From Mediasharx.comShould genre shows go direct to DVD ?
Monday 3 May 2004, by Webmaster
Emotional Resonance & Rocket Launchers
TV Execs? Who Needs ‘Em: Put New Shows on DVD
The suits in charge of American TV, by canceling good scifi shows time and again, have said more than amply that they simply do not want or need the business of scifi fans.
Also, by doing so, they’ve also said they have very little motivation to actually work with the good folks who create and produce these great scifi series. These producers put their all into crafting truly meaningful, captivating stories, only to have their work cancelled for often the most capricious reasons.
If I were the likes of Joss Whedon, Tim Minear, or Rockne O’Bannon, at this point I would have to seriously think twice and three times before deciding whether all the hard work and emotional investment in producing even a 13-episode commitment was worth it when you knew either those shows were going to wind up being run on Friday nights, or maybe just a half-dozen might actually hit the airwaves before the suits decided to put a new run of DWARF DATING on in that time slot instead-or both.
Why don’t the lot of us-fans and producers alike-go find a production and distribution channel that actually believes we’re a viable market and can create an at-least-somewhat-more stable, non-dysfunctional business in providing quality science fiction television programming?
Think I’m dreaming? Maybe. But there is a segment of the entertainment business that’s gone out of its way to cater to us fans: DVD distributors.
DVD distributors are packaging many scifi series-new and old-and releasing them on DVD. And, they are making a lot of money doing it.
That’s true even of so-called “cult” shows that were on the air just a year or two, according to a fairly in-depth report on the subject published last year.
Video Business magazine lists many scifi series as top DVD sellers, including obvious ones like BUFFY and SMALLVILLE. But it includes less obvious ones, as well, such as BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Whedon’s “failed” series FIREFLY, which aired just a dozen or so episodes before getting the now-patented “Fox flush,” was released on DVD. Although hard sales numbers are hard to come by, it is said to have sold well despite being considered a little-known, cancelled TV show.
So, since for scifi DVD has become both a paradise and something of a last refuge these days, why shouldn’t absolutely everyone involved-fans, creators, producers, distributors-skip the painfully disappointing middlemen (and women) known as television executives entirely, and produce original series direct to DVD?
It’s a crazy thought, I know, but not too crazy. First of all, if I had told you 10 years ago you could do all your Christmas shopping every year just by spending an afternoon in front of your computer, you would have thought that was crazy, too. But today, how many of you don’t have accounts at Amazon.com or Barnes&Noble.com? I thought so.
And secondly, and I hate to admit this, but apparently I’m not the first one to come up with this one.
When I first hatched this crazy scheme, I contacted Gord Lacey, owner of tvshowsondvd.com. I figured that if there would be an “expert” on this topic, it would be him.
Lacey wrote back, saying, “Wow, funny that you should bring this up now. I was contacted by someone just the other day proposing a direct-to-DVD sci-fi series. He was estimating that he would have to sell 300,000 copies of a 2-episode disc to pay for the episodes.”
Lacey, however, was fairly skeptical and told me he promptly threw cold water on our budding producer’s idea. “I explained to him that there’s no way that would be possible, especially given that his universe wasn’t known and didn’t have fans behind it already,” he said. “Successful shows sell 100,000-200,000 copies on DVD.”
Lacey came up with a lot of good reasons why direct-to-DVD won’t work, mostly that studios rely on advertising and syndication as the prime revenue streams. Selling existing (i.e. already paid-for) content on DVD is just gravy. There’s not much risk if the DVD flops since the production costs have already been paid for.
Investing in a production of a new series, on the other hand, that would be expensive — and a big gamble, he said.
Lacey also mentioned one other (somewhat more well-known) TV producer who has mentioned his interest in releasing direct-to-DVD series. Joel Surnow, executive producer of just a little show called 24, proposed doing direct-to-DVD releases at the TV DVD conference last October.
“He had a vision of 24 stories going directly to DVD based around a situation, with different characters from the show,” Lacey said. “He said they would have to look into the viability of the project. I think a show like that would be much cheaper since it has fewer sets, special effects and costumes than a sci-fi show would have. It’ll be interesting to see what happens and if they can make it work.”
Gord Lacey, I think, has done an excellent job outlining the problems. I couldn’t disagree with a single one of the obstacles he’s brought up. However, I don’t think those challenges Lacey outlined are insurmountable.
I’m just not ready to give up on this admittedly half-cocked idea quite yet.
If you aren’t, either, tune into this column next time...same Bat time, same Bat channel...and we’ll see why maybe, just maybe, a direct-to-DVD scifi series could actually work.