Copyrights Keep TV Shows off DVD
By Katie Dean 02:00 AM Mar. 01, 2005 PT
WKRP in Cincinnati was one of the most popular television shows of the late '70s and early '80s, but it is unlikely ever to be released on DVD because of high music-licensing costs.
The show, which centered on a fledging radio station with a nerdy news director and wild disc jockeys, had a lively soundtrack, playing tunes from rock 'n' rollers like Ted Nugent, Foreigner, Elton John and the Eagles.
For many TV shows, costs to license the original music for DVD are prohibitively high, so rights owners replace the music with cheaper tunes, much to the irritation of avid fans. And some shows, like WKRP, which is full of music, will probably never make it to DVD because of high licensing costs.
"The indication from the studios is that we may never see (WKRP in Cincinnati) because of all the music that would have to be licensed," said David Lambert, news director of TVShowsOnDVD.com
, a clearinghouse of information on TV shows released on DVD. "As the DJ spins the record as he's talking to Loni Anderson, if there is music playing even for a couple of seconds, then the people producing the DVDs would have to license it."
Fox Home Entertainment wouldn't provide an official release date for DVDs of the show.
"It's not totally dead in the water, but there is a huge obstacle of music licensing," said spokeswoman Shari Rosenblum. "It's being looked at and it's on the radar."
DVD sales are credited with driving studio growth, and TV shows on DVD have been a surprise -- and lucrative -- market, according to a September 2004 Merrill Lynch report. The report estimates that consumer spending on TV DVDs will grow from $2.3 billion in 2004 to $3.9 billion in 2008.
But serious fans want the whole show, not mangled scenes missing critical music.
"The fans don't want syndicated cuts. They don't want the songs replaced. They don't want anything censored for political correctness. They want to see it in the way they originally saw it broadcast, enjoyed it and fell in love with it," Lambert said. "You can almost always count on some music replacement. We've got entire theme songs being replaced."
There are plenty of examples, he said. The original theme song for the show Married ... With Children -- "Love and Marriage" sung by Frank Sinatra -- was replaced on the third-season DVD. Fans also complained when the song "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues
was missing from a critical scene in the Wiseguy DVD set. The second-season DVD sets of Quantum Leap and Northern Exposure both contain noticeable music replacements. And DVD distributors don't always reveal on the box cover that music has been replaced, either.
Only selected episodes from the first season of Ally McBeal have been released in the United States because of the high cost of music licensing. But in the United Kingdom, where different licensing deals have been struck, viewers can order all five seasons of the show.
"I think the studios are a bit shortsighted," Lambert said. "A lot of fans -- if they understood the situation -- would gladly wait a little longer and pay a little more to get the complete, original version."
However, there are exceptions. Moonlighting is one of the success stories. After more than two years of lobbying by fans
, the first two seasons of the show are scheduled for release this May with the music intact.
"I was unwilling to replace the music," said Moonlighting creator and executive producer Glenn Gordon Caron, who now produces Medium
. "I felt that was integral to the show. That really stymied its video and DVD release for years."
At one point, Anchor Bay Entertainment
, one of the DVD distributors that held the rights, suggested cherry-picking the episodes, releasing only those that didn't contain music.
"I said, 'That's absurd. I have no interest in you doing this,'" Caron said.
Navigating music licensing issues can be more difficult for shows where the music experience is central. The producers of one current show, American Dreams
, went to extraordinary lengths to prepare the show for DVD.
American Dreams centers on a family in Philadelphia in the tumultuous 1960s. Motown tunes and folk songs play throughout. Two of the teenage characters regularly dance on American Bandstand, and the show includes some classic footage from the '60s show. It also re-creates the Bandstand experience, with modern stars like Usher playing Marvin Gaye and Hilary and Haylie Duff playing the Shangri-Las, among others.
For the release of the first-season DVD last fall, executive producer Jonathan Prince watched every episode again and rated the importance of every song in each episode. A "1" meant the song could not be replaced; a "5" was unimportant to the story.
Prince kept music he deemed critical to particular scenes, as well as performances of guest stars and music for the Bandstand dancers. But some background songs -- when the kids get ready for the prom, for instance -- were replaced with "cheaper needle-drops" from the '60s. Prince said he doubted even hard-core fans would notice the difference.
"I'm a music freak. This matters to me," Prince said. "We probably kept 80 percent of our music."
"If they can't promise that the music is part of the DVD, you're going to have pissed-off fans," Prince added. Music is so critical to shows, it would be like "watching 90210 without Luke," he said.