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Screwed By The Lawyers / Live-Action TV

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  • The DVD release of WB's all-female superhero series Birds of Prey was held up for years (leading to an awful lot of Keep Circulating the Tapes) due to music rights issues. The fact that it was Screwed by the Network (cancelled in its first season despite good reviews and decent ratings, reportedly due to internal network politics) did not help. It was only after years of pleading from the fans that the series got a full release on DVD with a note on the packaging that "some" of the music has been changed for home video release.
  • Cold Case has yet to be released on DVD because they've been unable to secure rights to the licensed music used in the episodes. Many episodes used multiple songs from a particular artist, played over all the flashback sequences as well as the end montage. Because of this, it's impractical to replace or remove the music, but just as impractical to gain the rights because of all the different artists used in a given season.
  • Doctor Who:
    • A bit of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well, Part 2" appeared on the soundtrack of Jon Pertwee's debut story "Spearhead from Space" on first broadcast (the stock footage workers in the plastics factory seem to be listening to Radio 1), but the rights were secured only for original transmission and the song was removed for rebroadcasts, exports, and home video release. The version as broadcast no longer exists, but the soundtrack was recreated for the second DVD issue and the Blu Ray, presumably because either Fleetwood Mac reduced their demands, or the success of the revived TV series increased BBC Enterprises' licensing budget.
    • "Revelation of the Daleks" took a very long time to be released on VHS due to serious music clearance issues - a major character in the story is a Fan of the Past and as a result many sixties hit records are used as diegetic music in scenes scattered throughout the story. The only song that the BBC was unable to license, either for the VHS or DVD issues, was Jimi Hendrix's "Fire", which had to be replaced by a generic library music hard rock track - this required particularly complicated audio surgery as there was dialogue over the music track.
    • To avoid this, the Nothing but Hits soundtrack of the 60s-Earth-set story "Delta and the Bannermen" consists of cover versions of the songs by the show's then composer and some of his friends.
  • Kids Incorporated hasn't received any DVD releases and hasn't been re-run since the late 90's because a major part of the show was the titular group performing covers of popular songs from the time it aired.
  • Lamb Chop's Play-Along, given its extensive use of copyrighted music, got a few select segments on VHS during the 90's and that was it. No DVD releases. No digital releases. No streaming. No proper home releases whatsoever. The only reason segments ended up on home video instead of full episodes was due to the music in said segments being properly cleared for home video release.
  • Malcolm in the Middle never got any DVD releases beyond the first season due to various music the show used being copyrighted. The dialogue of one scene (in which Bryan Cranston and Jane Kaczmarek sing along to something on the radio) had to be rerecorded to fit with a different song reinserted into the scene.
  • For many years, the theme song of Married... with Children (Frank Sinatra's "Love and Marriage") was replaced on the Sony DVD releases with a generic instrumental piece, namely due to licensing problems. The matter was finally sorted out beginning with the third season U.S. DVD, but even then, the track wasn't cleared for use in some regional editions. It wasn't until Mill Creek Entertainment began producing season sets that the full, original intro with the song appeared in all versions.
  • The Muppets have had this occur often:
    • The DVD releases of The Muppet Show have been repeatedly delayed due to issues with music rights. Several scenes had to be cut from the Season One set because Disney was unable to secure the rights to certain songs used in the show. Completely averted by Jim Henson's other major production, Fraggle Rock, as it used entirely original music.
    • This hits the Muppets often, for instance with re-releases of the full-length Christmas special A Muppet Family Christmas, where large chunks of the special have to be excised due to music rights, leading to a good deal of Keep Circulating the Tapes for those who find the special a celebrated part of their Christmas tradition. Even if you can live with the cuts, the special is still screwed since it involves all of Jim Henson's characters: the Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and Muppet Babies; and the rights to all of them have been split up.
  • Anyone trying to watch Quantum Leap on Netflix instant video will be unable to watch the whole series in its entirety. Quite a handful of episodes are removed for legal reasons, most notably because of the music used in said episode. What's worse is that some of these episodes are omitted from the DVD release as well.
    • In 2017 Mill Creek Entertainment released the full complete series on DVD/Bluray with most of the original music intact.
  • DVD release of The State was delayed for years due to music rights. The show first aired on MTV and had the rights to use any music then receiving play on the channel. However, the rights to each song had to be re-negotiated for DVD release.
