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"IANALB...": A Few Non-Bionic Legal Issues Plaguing TV-DVD

"IANALB..."

If you hang around the message boards and discussion forums and talk communities on the internet long enough, you surely see that term. It stands for "I Am Not A Lawyer, But...", and it seems to apply to me after my first DVD Guy blog entry here at TV Guide this past Wednesday, "Why Aren't The Original Bionic Shows On DVD? Questions Answered!"

Just to clear up a couple of things: the blog is "DVD Guy", not "Legal Eagle Guy", so I'm not going to always devote this column to explaining legal issues holding up releases of your favorite TV shows. Planned upcoming topics go far away from that area. I'm not saying I'll never do more in-depth posts about rights issues, but it's just not the regular subject of this blog. It's also not "Bionic Blog", either: we cover all TV Shows here, not just the Six Million Dollar Man or The Bionic Woman...except when we don't talk about TV at all!

Still, so MANY of you who posted comments (or sent me an e-mail) in response to the Bionic one, wanted more info about other similar topics, that I feel the need for this "special edition" blog post, going over a few others (most very briefly). I Am Not A Lawyer, But...here's what little I do know about some of this stuff. If you know something different, or know a site that posts more about it, or talks about an example I missed, then please leave a comment and let others know about it, too!

For starters, though, let's take "music rights" off the table for most of this post. As with the music hold-up on The Wonder Years, there are other shows (ranging from Ally McBeal to Cold Case) that are held up by the cost of licensing the music used in the show (or the difficulty of editing out that music and replacing it with something more reasonably priced). That's a common issue in the industry, and well-discussed. I won't talk about it today, nor do I expect to bring it up in this blog unless I just feel that there's something new to say about it.


Moving on to just "ownership rights issues", here are a few highlights:

     • Late '60s Batman starring Adam West: This is a no-brainer to bring up, as it has been the longest-running, most well-known case of ownership issues keeping it off of store shelves. A lot of you compared the Bionic stuff to Batman, and you're right: one studio owns the rights to the characters/concepts, and another studio owns the film/episodes, and they can't reach agreement. But in Batman's case, it could also be more complicated than that!
          ¤ We know, from all the years of wrangling, that Fox owns the episodes, and it's been said that "Warner" owns the characters. Be careful, though, because it's not an issue at Warner Brothers (as in the studio), it's at Time Warner-owned DC Comics. If you click on that Cold Case link above and scroll to the "No rights for:" section, and see the second item there, Warner Home Video was very clear on that in an online chat at the Home Theater Forum back in March 2005).
          ¤ In August 2006, the daughter of show producer William Dozier filed a lawsuit claiming Fox owes the heirs of Greenway Productions money that was never paid, and that she is entitled to $4.4 million.
          ¤ Do you remember all the great guest stars that showed up, as a villian or even for a 5-second cameo popping out of a window while Batman & Robin walk up the side of a building? There would have to be clearances for all of those.
          ¤ Of course music rights issues with the well-known theme song would have to be considered.
          ¤ It may surprise you, but then there are also rights issues concerning the design of the unique Batmobile design used in the show, and possible a separate issue regarding some of the costumes as well!

Whoa, does everyone want a piece of this Bat-pie? Well, it's easy as a fan to be critical of folks holding their hands out and wanting money that keep you from enjoying your show on DVD. But let's face it, if you were in their shoes and you owned those rights, you would want to be compensated for it too. It takes a long time to sort all this out. That's what's keeping Batman off your shelves! Still, how does the 1966 theatrical film get onto DVD? Or a reunion show like Back to the Batcave, filled with clips (and the Batmobile)? Or a "clip show DVD" like Batmania? Well, the rights to all of those are handled differently, due to separate and differently-worded contracts. So each can be handled individually, allowing some items to move forward while others are held up (seemingly forever).


     • Another Greenway Productions show, The Green Hornet starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee, is similarly held up, although by different entities and slightly different variations on the above issues. But, it's pretty close, and honestly I forget the details. Just keep in mind that the involved parties have some cross-over, but are not ALL the same as Batman hold-up, so it's possible that one show could clear up while the other doesn't (or doesn't at the same time). They're not tied together all that closely.

     • The 1966 Marvel Superheroes cartoon (with Capt. America, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner) was supposed to come to DVD from Disney/Buena Vista back around 2004/05-ish, but got removed from the schedule. Afterward it came to light that Disney and Marvel Comics were having a legal discussion, and later litigation (if I recall correctly), over issues concerning that and other Marvel Universe shows that Disney has in their library. So it seems that these belong in this category as well!

