Quite a few articles about this are popping up, including one from The New York Post and another from The Moderate Voice. All are based on a recent update to the International Jack Benny Fan Club website in which it is revealed that rights issues are keeping 25 episodes of The Jack Benny Program from being transferred to a digital format by the IJBFC. Apparently, in 2008 the president of the IJBFC learned that CBS has in its possession a number of episodes of The Jack Benny Program. The IJBFC offered to pay to “digitally preserve” 25 episodes and, after more than a year, CBS asked for an official letter from the Jack Benny Estate requesting the episodes. But that wasn’t enough. According to the IJBFC, CBS eventually explained that “there are so many issues with those shows, that even if we took the time to figure it out, we still almost certainly wouldn’t do the deal.”
See Update Below
The IJBFC believes these episodes are in the private domain. I really don’t want to start speculating but based on what happened with the first half of the second season of The Fugitive on DVD, the unnamed “issue” keeping CBS from releasing the episodes is likely music. This is something that has forced plenty of programs to be edited for DVD releases. Even though the IJBFC is willing to foot the bill to transfer the episodes, the costs of attempting to figure out what is actually in the public domain could be giving CBS pause.
As disappointing as this is for fans of Jack Benny and for those of us interested in preserving classic television, until more information is made available (if it ever is) there’s no reason to get angry at CBS. The IJBFC suggests contacting CBS and provides an e-mail and snail mail address. And if anyone is interested, you can also see a listing of what CBS has in its archive.
Thanks to Gary16 at the Home Theater Forum for bringing this to my attention.
Wednesday, January 20th, 2010 Update:Neil Brock at the Home Theater Forum posted a response that I tracked back to Techdirt, then Slashdot, then Boing Boing and finally to the Association of Moving Image Archivists ListServ, in which Stan Taffel contacted a source at CBS and heard another side of the story:
CBS is ready and willing to sub license any property (as they did with Studio One etc.) for a fee. Laura Leff, the “President” of the Jack Benny Fan Club she began a few years ago, is very good at generating P R and has done a very good job at starting a Facebook petition against CBS and getting articles and giving interviews pleading for the release of 25 Benny shows. She says that CBS has “locked” these films away and will not be preserved. This is not the case.
The 25 Benny shows as well as the full run of the series is stored in state of the art facilities. The film elements are safe and in good shape. CBS is also aware of the fact that Ms. Leff has a library of many existing shows and charges for making copies; dupes of both copywritten and PD shows are offered from her website.
While I applaud her tenacity and love for Jack Benny (she organized a fine website and a convention a few years ago), it seems that the truth has been diluted and the actual state of the predicament has been reported in error. She is great at “self promoting”.
What it boils down to is this: She is a huge fan who just wants to have copies of the shows and has gone this route to try and obtain them. CBS doesn’t know how she was “supervising” a transfer of one of the color shows as that is not her job. True, it was an NBC special and maybe she was invited to see a conversion but “supervising”? She is friends with Joan Benny (Jack’s daughter) so perhaps that’s how she was invited to see the inner workings. She has gained attention to her fan club and her plight, however misrepresented it is.
CBS is not the enemy here; they will sub contract The Jack Benny out. As these are supposedly P D shows (and that’s not definite) there are other sources to locate them and once they’re out, anyone can dupe them and sell them for no fee. CBS isn’t the only source for 16mm kinescopes. They even told her to try to find them through other avenues, fully aware she wants to add them to her “collection”.
Should these films be available – of course. However, business is business and CBS pays for the storage of these and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of elements and that’s not cheap. To give copies to her for her archive is not so simple even if she pays for her copies. Maybe some company will come forward and these shows will be seen. Time will tell.
At the very least, it is interesting to see how this story has made its way through the Internet.