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (Showtime, 1986–1990)
“It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” was the first series that made anyone say, “Y’know, maybe I’ll subscribe to Showtime.” Like the legendary ‘50s series by George Burns and Gracie Allen, Shandling constantly broke the fourth wall and talked directly to the audience, although he took it to hilariously ridiculous extremes, like when he went away but invited the studio audience to have a party in his house while he was gone. It also had one of the most memorable theme songs of the ‘80s: “This is the theme to Garry’s show / The theme to Garry’s show / Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song / It’s almost halfway finished / How do you like it so far? / How do you like the theme to Garry’s show?”
DVD Status: There really haven’t been any rumblings about this release at all. Maybe that’s because Shandling’s follow-up cable series, HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show,” was such a bomb as a DVD release that the network hasn’t been bothered to release anything other than its first season. There’s talk of releasing a best-of set for that series, so maybe they’ll test the waters and see how that sells; you can bet that, if it chalks up decent figures, someone will consider trying to make a buck off “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.”
Sifl & Olly (MTV, 1998)
As a rule, sock puppets don’t equal instant hilarity…but, man, is “Sifl & Olly” an exception to that rule! For all the MTV-doesn’t-show-videos-anymore bashing that was going on at the time, here was a show that actually made you happy that, at least for a half-hour, they didn’t. Given all the hilarious original songs featured on the show, it’s no surprise that creator Liam Lynch has since gone on to make an album of his own – Fake Songs, with its cult hit single, “United States of Whatever” – but he’s also directed Sarah Silverman’s “Jesus is Magic” and is helming the upcoming Tenacious D movie as well. Still, “Sifl & Olly” is where he made his mark.
DVD Status: In limbo. MTV owns the rights to the show’s first two seasons, but Lynch used to sell later episodes on DVD on his website; he’s not offering them now, however, and based on how it reads on the site, there must be a hell of a story behind the reason why they’re no longer available. (“All of the existing merchandise was lost thanks to the management at CDStreet.com.”) As far as those first two seasons, Gord Lacey at TVShowsOnDVD.com observes that, “now that ‘Beavis and Butthead’ is proving to be a success on DVD, MTV is slowly starting to take a look at their back catalog of shows,” but that’s certainly nothing to hang your hopes on. Still, if Lynch becomes a major Hollywood player thanks to his upcoming movie with the D, they’ll be wringing all they can out of his name…including releasing those “Sifl & Olly” discs.
Max Headroom (ABC, 1987)
Trying to explain Max Headroom to someone who’s never seen the character is a thankless task. He started out as the host of a video show in the UK entitled “The Max Talking Headroom Show,” where the combination of a computerized backdrop, the makeup on actor Matt Frewer, and the tweaking of the resulting image just about convinced people that Max was completely computer generated, though – and I hope I’m not giving anything away here – he was not. He went on to have his own celebrity talk show on Cinemax and spawned a series of Coke commercials, but what needs to emerge on DVD is the 14-episode sci-fi drama that ran on ABC. The vaguely-cyberpunk storylines rather foretold the future of television, since they involved ratings being monitored down to the second, as well as how corporations control what news makes it to TV and what doesn’t, but it was all a bit too heavy for network audiences, and it was gone sooner than later.
DVD Status: Sigh. Jim “Blank James” Gifford, who runs MaxHeadroom.com, offers little optimism. The main problem holding the show back is that, a la “Batman,” “Max's rights and ownership are split between two uncooperative media conglomerates. As nearly as I can tell,” says Gifford, “this problem stems from poorly written licensing agreements between the UK owners and the makers of the US series. Neither owner is inclined to let the property go nor take the lead in doing anything further with it; Max, fittingly but sadly, is trapped in a version of the world he created twenty years ago.” Gifford holds out hope that we may see yet see the show someday, but he admits that “as long as the existing rights are caught in a legal limbo and until a packager or producer comes along with sufficient interest and capital to pry all the rights loose, nothing will happen. D-D-Damn it.”