     • One that certainly belongs on this list is The Dean Martin Show. Over at TVShowsOnDVD, we passed along a report that Guthy-Renker's direct sales of "The Best of the Dean Martin Variety Show," which had been going since 2003, were stopped after NBC Universal filed a lawsuit that their rights had been violated, as GR was apparently sold a license by a company that NBC says didn't have the rights to sell such a thing. A week later we had an update that links you to a fansite's analysis of this issue, that certainly shows how complicated these legal rights issues can be! We consider this a must-read analysis for anyone interested in the topic, so go take a look. And, if you've already been following it, then you may want to know that the fansite, TheGolddiggers.Wordpress.com (a.k.a. "The Golddiggers Super Site") has posted an exclusive update saying that the music-makers on the Dean Martin Show are now suing Guthy-Renker over their releases as well. It's a fascinating update; go check it out! Music rights...see what happens if you don't clear 'em?

     • Want to know a new one? Judging Amy! Apparently it's caught up in a similar way to the ones listed above. Over at FilmStew.com, Lisa Johnson Mandell posted a fascinating blog entry resulting from a conversation with Amy Brenneman, who's in the film The Jane Austen Book Club and part of the ensemble cast of new Grey's Anatomy spin-off Private Practice. She reveals that her previous hit show, Judging Amy, "...was a bad financial co-production between CBS Productions and 20th Century Fox, and neither one wants to see the other benefit...(a)nd that is why there has never been a DVD set released...". Yowsers! That show is pretty highly wanted among voting registered members at TVShowsOnDVD, too! Crazy stuff, eh? Our thanks to reader Robin Powell for sending us the heads-up on the FilmStew conversation with Amy.


I think that's all I've got; like I said, if I missed any please post it in the comments and include a link to someone's write-up about it. And feel free to comment just to say "hi" and tell me what you think of this post, and how the blog's going. Also, if you think this info is cool and want to share it with others, use the links to Digg It or Slashdot it or Fark it, or whatever. I'm here to share and be shared!

In your comments, please remember the TVGuide.com Terms of Use state that "you agree that you will not use the website and/or services for any inappropriate, improper or illegal purpose". While I know it's tempting for some of you to post comments telling others how to get their hands on bootleg copies of the above shows, even in a friendly way of wanting other fans to enjoy these programs SOMEHOW, I'll remind you that it's against the rules, it will be monitored, and it won't be tolerated or left alone. So please don't post that, okay? Sorry for putting on my "scolding dad" hat for a minute, but given the subject of the blog today, I thought it was best to say this up front!

I hope you've enjoyed this roundup of licensing issues, and found out something you didn't know. I'll see you in a few days, with a completely different subject concerning TV-DVDs. Stay tuned!


Posted by Dave Lambert
Oct 7, 2007 1:49 PM
I would think that these music rights holdups on these DVD releases would make producers go back to the age old practice of having an original score composed for their TV series! It can't be that expensive if soap operas in the 1970's did it! And whatever happened to the Chapelle Music Library? Does pop music really add THAT much to sitcoms and dramas? I don't think so. My prediction is there will be a watershed of producers walking away from music licensing, and those publishers that are making such high demands now will be left with empty hands and empty bank accounts, and deservedly so. The fair thing for all concerned is for the song publishers to be given a ROYALTY on units sold... not huge up-front fee that prohibits release of a title. If the title isn't released, then the interested parties still get nothing. I guess if they can get paid a huge sum, then they'd rather have nothing? I say then score your own shows and let them have nothing!
Posted by alphanguy
Oct 7, 2007 8:35 PM
I understand the older shows like Wonder Years not being able to get music rights, but what of the recent shows? I mean they have to get the rights to put the music in the episodes, why not just retain the rights for possible or future home video release? In this day and age, it is highly possible that the series will eventually land on home video, even canceled shows end up on dvd. So when making a new show why not plan on future home video release with the music? Of course I don't know how this works so it may not be that easy, but it would seem so.
Posted by CradleOfFish
Oct 7, 2007 9:07 PM
Just a brief note to tell anyone interested in complete season sets of ALLY MCBEAL to invest in a Multiregion DVD player and buy them from Amazon.uk or Sendit.com. All 5 seasons are available and have all the original music.
Posted by deepdish
Oct 8, 2007 12:41 AM
man, oh man, was i blown away with all your information as to why some of my favorite shows aren't on DVD yet, wow!!! well, i have a few questions i hope you can answer. i know that the robert urich spenser movies have been released, but where is the original TV series? is the equalizer ever going to see the light of day on DVD? gord lacey told me it might be out next year? a while back, you guys mentioned that crossing jordan might be relased in may, are there copyright issues with the music preventing it from being relased? when will there be more law and order dvds, particularaly the original show and criminal intent? and what about these recently nixed shows: smith, standoff, close to home? one more thing, i know there's another "season" of airwolf yet to be relased, although some consider it to be another series with a new cast, will we ever see that?

thanks

Kevin McCoy
Posted by kcm1986
Oct 8, 2007 8:35 AM
I have to agree with the above, that the rights to the music should be hammered out before including them in the episodes. This should have become standard practice by now. DVD sets have been selling for enough years that it should be dealt with upfront.

