Watching Outside the Box

TV Eye

<i>Wonderfalls</i>
Wonderfalls

How many industries do you know of that can capitalize on dated inventory while ringing up sales for "failed" merchandise? Yet, that seems to be a viable segment of the ever-expanding TV DVD market. If it's not a vintage series pulled from the vault, dusted off, repackaged, and sold to the nostalgia-hungry, it's an underappreciated show with an active fan base who will put down – or pledge to put down – hard-earned cash (as in the case of Freaks and Geeks fans) in order to own a personal archive of a revered show.

In the current reality-TV soaked landscape, creators of the hourlong format are nervous. But instead of whining about the fall of TV (that happened long ago, many might quip), it only makes good sense to work toward the DVD release.

In an Emily Nussbaum interview with Wonderfalls head writer Tim Minear in last week's Sunday New York Times, Minear plainly stated that when Fox's interest in the series waned, he directed his attention to crafting the show for a "complete 13," a full episode order for a series (the pilot plus a dozen), which also makes for a decent-sized DVD set.

"After [Fox] scheduled [Wonderfalls] for Friday nights, I was like, 'Friday nights! That's where we're promoting our 13-episode DVD!'" Minear said. "You always work with the notion that you're trying to get picked up – but I had little faith in the network, so I looked at it as a complete 13. I wasn't just going episode to episode."

In other words, the TV DVD release for a short-lived series does not have the same "straight-to-video" D-list brand as a feature film destined to the same fate, particularly if it's developed a loyal fan base and some critical buzz. Though critically praised (by this writer and others), with only four aired episodes, I'm guessing that the best hope of capitalizing on Wonderfalls' "failure" is to promote it as a Tim Minear project. Hollywood isn't fond of celebrating its writers outside of awards season, it seems, but as a recognized scribe behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and the prematurely canceled Firefly, that's a huge audience to tap.

For new DVD life from "failures," one need look no further than the drool-worthy, limited edition Freaks and Geeks DVD collection reviewed in the April 16 Austin Chronicle ("Five-Year Reunion," austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2004-04-16/screens_ feature.html ). But it's not just about capturing hardcore fans in TV DVD sales. It's the opportunity to create new ones, as well. For those new to Freaks and Geeks (and presumably less willing to shell out $120 for the deluxe set, which comes with its own yearbook), a smaller box set is available for $70 from Shout! Factory. It contains all 18 episodes with requisite bonus material (less two discs from the limited edition set). For those who don't want to shell out $70, it's available for rent through local vendors or Netflix, which, in turn, can inspire new fans to buy their own personal box set.

Now, NBC is taking a new tack. According to an April 6 Los Angeles Times article by Richard Verrier, "NBC has teamed with Universal studios to develop a pilot for a TV series spinoff, Transylvania [spun from the soon to be released feature film, Van Helsing]. The series ... is among several steps Universal [in negotiations for purchase by General Electric-owned NBC] is taking to build a franchise" around the old horror movie characters.

With a possible launch as early as this fall, it will be interesting to see how Transylvania fares. Fantasy-horror series have not done well by network standards (one wonders if The X-Files would even have a chance in the current climate). But if Transylvania is able to generate a fast and loyal fan base and some critical buzz, it might not even matter if it does poorly on the air.

Can it be that TV is a rite of passage for "cult" projects like Freaks and Geeks or Wonderfalls, and that "failure" actually enhances its cachet? That's not how the system is supposed to work. But from my vantage point, I'm liking how that rattles the box.


Notable May Releases

May 4: The Bernie Mac Show: Season 1, 20th Century Fox Home Video; Gilmore Girls: The Complete First Season, Warner Brothers Home Video; Samurai Jack: Season 1, Warner Brothers Home Video; Party of Five: The Complete First Season, Tristar Home Video.

May 11: Jonny Quest: The Complete First Season, Warner Brothers Home Video.

May 25: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season, 20th Century Fox Home Video; Northern Exposure: The Complete First Season, Universal Home Video.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Freaks and Geeks, Wonderfalls, Tim Minear, Emily Nussbaum, Robert Vernier, TV to DVD, Transylvania

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