Simpsons DVDs and music rights

There are a number of TV Shows that have not been released on DVD because obtaining the DVD rights for the music that was played on the original show would cost too much. (WKRP in Cincinnati being probably the most famous example.) However, the Simpsons uses quite a lot of popular music, and their DVD sets have been released regularly and affordably. Is the reason because:

  1. The other shows were released before home video, so they now need to buy the rights to include the music on their DVDs, while Simpsons is more recent and foresaw the possibility of home video when signing the ASCAP contract in the first place?

  2. Simpsons usage is mainly small bits of song, whereas WKRP uses more substantial clips?

  3. Fox is certain enough about the volume of DVD sales the Simpsons will generate to pay for the music rights, but the sales volume, and therefore profitability in the face of music rights costs, of WKRP DVDs is much more iffy?

  4. Some other reason?

I am almost positive it’s this one. I seem to recall this coming up more than once in the commentaries. They don’t particularly state it the same way you do but I get the impression that they just paid for them.

The Simpson “empire” is VASTLY larger than that of WKRP. They can very well afford the rights.

My vote is #3. Plus, the songs in The Simpsons are usually essential to the story/parody of the episode. No song is ever picked simply because it’s popular (unless it’s popularity is itself being commented on).

The songs on WKRP were usually used, IIRC, simply to add an element of realism for contemporary audiences. The cost of getting those songs probably doesn’t balance in the ledgers compared to the expected revenues of that (and likely, many other) series.

I think it’s also a matter of clout. Exposure on the Simpsons is a dream come true for a source, even if the negotiated per-use fee is relatively small. Not so much for the DVD reissue of an old sitcom like WKRP.

It’s also possible the WKRP people didn’t try that hard. Unlike musical numbers sung by the Simpsons, the sound of Jennifer’s doorbell could be a lot of tunes. Fly Me To The Moon can be replaced with * I Dream of Jeannie* without losing much of the impact.

Except to a loyal WKRP fan, of course.

I think this is the biggest reason. I would think that any production company today would be sure to secure the DVD rights prior to using a song on the show, and if the rights are too much, use a different one.

I was browsing some DVD info on a current show, possibly Scrubs, and it indicated that some song substitutes were made for rights reasons. (I’ll try to post back if I can get my brain to disgorge this info.) So it’s a ongoing problem.

I would assume it’s a combination of these two- home video had been invented by the time The Simpsons premiered, and it is a far more popular show than, say, WKRP.

I have no real idea, but I can also point out that unlike WKRP and Scrubs, The Simpsons rarely, if ever, uses songs that are popular at the time- they usually use songs that were popular in the past, which I assume would have something to do with it. (And some songwriters are artists are probably proud to be on the show- one of the DVD commentaries comments on how they attempted to clear “Highway to Hell” in the regular fashion, but were refused permission. One of AC/DC’s people was told about it, and he was such a fan of the show that he allowed them to use it for a discounted price.)

Just to nitpick…if you are reissuing an old show, ALL of the songs are from the past.

I have no doubt that WKRP would have used the original songs if the price had been right. Therefore, the price was too high for their taste and/or possibly severely-limited budget. To put it another way, some got too greedy and instead of sharing a small piece of the pie, lost out entirely.

I’m voting for #1 (although I’m no expert of music rights). It’s older shows like WKRP and Wiseguy that run into these issues. More recent shows like The Simpsons probably anticipate future video releases at the time of production.