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12 Sep, 2002 By: Thomas K. Arnold

There's an incredible flood of TV product coming to DVD, and you wonder if this is going to be another video craze of the kind that hits saturation and then crashes, like the erotic thriller boom of the early 1990s.

If you look back on those days, video retailers and consumers were looking for an alternative to big-budget box office hits (as they always are) and erotic thrillers, invariably made for video, fit the bill just dandy.

There was action, there was sex, there was violence, there was blood — and best of all, it could be produced on a shoestring budget. “All you need is a beautiful girl who wants to be a star and someone's nice house up in Beverly Hills,” one supplier told me at the time.

The erotic thriller boom went bust virtually overnight, a simple case of too much product flooding the market. There was so much crap that the good stuff—and there were some pretty good flicks in this genre—got lost in the shuffle, and the end result was that companies like Prism and Imperial and Academy, which had relied heavily on erotic thrillers for their income, went bust.

The furious pace at which studios are releasing TV shows on DVD — buoyed, no doubt, by the success of the populist “Friends” and cult faves The Sopranos, Sex and the City and X-Files — is unparalleled.

The TV Shows on DVD Web site (tvshowsondvd.com) lists more than 1,400 TV DVD titles, up nearly 50 percent from the summer.

Universal Studios Home Video just announced its entry into the market with “Law & Order” and “Baretta.” Columbia TriStar is TV'ing it with “The Jeffersons” and “Sanford and Son.” MGM just came out with an absolutely stunning four-disc set of the complete first season of “The Outer Limits,” 32 50-minute episodes of one of my all-time favorite TV shows. And Fox, which pretty much launched the “TV on DVD” genre with “X Files” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” compilations, is now putting out the complete first season of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Will this trend crumble and fall the way the erotic thriller craze did? I don't think it will, for these reasons:

  • The big studios, not struggling independents, are behind this one.

  • The target audience is collectors, or buyers, rather than renters. Nostalgia has always sold, and vintage TV shows are perfectly suited for collectors — particularly when you can get an entire season into a package no bigger than a paperback book. Our publisher, Don Rosenberg, recently took home a copy of “The Outer Limits” and the next day strolled into work with a huge cardboard box filled with individual episodes on cassette. “I cleared out a whole shelf in my garage,” he said. “And this is only half of them.”

  • There's no danger of anything getting lost in the shuffle. Unlike made-for-video erotic thrillers, there's nothing unknown about this commodity. If a TV show has a big fan base, the DVD will sell. If it doesn't, it won't.

Right now the studios are trying the shotgun approach with TV shows on DVD. They won't hit the target all the time, but I predict they'll score enough times that this boom will continue until a lot more of the shows we grow up with, as well as those we love now, will be available on DVD.

And best of all, there are no commercials.

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