Keep Circulating the Tapes
"I don't like the idea of something existing if I can't get a copy of it."There once was a show. You Know That Show. It was a really good show. Or maybe it was something else; it's just as likely that it's the Nostalgia Filter speaking. Still, you'd love to relive the memories, and share it with your friends. There's just one problem: It's impossible. Watch and record reruns? Of course you would...if it were on. Buy the DVD? You'd already have it on pre-order...if it existed. Watch it online? You'd bookmark it in a second...until the company that owns the series threatens the video provider with legal consequences unless they remove the content. Netflix? Hulu? iTunes? Not there. What's a fan to do? It isn't that you're setting out to break copyright law...you'd be more than happy to pay to acquire it legally! At the same time, though, you realize that the market is too niche for a super-deluxe bells-and-whistles compilation DVD to be justifiably profitable... no matter how many online petitions your forum sends. Keep Circulating The Tapes (a phrase attributed to Mystery Science Theater 3000) is an option of last resort. It's when a show you like is denied to you, except through methods of questionable legality — shady file-sharing sites, tape trading/buying... it's either that, or the show's likely to be Lost Forever outside of fan recordings and film company archives. It's also the rule rather than the exception for video games and other non-simple media, to the point where the Abandonware concept and emulation were created to bring common sense into the situation (the Virtual Console, PlayStation Network, GameTap, Steam, GOG.com, and to a smaller extent Xbox LIVE Arcade are finally starting to remedy this situation with games, but it's still a long way to go). Try not to be angry that you can get the complete Brady Bunch Variety Hour, Van Pires, The PJs, Making Fiends, Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place and TJ Hooker on DVD but not Muppet Babies, Our Miss Brooks, Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones?, Recess, KaBlam!,Shining Time Station, Murphy Brown, June Foray's version of Frosty the Snowman, or almost any music video of The Beatles. After steam stops shooting out of your ears, the question you're asking is probably... why? Well, a typical answer is that the television companies (correctly or incorrectly) don't think there's enough of a market for it to be worth releasing them, but it's not always their fault... directly. An all-too-common cause is music rights. Mission Hill halfway fell victim to this with the show released to DVD, but the most of the popular music was omitted and replaced with Countdown Singers-esque soundalikes. Baby Blues wasn't as lucky; its DVD release may never see the light of day due to the theme being "It's All Been Done" by the Barenaked Ladies. Royalties play a large part in it. ...this requires some explanation. The tape circulators could've probably hazarded a guess, but absolutely nobody else saw the TV-on-DVD boom coming. TV on VHS had been tried, sure, but it wasn't even barely successful for even music-compilation heavyweights like Time-Life and Columbia House for several reasons:
- The cost of the tapes.
- The outrageous amounts of shelf space needed for even one season of a series; a 22-episode season of an hour-long series needed 11 VHS tapes to fit on, though 2-per-tape was the standard even for 22-minute-without-commercials shows (for which 5 episodes could fit on a two-hour tape), which even carried over into some DVD releases. This despite the fact that a VHS tape is capable of holding as much as 8 hours of footage on it.
- The fragile nature of the format, allowing for a $300 investment to be ruined by a hungry VCR or a fridge magnet.
- Up to the early 2000s, television syndicators did all they could to keep the public from buying a television series, basically so channels would continue to see reruns as valuable and pull in ratings. As a result, only PBS documentaries were offered.
- Anime and Manga
- Fan Works
- Live-Action TV
- New Media
- Tabletop Games
- Video Games
- Web Original
- Western Animation
- Works that were rescued after a stint in limbo.