CD vs. DVD (TV) Releases

I get catalogs from a CD (music) seller, and over the months I’m amazed to find that practically everything that was recorded for vinyl records is available now on CD. This is true across a variety of genres, and at least some of the releases are of obscure “niche”, or less-than-wildly-popular, performers and groups. I doubt that manufacturers do market research to pre-determine how much demand there is for, say, Julius LaRosa’s greatest hits, before releasing the CD version-- i.e., it doesn’t seem like they release “catalog” CDs based on potential popularity.

I was a late-comer to DVD, but I expected something similar. I’m surprised, however, to find that DVD releases are not nearly as comprehensive. To pick just one example of a personal favorite: I expected that the superb, unique sitcom “Barney Miller” would be available in a complete boxed set by now. Instead, as far as I can tell only the first season has been released on DVD. And it’s a no-frills, no-extras release at that. (And they can’t do commentary tracks or “making of” extras once the cast dies of, so time is of the essence.)

I’m guessing that the disparity might result from it being more complicated to obtain legal rights, pay royalties, etc. for TV shows. Still, that applies to CD releases, and of course there are a ton of lesser known or inferior film (movie) DVDs out.

So, where’s my “Barney Miller” box set?

I had a friend who worked for one of the major studios, and I remember him saying that rights issues were usually the main problem holding up certain DVD releases. Usually it came down to one critical rights problem – i.e., two corporate entities claiming a share of something, or rights getting complicated during a transfer of ownership. If the sales potential of a DVD is low, there’s little motivation to work out these problems.

Sometimes it’s due to getting clearances for music, because the original agreement didn’t cover anything beyond that initial use of the music. In one case (the John Wayne film McLintock) a video company got around this by replacing the entire sountrack, including the dialogue, because they couldn’t get the rights to the film’s music score. They hired a composer to write a new score and hired actors to lip-sync all the dialogue!

In many cases royalty agreements don’t cover distribution of the program on DVD, because DVD or even consumer video tapes weren’t around when the show was being made.

Plus the music issue, which was a big deal in shows like WKRP.

Barney Miller season 2 is coming (and, one would hope, with more to follow), according to an unnamed but trusted source.

First, CD’s have been around since the early 1980’s, and were in very common use by the late 1980’s. DVD’s didn’t come out until the late 90’s, and weren’t very widespread until after 2000. So it’ll take time to get the entire back catalog of shows out there.

As for extras on Barney Miller… that takes more time and costs more money. The obscure CDs you mention are just remastered versions of the original master tapes (in best case circumstances). They don’t do special bonus features for many of those, why would they for a TV show?

For a big hit show, sure, and Barney Miller was big in its day, but it’s not like it’s in constant reruns like MASH or Cheers, so I’m not surprised there are no behind the scenes features.

But give it time, looks like more seasons are on their way. =)

First of all, I highly recommend that you bookmark TV Shows on DVD and check it frequently. O.K., maybe my usual four times a day is excessive, but it guarantees that I always know exactly what TV shows are available (and had already added Barney Miller Season 2 to my 2008 calendar). You can also search the site’s news by show, which in many cases will enable you to figure out exactly why a show you’re looking for is not available.

One of the guys who runs the site has a blog at TV Guide. Several weeks ago he wrote an entry in which he went through a long list of shows and the various problems that are preventing their release. The blog entry is near the bottom of the page and is titled " “IANALB…”: A Few Non-Bionic Legal Issues Plaguing TV-DVD". Well worth a read if you’re interested in learning more about the issues.

Can I get a cite for this?

I am under the impression that when an artist signs over their copyright it is “in perpetuity, for all time, on all media, throughout the universe”. I am rather certain that publishers (book, musical, or film) all subscribe to similar copyright licences with their artists. Basically, it guarantees the artist their cut, at around 10-20%, and they take everything else. Am I wrong?

Also, my take on why certain things come out at different times is simple economics. If there is a high enough demand they’ll release only one season at a time. Then, after all the seasons have been released, they’ll release a box-collectors set again making more money. If the demand is low, they release it all at once, making whatever money they can, and then forget about it. (The problem with that is it is still under copyright, and will be long after you’re dead. So if you want an obscure tv episode in say 10 years… fat chance to get it legally.)

You can read about the WKRP on DVD music problems here:

Some artists/actors are smart enough to get royalty arrangements, some just walk away with a paycheck and nothing else. Todd Bridges from Different Strokes is one that apparently got no royalties from the DVD release:

I want to know what’s holding up LA Law, dammit!

That show was 100 times better than Boston Legal.

In short, yes, you are wrong. You’re new here, so it’s not surprising you’ve missed a lot of the discussions that have been had. Search for “music rights” and you should find some very illuminating threads.

Yeah, now you can get almost everything on CD but I remember how slowly the back catalog releases trickled out in the early days. (I worked at a record store just as CD began to be available. In about a year, we went from all LPs and two rows to CDs to about half and half. In three years, it was overwhelmingly CDs.) The studios have realized what a huge cash cow they have with older TV shows so they’re working on it but if you’re looking for something fairly obscure, it may take a while.