Family Ties (NBC, 1982–1989)
What would we do, baby, without “Family Ties”? It saved Meredith Baxter Birney from being remembered solely for “Bridget Loves Bernie,” it put Michael J. Fox on the road to becoming a superstar, and, uh, it gave Marc Price and Scott Valentine the opportunity to star in some of the cheesiest films of the ‘80s (“Trick or Treat” and “My Demon Lover” being the best respective examples). It was even Ronald Reagan’s favorite TV show for awhile, but don’t hold that against it. The idea of having two former hippies – Birney and Michael Gross – be the parents of a money-grubbing yuppie (Fox) was brilliant, Justine Bateman was the perfect airhead, and Tina Yothers…um, I got nothin'. But it was still a mighty funny show.
DVD Status: Given what a huge hit this was during the ‘80s, this might be the most surprising series to appear on this list; after all, you’re talking about a show that was – along with “The Cosby Show” – one of the building blocks of NBC’s powerhouse Thursday night lineup. And, yet, its status remains utterly uncertain. It’s another one of those titles that Paramount owns and threatened to release in full-season sets starting in early 2005…and, yet, here we are in mid-2006, and they’ve neither been released nor even put on the schedule.
Ed (NBC, 2000–2004)
Created by Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman, late of “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “Ed” was the story of one Ed Stevens – played by Tom Cavanagh – an attorney from New York who, upon being fired from his firm and having his wife cheat on him, returns to his hometown of Stuckeyville, Ohio, in an attempt to recapture his past. If you’ve never seen it, imagine the quirky comedy/drama of “Gilmore Girls,” except with more of a guy’s point of view, and you’re on the right track. Great show, great cast, great writing…so, in other words, it’s amazing that it lasted four years on one of the big three networks.
DVD Status: It ain’t looking good. Michael Ian Black, a consistently funny staple of just about every VH-1 show that utilizes talking heads (not to mention a former member of another entry on our top 15, “The State”), thoughtfully responded to our E-mail about the status of “Ed” on DVD. “As far as I know,” he writes, “’Ed’ is not coming out on DVD anytime soon, but then again, even if it was coming out, I don't know that anybody would have told me. Nobody tells me anything. Why? Because I'm kind of a dick.” Unfortunately, Black’s presumption about the show being in limbo is apparently correct; there’s been no word about it, not even as a rumor, from TVShowsOnDVD.com.
Beverly Hills 90210 (Fox, 1990 – 2000)
Few zip codes in the world are quite so well known as the five digits that fall within the glorious realm known as Beverly Hills. As much as people liked to mock the fact that half the cast members looked wayyyyyyy too old to be playing high school students, the melodrama provided by Jason Priestley, Shannon Doherty, Luke Perry, Jennie Garth, and all their buddies down at the Peach Pit kept people tuning in for ten seasons. The question of when Donna (Tori Spelling) was finally going to lose her virginity to David (Brian Austin Green) was just one of many, many plot points during the show’s run that was ripe for parody, but let’s face it: “The O.C.” never could’ve happened if it hadn’t been for “90210.”
DVD Status: As it stands at the moment, the only thing available is the show’s pilot episode, released by Artisan. It’s 90 minutes long and, as all good pilots do, it sets the stage for the series that follows…but damn, c’mon, where are the full-season sets? There have been so many false starts with “90210,” stretching back to 2003, when that pilot DVD came out; Artisan was to have also released the infamous “Graduation” episode as well, but it never appeared. Then, in early 2005, after the rights to release the series had passed from Artisan to Paramount, there were rumblings of imminent season sets coming soon. They didn’t. A call to Paramount only provided the information that it’s not scheduled at any point through October 2006, but that’s all their home video department was willing to commit to. That doesn’t rule out a before-Christmas release…but it’s not exactly something you’d want to put any money on.