While I don't own hundreds of DVD set I do own all seasons released so far of a variety of stuff from BOSTON LEGAL to SANFORD AND SON to the George Reeves SUPERMAN series. Wide variety of things that entertain me, eh??

I would definately be on board for the 60s BATMAN if these issues could be hammered out.
Posted by StraightMaleViewer
Oct 8, 2007 9:50 AM
David,
Any idea why Robert Wagner's old series, "It Takes a Thief" is not out? I've been waiting for years! Thanks.

Wayne
Posted by Zorro710
Oct 8, 2007 9:55 AM
Whoo-hoo! I got a mention from David Lambert of TVShowsOnDVD, that's pretty cool! Btw, the way David, you're welcome. I just happened to run across this link at TV.com's forum section. :-x
Posted by robinepowell
Oct 8, 2007 11:37 AM
Whoo-hoo! I got a mention from David Lambert of TVShowsOnDVD, that's pretty cool! Btw, the way David, you're welcome. I just happened to run across this link at TV.com's forum section for Judging Amy. :-x That's one show I would love to buy DVDs for.
Posted by robinepowell
Oct 8, 2007 11:38 AM
Woohoo! I got a double-post from Robin! ;)

Wayne, sorry: I have NO idea what's going on with It Takes A Thief. It's probably just buried in Universal's vaults. But hopefully Al Munday can steal it out! Seriously, it's pretty decently popular among registered members who vote for their favorite series at TVShowsOnDVD, so someone should dig it out of there.

Alphanguy, CradleOfFish and StraightMaleViewer: studios have different production arms for putting together the actual TV shows, and for putting together the DVDs later on. It costs one amount to license a song for broadcast, and another amount for the DVD rights to that same song. It is the rare instance where some higher, unifying force will pay the extra money out of the episode production budget for the DVD rights to the song for later on. As far as they're concerned, that's the Home Video department's problem...and cost.

Wow, Kevin, you've got a LOT of questions in one small paragraph! Let's try to handle them, though. As far as we know, Crossing Jordan and The Equalizer are still on Universal's radar, but tentative plans for late 2007 now seem to have drifted into 2008 for reasons unknown. That's why studios hate for plans to get public before they get finalized; stuff happens and things change. Always take all plans, announced and unannounced, with a grain of salt until you're holding the DVDs (or whatever it is) in your hot little hands. As for the Law & Order shows, OF COURSE there will be more DVD releases; that's a no-brainer. No idea about plans for the "recently nixed shows" you mention.

Nor about Airwolf "Season 4" (aka "Airwolf II", which aired on USA Network instead of CBS), sorry. I'm reasonably sure that the rights to that version are still owned by Universal, which is the same as everything else you asked about...except for Spenser: For Hire. The rights to the Spenser telefilms are owned separately from the main episodes, so Rykodisc was able to get the license for those post-series features and put them out. The show itself is under Warner, I believe, but no word on what the hold-up is. When a studio has as deep a library as Universal does, and Warner does, then it takes a while to get to everything.

For example, Warner hasn't announced The Third Watch for DVD yet, either. Who knows if they will? If they do, who knows when they will? Maybe next year. Maybe next week. Maybe later today, or tomorrow. Oh, okay...I'll go post it.

Keep in mind that just because a release hasn't happened yet, does not mean it's held up by a legal issue. It could just be a matter of the studio getting around to it, as I indicated above. Or, maybe the studio doesn't think it will sell...and it's up to the fans to change their minds!

We can't answer all the questions about "what's keeping this item off the shelves?", because the studios don't want to talk about things that AREN'T happening, frankly. I mean, who wants to be the idiot who's going to stand up and say something's "never" going to happen? I hate to say this, because it was said by someone I like and admire and have been very friendly with, but a former studio exec at Paramount once said publicly that the mini-series Shogun would never make it to DVD...and of course, we've been enjoying those discs for years. So never say never!
Posted by Dave Lambert
Oct 8, 2007 3:35 PM
Mr. Lambert,

I was wondering, do you know if the remaining seasons (Seasons 2-4) of the live-action Superboy series will ever be released on DVD? At The Superboy Homepage, it was mentioned yesterday that executive producer Ilya Salkind confirmed that the Season 1 DVD sold extremely well and Season 2 is a real possibility (http://www.superboyhomepage.com/home.htm). But today I told Gord [Lacey] about the news and he responded to my e-mail by saying he talked to someone at Warner Bros. and they said they have no plans to release Season 2 on DVD because of Season 1's poor sales. I don't know who to believe: the company that owns the series or the executive producer of the series. Fans of the Superboy series have stated that it's unfair for Warner Bros. to base the Seasons 2-4 DVDs off the sales of Season 1, because Season 1 is considered the weakest season of the show and the remaining seasons would easily out-sell Season 1. Superboy fans have also been wondering if the current Warner Bros. vs. Jerry Siegel estate legal battle is holding up the remaining DVDs. I'm just asking if you know what's going on with Superboy because the whole situation is confusing me tremendously. Also, do you have any ideas on how the Superboy fans can make Warner Bros. change their minds if they definitely aren't releasing the remaining seasons on DVD? Would a petition work? Or fan-mail?

