I want to buy all of these!!

No clearance, no sale
Wondering why you don’t see Miami Vice on DVD? How about WKRP in Cincinnati?
“Look at the music clearance rights,” says Peter Staddon, the Fox Home Entertainment senior vice president who oversees DVD development. Fox video holds DVD rights to WKRP’s radio station comedy, but “when that show was created (in 1978), they didn’t think about the need to clear (song rights) for home video, because home video didn’t exist, let alone DVD. It becomes very prohibitive in terms of putting that out.”
How prohibitive? Maybe a million dollars prohibitive. Per season. So it isn’t greedy stars or producers standing in the way of many TV classics coming to DVD. It’s the cost of popular songs on the soundtrack. When series like Vice and KRP began using hit music 25 years ago to create cool atmosphere, they also created a hornet’s nest of down-the-line issues — now coming back to sting this nascent TV-DVD boom.
“The studios try to get the most recognizable songs they can for the initial airing,” says Shawn Ryan, creator of The Shield for FX cable, “and they take no care financially to preserve the ability to have those songs be with the shows in the future.” Though Ryan uses as many as 15 music cues weekly in his gritty cop drama, both of Fox video’s Shield season sets have included music as aired because Ryan is a DVD devotee. “We took the approach from the beginning to use cutting-edge music, unknown music, six-months-ahead-of-the-curve music,” which was inexpensive or easy to acquire “in perpetuity.” Not to mention fresh.
Classic hits are a different matter. And older shows are paying the price. Literally. When cult fave Freaks and Geeks came out on DVD recently — all 18 episodes of NBC’s quirky 1999 take on 1980 high school life — it carried a list price of $70, or $10 higher than most season sets. But it includes all its original songs, about a half-dozen per episode, mostly period faves.
Freaks fans should count themselves lucky. Many studios won’t go through the hassle of clearing a hundred songs. In fact, this show’s production studio, DreamWorks, didn’t. The eclectic independent label Shout Factory, launched two years ago by former-Rhino executives, approached DreamWorks for DVD rights to a show whose official Web site listed tens of thousands of fans who’d buy such a release.
“With the music and how it was used, it was inherent in the integrity of the product to make deals to license the music as it originally appeared,” says Shout chief operating officer Bob Emmer, who waded through the licensing morass. To clear DVD music rights for just one episode, he says, “you may be dealing with 10 different approvals and 10 different negotiations for just the master side” of the original recordings. “Then, you switch over to the publishing side” for the songs’ composers. It’s not only time-consuming, but “on something very music-intensive, it could run close to, if not over, a million dollars.”
Music clearance for Shout’s June 8 first-season release of the SCTV sketch series took “close to a year,” Emmer says. The nine-episode set will list at $100. “You can’t just go pull out the music and substitute, because it was so embedded in the fabric of the sketch itself.”
Substituting is, to fans’ dismay, quite possible in other series. Originally aired songs were replaced by alternative choices in DVDs of Dawson’s Creek, Felicity and Roswell, whose executive producer not only oversaw the changes but extolled them on a DVD insert. Profiler’s first-season set omitted an episode because of clearance issues with The Police song Every Breath You Take.
So maybe it isn’t true we’ll never see some song-filled shows on DVD. “I love to hear ‘never see it’ because that’s where we step in,” says Emmer, whose Shout label bills itself as being “for the discerning pop culture geek.” He admits, “WKRP or That ’70s Show would be a monumental task. But that’s what we excel in.”