I mentioned the growing trend of releasing even brief and long since canceled series onto DVD in my last post, and the question of whether DVD releases are hurting niche shows (which brief and quickly canceled shows released on DVD tend to be) has come up. I thought long and hard on this topic and came up with this answer:
I have no idea.
I honestly only have the vaguest idea of how the entertainment industry makes these decisions, and only the dimmest sense of how their business models work (in my head, it ranges from ‘stupidly’ to ‘inexplicably’). From my point of view as a consumer, though, DVDs are a godsend. I am used to niche shows getting canceled. It’s inevitable, like the death of dime goldfish. You treasure them for the very short time you’ve got them, and when they’re all dead, you go back to the store and repeat the cycle anew. But with DVDs, you can preserve their little corpses forever…and I may have taken that just a little too far. Back in the bad old days, I cannot tell you the number of shows I loved only for them to disappear into the aether, never to be seen again outside of their original broadcasts – Maximum Bob, Cupid, American Gothic, the Lone Gunmen to name just a few. Now, the last two have gotten DVD releases, the latter arguably because of its connection to ‘The X-files’, and the former from the recent trend of studios digging these shows up, dusting them off, and making a little money parading their corpses around (damn you, taxidermy metaphor!), but at the time, their was little no know expectation of that . In the case of the Lone Gunmen, there was at least the dim hope that the episodes might be found in some obscure corner of the internet, but at the time, the very best anyone could hope for American Gothic was a few random reruns.
Nowadays, even if your favorite little show is canceled after four episodes, was never advertised, had the tiniest demographic known to man, and was deemed to obscure for hulu and netflix (et cetera), you can be reasonably hopeful that there will be a DVD, chocked full of goodies like unaired episodes and creator commentary. You can even dream that it’ll sell like hotcakes, developing a huge cult following, and leading to a new series or at least a movie. I have trouble seeing the DVDs as a threat to these shows, partially because I see them as doomed anyway. I think that the creators of such shows must have similar mindsets, given how well contained their series tend to be, given the chance. Wonderfalls is the best example of this I can think of. Reaper did fairly well, too, as did the Middleman. Pushing Daisies is an exception, but I imagine that has more to do with the writer’s strike in their first season followed by the downsizing of their second to a half season.
I have heard it argued, though, that perhaps these shows are hurt by people not watching them, waiting for the DVDs to come out instead. I am not convinced of this, although I don’t have any idea of what the actual numbers would come out to. If this is a problem, I can see more stemming from the ‘firefly effect,’ where the expectation of a show’s demise keeps people from wanting to become invested in it, especially if they can get the DVDs after the fact, to be enjoyed without the “this is too good to last” dread tainting everything. Secondly, the people I know that buy TV DVDs only ever buy them for shows for which they are already fans, though this may be limited to my demographic. Among my friends and peers, it seems far more common to discover shows through the internet or netflix. Their purchases of TV DVDs are more a case of a show finding new viewers, not losing them, because they are becoming invested (and more importantly, spending money) on shows that they had not or would not have see on television.
I just can’t see any downsides to the DVDs. In fact, I’ve often wondered why some of the more popular (and canceled) niche shows don’t just continue on DVD, but this probably only showcases my admitted absolute ignorance of how the industry works.
But let me stop there and ask for your thoughts on the matter. Do DVDs help or hinder niche shows? Do you buy the DVDs of shows you haven’t seen?