Thursday, March 22, 2012

Like the Commissar the TV Show Disappears...

I have been buying DVD's for some ten years now. Sometimes the DVD's one buys bring with them annoyance. DVD companies, save for Criterion and Masters of Cinema, seem to have a problem buying or manufacturing keepcases that keep the DVD's safely on their spindles and as a result they arrive loose in the case and damaged. The annoyance this causes and the seeming Ph.D. in that proverbial Rocket Science making a DVD keepcase that actually does what it is supposed to do seems to require is nothing compared with another problem I have with DVD's and DVD corporations, their manipulation of history.

Rather like the powers that be in the Stalinist Soviet Union of the past, powers who, when the political times required it, wrote and imaged certain commissars out of Soviet and World Communist history, entertainment conglomerates and their DVD companies have, though less for political and more for economic reasons, imaged and audioed music, scenes, and recording style out of history.

NBC Universal and Lionsgate, for instance, released DVDs of "Will and Grace" that contain, in some cases, the syndicated rather than full original broadcast versions of that show. Universal and E One Entertainment released a DVD set of "It Takes a Thief" that contains, in some cases, the syndicated versions of episodes of that show (in mediocre transfers) rather than the original full broadcast versions. Universal released seasons two through six of "Northern Exposure" without, in many cases, its original music. CBS/Paramount warns those who are thinking about purchasing its DVD's of "The Fugitive" and "Holocaust" that "[s]ome episodes may be edited from their original broadcast version" and that [s]ome music may be changed from their original home version entertainment release in very small print that is barely readable on the back of the DVD box. ITV released a transfer of "Raffles" in which the original broadcast version of the show, a show that was largely videotaped, seems to have been replaced with a version in which the videotape seems to have been transferred onto film. As a result "Raffles's" inside scenes appear much darker than those on the original version. We can, by the way, compare the original and the ITV versions, because the wonderful Acorn has released the original version of "Raffles" in the US market in an excellent transfer.

So what is the historian to make of all of these corporate manipulations? Well, first, there is the obvious. Entertainment giants like Universal, Fox, and Warner's, only and understandably got broadcast rights for the popular music they began to use in the 1950s and used extensively after the 1970s as the age 14 to 26 demographic became the obsession of the "new" Hollywood (an odd phrase to use to describe post-studio system Hollywood since so much of "new" Hollywood is remakes or regurgitations of the "old"). Now, in the world of DVD's and whatever will take their place in the future, these, fighting media giants cannot come to an agreement on music rights in those cases when the music in the TV show isn't owned by the same media giant that made the film or television show in the first place. Fights over music rights was the reason "Ally McBeal" was given a delayed release in the US and why the wonderful "Wonder Years" is not likely to appear on DVD in my life time. Second, media conglomerates don't really care about historical accuracy or their customers, particularly those of their customers who want the original version of TV shows. They appear, if the release of syndicated versions of TV shows and poor quality transfers of TV shows, like Warner Brothers "The Waltons" (ironically the WB is a usually reliable purveyor of quality DVD's), is a guide, to, by and large, make the least expenditure of energy for something they think has limited sales potential route. And the sad thing is that most customers don't seem to care because they continue to buy the poor quality crap Hollywood conglomerates continue to put out. Bread and Circuses? Bread and Circuses.

Weirdly, I feel like I should praise CBS/Paramount for telling us what they might have done to their television shows in their DVD transfers. At least they are being honest, a rare pearl of great price in corporations indeed these days. Most entertainment conglomerates don't, as CBS/Paramount has, tell consumers that scenes and music from the show may be missing from their home entertainment release of a TV show for "contractual" reasons, doublespeak for media conglomerate infighting over money and hence profits. This preference of entertainment corporations for uninformed customers, by the way, tells us much, much not particularly good, about the economic world and those who control this economic world in which all of us live in, an economic world in which many of us in the US don't even have a right to know what is in our milk, butter, or yoghurt.

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