All of the obscure television programs I’ve written about here at Television Obscurities have their fans ready and willing to purchase DVD sets. But the likelihood of any of them coming to DVD is slim. There is simply not enough widespread consumer demand. However, the recent introduction of so-called “manufacture-on-demand” DVDs offers, at least in theory, a way for some of these shows to find their way to DVD. Warner Brothers has released the first pilot telefilm to NBC’s Man from Atlantis on DVD as well as two of Gene Rodddenberry’s unsold 1970s pilot telefilms through the Warner Archive website. I think it is safe to say none of these would have seen the light of day through the traditional DVD route.
How many people would happily pay to get even a few episodes of The New People, The Young Rebels, SEARCH or It’s a Man’s World through a manufacture-on-demand program like the Warner Archive? I know I would, even if the price was a little extravagant. There are some drawbacks to manufacture-on-demand: the discs are DVD-Rs, the quality of the transfers may not be all that great, and there likely won’t be fancy cover art. But if these shows are never going to be available in any other way and a small but vocal group of fans will pay a premium it might just be an avenue that should be explored.
Another avenue is Internet streaming. Based solely on my own experience, the 2006-2007 television season was when the networks began offering unaired episodes of cancelled programs online for fans to watch for free with the occasional advertisement. Today, of course, you can watch new episodes of just about every current television show online, both broadcast and cable. And you can even watch all 31 episodes of My Mother, The Car at Hulu.com. When I wrote about the unexpected availability of the Jerry Van Dyke sitcom in August I opined that in lieu of an actual DVD release, putting episodes online — even if they include advertisements — is at the very least a step in the right direction.
Of course, viewers outside the United States cannot use Hulu.com and that can be frustrating. But then again, there are some shows that have been released in other regions but not in the United States. DVD sets of The Bionic Woman, for example, is available in Region Two (the United Kingdom and Germany, to be specific) but not in the States. Thanks to Hulu, fans can watch all fourteen episodes from the first season.
Is it possible that My Mother, The Car will eventually be released in DVD? Certainly. But it is incredibly unlikely. For those who don’t mind watching television on their computer the episodes are available right now. And I would even be willing to pay to watch The New People online, although of course I would prefer a DVD set. What if the episodes were available for download through iTunes or Amazon.com? That would be even better.
(As an aside, the Museum of Broadcast Communications has digitized some 7,000 hours of radio and television programs and makes them available, for free, to anyone willing to register. And there are some relatively obscure titles included. You can watch the premiere episode of ABC’s Breakfast Club With Don McNeill from 1948 or an episode of Panhandle Pete and Jennifer thought to be from 1949.)
The main sticking point for both manufacture-on-demand and Internet streaming is, of course, the cost of digitizing episodes with legal considerations running a close second. I don’t know the finances involved or how many lawyers it would take to clear any copyright concerns. But if My Mother, The Car can be made available at Hulu.com and two of Gene Roddenberry’s unsold 1970s pilot telefilms at Warner Archives via manufacture-on-demand, there may be hope for dozens of other somewhat obscure television shows.