Thank you for your time.
Posted by SunfireRanger
Oct 8, 2007 4:56 PM
I've always wondered if The Paper Chase is another case of legal troubles, rather than disinterest. (Having had three different networks during its history could certainly have muddied things up a bit...)
Posted by JeffR23
Oct 8, 2007 5:18 PM
re: "I was wondering, do you know if the remaining seasons (Seasons 2-4) of the live-action Superboy series will ever be released on DVD? At The Superboy Homepage, it was mentioned yesterday that executive producer Ilya Salkind confirmed that the Season 1 DVD sold extremely well and Season 2 is a real possibility (http://www.superboyhomepage.com/home.htm). But today I told Gord [Lacey] about the news and he responded to my e-mail by saying he talked to someone at Warner Bros. and they said they have no plans to release Season 2 on DVD because of Season 1's poor sales. I don't know who to believe: the company that owns the series or the executive producer of the series."

Ryan, I saw Gord's e-mail to you; he cc:ed me on it. I actually encouraged him to check with Warner on that, because from day one I heard that Superboy sold super-poorly. With all respect to Salkind, he's not the studio. We asked Warner (a vice president, no less) if what Salkind said is true, that they are planning to release S2, and they said, and I quote, "That is not correct. We don't have plans for season 2."

Warner was pretty anxious was S1 came out in 2006 to release S2 and the rest, and said so in a chat with the Home Theater Forum around the time S1 came out: "we'd love to release the rest, we'll have to evaluate after the first season is released". Then, by the 2007 version of the same chat, Warner was saying "No plans for more live-action Superboy at this time." So I don't think there's any external reasons, like a legal issue, keeping it off the store shelves. For whatever reason, Salkind simply has it wrong.

IF the issue is low sales, then better than any petition is simply encouraging people to go buy the first season. You see, most online petitions don't work. Most online petitions do nothing of the to keep people from voting multiple times, or voting as a sort-of joke, and so there's nothing to keep the numbers from getting inflated. Studios just don't trust them, for the most part. However, at TVShowsOnDVD, we do a LOT of behind-the-scenes work to do our very best to ensure that every voter votes once, and that the numbers are as accurate as possible. Frankly, studios tend to trust our info more as a result. I know that sounds a bit self-serving, and there are other positive examples than TSoD, but that's the best comparison I can make. Just get people to buy the existing set. Money talks!

And no, Warner doesn't get us to say that stuff. It's just the way the world works, in my experience. Sorry.


Jeff, I have no official reason to give you as to what the hold-up with The Paper Chase is. But I have some guesses. First off, the broadcast history of new episodes is limited, really, to just CBS (first season, '78-79) and Showtime (2nd-4th seasons, '83-86). The first season was rerun on PBS before Showtime picked it up years later, and then after that all the eps were rerun on a couple of smaller cable channels (Family Channel and Goodlife Channel, if I recall correctly).

However, the show was produced by 20th Century Fox! So, like I said above, this is buried in the library of a studio with a lot of TV Shows in their catalog, and so despite a pretty good following (including myself, and my mom) who would love it on DVD, and despite some decent voting numbers at TVShowsOnDVD, there are probably other Fox titles unreleased so far that they are spending their resources on to get put out onto DVD first. That's my guess, anyway.


For most questions about any particular show, if there aren't any news items or DVDs listed at TVShowsOnDVD, then chances are we don't have an answer for your question. You're free to ask it, but expect an answer like, "Sorry, we don't know when _____ is coming out."
Posted by Dave Lambert
Oct 8, 2007 6:57 PM
After reading your first two columns, all I could think was, "No wonder illegal downloading is so popular."

And slightly related, any info on how the "WKRP" dvds sold? That was a series that was "never" coming out on dvd, and when it finally did, many people were up in arms because -- to get it to DVD -- they had to change the music.
Posted by billw648
Oct 8, 2007 9:44 PM
It's a good thing these attorneys aren't working for people like my uncle.
No DVD releases = no money of any amount for their rights. So where is the benefit.
If they were working for my uncle, they would no longer be employed by my uncle. He was never very tolerant of failure or costing him money
Posted by Stevegauss
Oct 9, 2007 10:11 PM
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