TV series can live long and prosper on DVD
By Mike Snider, USA TODAY
Despite being a self-described DVD junkie, Michael J. Fox had not noticed how the video stores he frequented had become inundated with hardcover-book-size DVD collections of TV series.
So the actor was surprised when DreamWorks called seeking his help in creating one for Spin City, in which he starred from 1996 to 2000. “I was napping when this whole TV-shows-to-DVD thing got started,” he says.
Fox, 42, who won an Emmy for his role as deputy mayor Michael Flaherty, picked 22 favorite Spin City episodes from his four years on the show. Then the studio taped his comments about each one as an extra for the DVD release. “We had so much stuff going on in the show,” Fox says. “It was fun trying to recall it.”
The two volumes √≥ each has two discs and sells for $22.95 √≥ arrive in stores Aug. 26, adding to the latest rage in home video, TV DVDs. Spin City fits perfectly into the trend, he says. “It was obviously popular enough to be on for six years, but it was never a breakout hit. So the upside is that it leaves it open for discovery.”
Television studios have discovered that series need not live on only in syndication these days. A wave of shows reborn on DVDs began in May 2000 with the arrival of complete first-season sets of Sex and the City ($40) and The X-Files ($150).
Since then, the flow of series to DVD has turned into a flood. The 222 released so far this year are closing in on the 264 released all last year. Sales of TV DVDs are outpacing all other categories, too, says Video Store magazine, accounting for 10% of all sales last year (about $870 million), up from about 6% ($300 million) in 2001.
In addition to improved video quality, “TV DVDs are just so highly collectible and their success reflects the American passion for television,” says the magazine’s director of research, Judith McCourt. She predicts that TV DVD sales will easily surpass $1 billion this year. “You can own your absolute favorite TV series or one you may have missed or one you want to have your children watch.”
TV DVD choices include:
√Ø Classics such as All in the Family, I Love Lucy and M*A*S*H (the Season Four three-disc set, out this week, $40).
√Ø More recent faves Friends: Season 4 ($45, this week) and ER: The Complete First Season (Aug. 26, $60).
√Ø Fringe series such as Transformers, Son of the Beach and The Man Show (just out, $30).
In fact, it seems as if no show is too small for DVD. “Time will tell if it is a short-lived novelty,” says Scott Hettrick, editor of Video Business and home entertainment editor for Variety. “But for now, just about everything is selling at some level. Until the surge in interest subsides, studios are rapidly putting anything and everything they have on DVD.”
After its early successes, HBO tested the depths of DVD devotion last year with Mr. Show: The Complete First and Second Seasons ($35), a two-disc collection of the late-night comedy show (1995-1998) starring little-known comedy writers David Cross and Bob Odenkirk. The sales “told us there might not be a mass audience out there but there is definitely a core audience,” says HBO’s Cynthia Rhea. A third season set ($35) is out Aug. 26.
Other studios are branching out, too. Last year The Osbournes ($30) and Felicity ($60) sold well enough to make Disney’s Buena Vista “feel a lot more comfortable about what we can bring out on DVD,” the studio’s Gordon Ho says. Due Tuesday are Alias Season 1 ($70) and Felicity: Season Two ($60), and classic soap operas General Hospital and All My Children are being prepared for release next year.
Studios won’t release sales figures on individual DVDs, but Video Store magazine market research estimates that The Simpsons √≥ Season 1, the best-selling TV series on DVD so far, has sold nearly 2 million copies √≥ still way short of best-selling movie DVDs such as Spider-Man (12.7 million) and Shrek (10 million).
But TV DVDs are holding their own. “If you look at our top 25 on any given day you will see Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Simpsons and Stargate,” says Stefan Pepe, group manager for DVD/Video at Amazon.com. “Customer demand for these titles is just like that for large theatrical ones.”
TV DVDs can play various roles in studio strategies. Universal will cross-promote the six-disc Battlestar Galactica: Complete Epic Series set (out Oct. 21, $120) and the SciFi Channel’s new Battlestar Galactica miniseries Dec. 7. Buena Vista is quickly releasing Alias Season 2 Dec. 2 to get fans caught up with the series during its third season.
And Universal has started to release individual DVDs with pilot episodes for series such as Monk, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Eventually, full sets will be released, but “there might be people who want to try a show rather than buy the whole thing,” the studio’s Ken Graffeo says.
While many beloved series have found a new home on DVD and on viewers’ shelves, a few holdouts such as Seinfeld and Northern Exposure remain √≥ but not for long. DVD releases are in the works for both series. They are among the most requested DVDs on Amazon.com. Also in the works: Jon Lovitz’s animated The Critic, King of Queens andBarney Miller.
And studios have begun to pack TV DVDs with the kind of extras buyers have come to expect on their movie discs. Felicity: Season Two has an unreleased original version of the series’ pilot. CSI √≥ The Complete Second Season (Sept. 2, $70) has commentaries and more short features, including one with technical adviser Elizabeth Devine.
ER: The Complete First Season has interviews with co-creators Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton. Fox’s The X-Files SeasonSeven ($150) features Gillian Anderson’s first commentary and the 24 Season Two set (Sept. 23, $70) has an entire disc of extras.
The first-season DVD set for 24 had just an alternate ending and an introduction from star and producer Kiefer Sutherland. But during the second season, “we had a (DVD) crew capturing stuff on the set from day one,” Fox’s Steven Feldstein says.
“You now find producers of TV shows trying to keep in mind material that would be potentially interesting for the DVD,” Ho says.
For Spin City, DreamWorks enlisted Fox because “we wanted to really tap into his personality and his insight into the making of that series,” DreamWorks’ Kelly Sooter says.
The disc also has information about Fox’s research foundation for Parkinson’s disease. Fox was diagnosed with the disease in 1991.
As for a Family Ties DVD, Fox says, “I imagine if this trend continues, someone could get around to that.” The best episodes from the series’ six years, 1982-1989? “I’d just pick the ones my wife (Tracy Pollan) was in,” Fox says.
TV series can live long and prosper on DVD