Batman (ABC, 1966 – 1968)
Holy camp classics, Batman! Dark Knight purists without a sense of humor love to turn up their nose at this mid-‘60s take on the Caped Crusader, and that’s probably because the source material was almost ruined when the original DC Comic tried to emulate the show, but this stuff is over-the-top comedy gold. With Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, Frank Gorshin (and, briefly, John Astin) as the Riddler, and Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt offering two different takes on Catwoman, the villains were easily as much fun as Adam West and Burt Ward were as the heroes. Any kid who didn’t grow up watching this in reruns is probably sorely maladjusted nowadays.
DVD Status: Holy legalities and licensing, Batman! (Look, I can keep this up all day.) The issue here, according to TVShowsOnDVD.com, is that 20th Century Fox owns the footage, but Warner Brothers owns the characters, and there’s a battle royale going on over the material that’s holding up release. What’s probably the most frustrating about this show is that you’ve got original cast members like West and Ward who would love to sit down and talk about the series, but until the two corporate sides quit their pissing match, it’s just not going to happen. Romero, Meredith, and Gorshin are all gone; if they want to get one of the Catwomen to sit down, they’d better hurry. By the way, an email to West’s official website received no response, but Ward took the time to write back and simply say, “Sorry, no coment.” Holy bad spelling, Batman! (See, I told you, I can keep this up all day.)
Ally McBeal (Fox, 1997–2002)
Producer David E. Kelley has had the magic touch for much of his career in television, from “Doogie Howser, MD” to “Picket Fences” to “The Practice,” but he pretty much built an entire career for Calista Flockhart when he cast her as the title character of “Ally McBeal.” Although the series revolved around a law firm, few legal scholars probably use any of the episodes as source material when preparing cases; “Ally McBeal” is first and foremost a romantic comedy. With a stellar ensemble that included Greg Germann (Richard Fish), Peter MacNichol (John Cage), Jane Krakowski (Elaine Vassal), Courtney Thorne-Smith (Georgia Thomas), and Lucy Liu (Ling Woo), plus guest stints from Robert Downey, Jr., James LeGros, and James Marsden, among others, the cast was consistently to die for.
DVD Status: Fans of the show will be the first to observe that, yes, there is a DVD release of the series…and it’s a piss-poor one. All that’s emerged for “Ally” in the States is a two-disc collection of six episodes, all from the first season; the reason for the caveat “in the States,” however, is that – brace yourself – all five seasons of the show have been released in the UK. What the…? Why there and not here? The short answer, reportedly, is an issue over music licensing. “I've heard that it's easier to license music for the UK,” says Gord Lacey of TVShowsOnDVD.com, “though I don't know where I heard that. It's likely true, though, as the UK gets some intact sets that contained replaced music here, like ‘Quantum Leap.’” Time to get that multi-region DVD player, kids.
WKRP in Cincinnati (CBS, 1978 – 1982)
Baby, if you’ve ever wondered what the funniest radio-station-set sitcom was prior to the existence of “NewsRadio,” then here’s your answer. There were so many classic characters to be had on this show that naming them all would take up this entire piece, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a shout-out to program director Andy Travis, DJ’s Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap, ad man extraordinaire Herb Tarlek, and, of course, the five-time winner of the Buckeye News Hawk award, Les Nessman. Oh, and then there’s Bailey Quarters, who was hotter than Jennifer Marlowe without even trying to be. And let’s not forget Arthur “The Big Guy” Carlson, who offered the most famous Thanksgiving apology of all time: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” Hey, what do you know? I think we just named them all. God, we miss this show. You can’t even find it in syndication anymore. Oh, the humanity!
DVD Status: Don’t hold your breath. If you’re a big fan of the show, you might remember when a few episodes trickled onto VHS, but they’ve never made it to DVD. As you’d expect from a show that centered around a rock & roll radio station, there’s a ton of music licensing that needs to be done, and no one’s willing to pay the price. It’s not like the original music couldn’t be replaced…although it would, admittedly, be difficult for the episode that revolved around Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” But in a 2005 article for Wired Magazine, David Lambert, news director for TVShowsonDVD.com, said the problem is that the fans “don't want the songs replaced. They don't want anything censored for political correctness. They want to see it in the way they originally saw it broadcast, enjoyed it and fell in love with it.” Yeah, unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely to happen…but it’s not impossible. The piece in Wired had a quote from Fox spokeswoman Shari Rosenblum, saying, “It's not totally dead in the water.” After conceding the issue with the licensing, she still added, “It's being looked at and it's on the radar." But since that was a year ago, it’s clearly barely more than a blip.
