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TV Duds Rate as Studs in DVD Market (firefly mention)

By Jill Kipnis

Sunday 22 February 2004, by Webmaster

TV Duds Rate as Studs in DVD Market
Sat Jan 31, 9:03 AM ET Add Movies - Reuters to My Yahoo!

By Jill Kipnis

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Low-rated TV series quickly killed by networks are finding new life on DVD.

Just as under-performing theatrical films are proving profitable as DVD releases, canceled TV shows are generating loads of cash when they become available in the format.

In some cases, the interest is so strong that the DVDs are generating new projects for the once-declared dead brands.

"When you look at the TV ratings of failed shows, they are still in 2 or 3 or 4 million households that view them," says Mike Saksa, VP of U.S. marketing for Warner Home Video (WHV). "That may not be enough to get a show renewed, but it does present a viable opportunity to earn back money for the studio by releasing it on DVD. We only need to reach one out of eight of those 4 million viewers to have a highly successful DVD."

Despite the high boxed-set prices of most of these TV DVD releases — they range from $26.99 to $69.99 — many are indeed attracting legions of consumers and great retail interest.

The trend has been spurred on by the success of "Family Guy," an animated series created by Seth MacFarlane that debuted in 1999 and was canceled after three seasons. According to Video Store magazine, the first DVD volume ($49.98, Fox), which covers the first two seasons, was the No. 1-selling TV DVD in 2003. The April release was followed by "Family Guy — Vol. 2" ($49.98, Fox) in September, which was the No. 5-top-selling TV DVD last year.

Other popular TV duds/DVD studs have been "The Ben Stiller (news) Show," a 1992 sketch comedy show canceled after 12 episodes; "Firefly," crafted by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon and canceled after 11 episodes in 2002; and "The Tick," an animated show based on the comic book that was canceled after less than two seasons in 1996. Each of these programs aired on Fox.

Both "Firefly — The Complete Series" ($49.98, Dec. 9, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) and "The Ben Stiller Show" ($26.99, Dec. 2, WHV) are performing well at Virgin Megastores, according to the L.A.-based chain’s senior VP of product and marketing, Dave Alder.

"’The Ben Stiller Show’ is selling at the same levels now as it did in its first two weeks out of the box," he notes. "Though ’Firefly’ died on TV, it has definitely had major interest on DVD. Niche TV DVD has a huge cult appeal right now. Despite a number of these titles not working on TV, that doesn’t mean they aren’t quality products."

The studios would not provide sales figures for these titles.

At last October’s TV DVD conference, sponsored by Video Store magazine and by the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG), MacFarlane said that he was receiving more work offers since the show had appeared on DVD. Indeed, his "Family Guy: The Movie" is currently in production for Fox.

A "Firefly" film, written by Whedon, is currently in production for Fox and Universal Pictures.

"The success of ’Family Guy’ is encouraging," says Judd Apatow, executive producer of "The Ben Stiller Show" and of "Freaks and Geeks," which was canceled after one season and is debuting on DVD April 6 from Shout Factory and DreamWorks Television for $69.98.

"There is now a lot of attention being given to these canceled TV projects on DVD," Apatow notes. "I always do my best to make the shows I’m involved in as good as they can be. I would rather do something great that holds up over time than make a concession that gives in to a trend. Now, it seems to paying off."

Executives say that major consumers of DVDs are naturally gravitating toward more nichey, less mainstream programing as the format matures.

"The young, male adults who were heavy purchasers at the beginning of DVD now have their movie collections," WHV’s Saksa says. "Now they are buying their TV collection."

Additionally, studios are researching which shows have the highest potential consumer appeal and are going to Web sites to gauge demand.

Shout Factory president Garson Foos says that the decision to release "Freaks and Geeks — The Complete Series" stemmed from Internet interest. "Nearly 40,000 people subscribed to a Web list asking for it to get released on DVD," he says. "With the Internet, there is a way for people to communicate about these shows."