Fanning TV DVD17 Mar, 2006 By: Brendan Howard
Everybody wants their favorite shows on DVD, but studios release them only if they think they'll make a profit. Therein lies the struggle for fervent fans to prove their love. It all started in the late 1990s, according to Gord Lacey of TVShowsOnDVD.com, with a serious fan of the 1990s MTV-aired drama “My So-Called Life.”
“A guy named Jason Rosenfeld worked at BMG and tried to get it released there,” Lacey said. “He ended up getting laid off, but tried to get his next company to license it and release it. He finally got a retailer to promise to purchase X amount of units from BMG. He worked with the ‘My So-Called Life' fan club and their Web site and had a petition. BMG finally released the set, and it went on to sell big numbers.”
Rosenfeld's success spurred the pair to fight for one of Lacey's favorite shows, the Canadian sketch-comedy “Kids in the Hall.” Lacey called the production company, Broadway Video, every few months. He collected requests for the show on his Web site and would let Broadway know the buzz was growing. Eventually, Broadway licensed it to A&E Home Video, which has since released three of the five seasons.
Kate Winn, A&E's VP of sales and marketing, said Broadway picked A&E because it “understands the value of making fans happy.”
“We can make success out of a small quantity when we find there's a fan base out there that can be motivated to buy,” Winn said.
Fans and a TV show creator worked to get the canceled but critically acclaimed comedies “Freaks & Geeks” and “Undeclared” onto DVD. As he gathered information, creator Judd Apatow approached Lacey and asked for advice. A few months later, he set up a DVD petition and got tens of thousands of names asking for “Freaks” on DVD. They told Shout Factory, which secured licensing and released the show on DVD.
“We knew there was demand,” said Shout Factory co-founder Garson Foos. “There were active Web sites, with daily postings on the message boards. We'd get into discussions [about] shows that haven't come out that should come out, and ‘Freaks' would always be mentioned.”
“We got in touch with Apatow, he led us to DreamWorks [owner of the show], and DreamWorks was really reasonable and supportive of Judd.”
Apatow directed most of the DVD production, using fans to help create menus and add content for a high-school yearbook style special edition. A similar fan base was motivated, to a lesser extent, in getting Apatow's “Undeclared” on DVD.
Studios also know fans are sometimes the pickiest and best informed, and they love to have their brains picked about eventual releases. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has gone to TVShows-OnDVD, Lacey himself and fan Web sites for information.
“We'll ask for input on box art,” said director of TV marketing Laurie James at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, home of the canceled sci-fi cult fave “Odyssey 5.” “Or, if there's an oddity, like a star's replaced early on, we try to ask if we should release every single episode or just the episodes with the later star.”
Fan frenzy, though, can also bite.
“There was a point where anything that had some buzz would work. TV DVD was so hot,” Shout Factory's Foos said. “We put out a really good show that only ran half a season — ‘Miracles.' We felt there was a buzz on the Internet, but there was only a small group of people who were passionate about it, who made the buzz look bigger than it was.”
Foos said one problem was, the press didn't pick up on the TV DVD resurrection of the canceled “Miracles” the way it had with “Freaks & Geeks” and “Undeclared.”
“You need the fans in the media that are going to get that ball rolling,” he said. “We need to get the great articles about the show being the best show ever made people never saw.”
Fan petitions, letters or Web site requests — regardless, the test of the true fan, Sony's James said, comes down to one thing.
“The best fan is the one who actually buys the DVD,” she said.