The Wonder Years (ABC, 1988 – 1993)
Be honest: has there ever been any TV relationship you wanted to see work out as much as the one between Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper? That’s what I thought. “The Wonder Years” was purportedly inspired by “A Christmas Story,” and since the two share a premise by offering the adventures of a young boy with narration provided by the boy as an adult (done for the show by Daniel Stern), it’s easy enough to believe. The growing pains of Kevin, as played to perfection by Fred Savage, were the stuff you talked about at school the next day; teenage boys crushed hard on Winnie (Danica McKellar) and teenage girls rooted for Kevin and Winnie to finally get together and then stay that way forever and ever, amen. How depressing it must’ve been for them when the final episode revealed that they didn’t.
DVD Status: In 1999, there were two best-of DVDs released, one containing two Christmas-themed episodes, the other entitled “The Best of ‘The Wonder Years,'" even though it only contained three episodes. They’re both out of print now, but the fact that they sell for about $75 a pop online is certainly a sign as to how badly fans want to see this show on DVD, preferably in full-season sets. So what’s the holdup? As ever, it’s the music licensing, which is a significant hurdle. If only Shout! Factory could get the rights to release it; they ain’t a’scared of no music licensing issues.
What show, like, totally would’ve been on the list if we hadn’t forgotten about it until after we’d already finished writing the piece:
“Square Pegs.” But, for the record, there’s been no word on it, anyway…which, given how popular Sarah Jessica Parker is, seems a bit strange. Bet on it being yet another music licensing issue.
Runners-up who would’ve made the list if they weren’t already reportedly on their way:
“St. Elsewhere,” “Melrose Place,” “One Day at a Time,” “Get Smart,” and “Police Squad.”
Single-season wonders that deserve to be on DVD, even if they probably never will be:
“Fastlane,” “Quark,” “Holmes and Yoyo,” “Manimal,” “Flying Blind,” “Love Monkey,” “Cupid,” “Robbery Homicide Division,” and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.” Oh, who are we kidding? There are about a thousand shows we could include here…and we’re not the only ones who love to champion series that were gone before they really had a chance to breathe. Check out Bravo’s “Brilliant but Cancelled” website for others.
Kids shows that still haven’t emerged on DVD but should:
“The Banana Splits” (tra-la-la, tra-la-la-la, etcetera), “Uncle Croc’s Block” (starring Charles Nelson Reilly and Jonathan “Dr. Smith” Harris), “Curiosity Shop” (a live action show created by famed animator Chuck Jones), “Groovie Goolies,” “C.B. Bears” (I can’t be the only person who remembers this), “Fangface,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” and “Captain Kangaroo.” Seriously, where’s the Captain, man?
Show that never needs to be on DVD, despite the constant clamor for its release:
"Mama's Family." Actually, this title has now been announced as coming out on September 26, 2006. But if you’d like to request that the powers that be change their mind, contact Warner Home Video immediately. That’s one evil genie that doesn’t need to be let out of its bottle.
A FINAL NOTE:
While we in no way condone the concept of bootlegging TV shows as a runaround to avoid waiting for the legal and – let’s face it – far better looking official versions from the studio, it must be said that there are companies out there who specialize in that sort of thing. Sites like TVDVDPlanet.com, TVSeries.tv, or TVOnDisc.com sell full-series sets of several of the shows on our list, including a few that just bubbled under, like “Voyagers” and “Silver Spoons,” as well as single-season wonders like “Automan” and “Brimstone.” These are, however, bare bones sets that include no special features…and, of course, they’re illegal…but they’re out there if you absolutely, positively can’t live another minute without, say, “WKRP in Cincinnati” on DVD. Personally, I’m not there yet…but I won’t lie to you, I’m getting close.