Why Some of Your Favourite Old TV Shows Have Never Made It to DVD

We’ve written in this space about WKRP in Cincinnati, the beloved show of radio types. For decades, the shows haven’t been available on DVD because of some weird issues involving music licensing. (Much of that has been solved, which explains why a near-intact DVD set came out this fall.)

But WKRP isn’t the only old show facing these challenges. VOX explains why other programs are still languishing in vaults somewhere.

Last month, both The Wonder Years and WKRP in Cincinnati finally came out on complete series DVD sets. The latter had seen its first season come out in a hideously butchered version in 2007, while the former had never been on DVD. And to a lot of TV fans, the release of both was both cause for celebration — and a bit of a miracle.

Wonder Years and WKRP are among the best TV comedies ever made, but it was long believed to be impossible for either to come out on DVD intact. The reason is simple: both shows made ample use of pop music, occasionally just playing in the background of scenes and often to underscore hugely important moments.

As the physical media era comes to a close, the number of companies willing to pay the hefty fees necessary to close out music licensing deals has pretty much dwindled to two — StarVista, which released Wonder Years, and Shout! Factory, which released WKRP. Not coincidentally, both companies have longstanding relationships with record companies that make closing deals for individual songs easier to accomplish.

But music licensing is also vitally important to the new streaming era — as anyone who watched The Wonder Years during its brief sojourn on Netflix and heard the terrible, non-Joe Cocker version of the show’s famous theme song can attest. It’s by far the biggest problem in getting old TV shows (and some old movies) into the hands of the public, and it all stems from US copyright law that were largely designed for a world where TV episodes would only be consumed a handful of times, copyright law that allows greedy rights holders to have an outsize impact on these sorts of negotiations.

Indeed, if you’re a fan of classic TV, then music licensing is one of the most important things you can understand, if you want to know why so many great shows seem to be disappearing down the cultural memory hole.

Here, then, is everything you ever wanted to know about music licensing.

Continue reading. (Link via Jason)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38165 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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