  • Music rights issues are the reason why a home media release of WKRP in Cincinnati took more than three-and-a-half decades to come out. Up until its complete series release in 2014, it was one of the biggest cases of Keep Circulating the Tapes in action. When the show first began airing, it used many popular songs of the era and was a smash hit on television, and the music was inextricably tied to certain scenes (characters would quote entire song verses as the track played in the background, for instance). The producers didn't anticipate that the show would be so popular, and only licensed the music for a certain number of years and a certain format (videotape). When the show went into syndication, the licensing issue was dodged by having soundalikes perform replicas of the tracks to avoid paying royalties. However, a home media release was thought to be impossible for many years. 20th Century Fox DVD attempted to release the series in 2007, but gave up after the release of the first season due to the seemingly-insurmountable challenge of negotiating deals with several hundred artists and/or their representatives. (Reviews written around the time of the S1 DVD release show that nearly all of the music was either absent or replaced, completely butchering the episodes in the process.) It wasn't until 2014 that Shout! Factory successfully acquired the rights to many of the songs used throughout the show. Even then, they weren't able to acquire 20% of the songs and had to either replace the music or remove the scene it was tied to altogether.
  • The streaming versions of the soundtrack-reliant American Queer as Folk had much of the music replaced with banal soundalikes, causing significant damage to the story and atmosphere. Among the most frustrating examples is an early episode where the cast are out dancing and, in the original, react with delight to the iconic opening of ABBA's "Dancing Queen"; in the streaming version they inexplicably react with delight to ... something completely unremarkable and unrecognizable.
  • The BBC's Top Gear has had this issue with quite a few episodes as well. Most notable was the Vietnam episode, where "Born in the USA" has to be replaced with "The Star Spangled Banner" because of licensing issues. Not only is the change obvious for anyone who saw the original release, but it kills a joke told by Richard a minute later.
  • Many episodes of Fame are not available on DVD because of copyright issues involving the music used in the show.
  • The Wonder Years wouldn't be released on DVD until 2014 due to its extensive use of licensed songs, and ultimately only 15 songs were removed from the final releases.
  • The 1980s sitcom It's a Living is very rarely aired in reruns and has never been commercially on DVD because of the music clearance issues from Sonny the pianist's noodling off all kinds of different standards throughout the show. And despite it running for six seasons, there's simply not enough demand for the show nowadays to make up for the potential cost of clearing the music.

  • The 1960's Batman series had such complex licensing problems that the general assumption was that it would simply never be legally released in a home video format until it entered public domain near the end of the 21st century, that is, until it was announced that it would indeed gain a DVD release in November 2014. As was reported by this Wired article from circa the DVD release, the ownership was split between Greenway Productions (who owned the footage), 20th Century Fox (who had the distribution rights) and Warner Bros. (who owned the characters via their acquisition of DC Comics). Making matters worse, Greenway's shares in the series were split among William Dozier's children and lawyers upon his death. Eventually, Classic Media managed to acquire the Greenway shares, which were then bought by Fox, and Fox and Warner Bros. finally worked out a deal to get the series out on DVD.
  • The Charmings got complaints by the Disney Company when ABC was run by Capital Cities, since it was an unauthorized parody of Snow White. It's unclear whether this or low ratings ultimately led to its cancellation. Disney does now own ABC, opening up the possibility of a DVD release, though the heavy discouragement of press comparisons with the later show Once Upon a Time by the network suggests that it considers it a Dork Age program. It should also be noted that ABC never owned the rights to The Charmings. Sony currently owns the program, so a chance of a DVD release seems moot.
  • Doctor Who:
    • A scene involving The Beatles was deleted from the VHS release of "The Chase" (it's in the Region 2 DVD). This example is particularly egregious, as that clip is the only surviving portion of The Beatles' performance at Albert Hall (which was wiped from BBC archives for the same reason a lot of early Doctor Who was as well) and survived only because it was incorporated into the episode. These deletions fit the trope as well, because it was done in large part because the contracts with the actors' union in the period prohibited broadcasting any television program more than twice (and the entirely incorrect view of the BBC management that black and white programming was unsellable overseas).
    • The 1996 TV movie was thought to be permanently unavailable outside the British Commonwealth due to this (Universal TV owned the movie itself and the characters created for it outright in the USA, while the BBC owned all previously-existing elements of the Doctor Who franchise). The warring rights-holders decided to bury the hatchet and a worldwide DVD release came in February 2011.
  • The Australian version of the game show "It's a Knockout" was axed after three seasons, not due to low ratings but because of noise complaints from residents living near the sports ground where the show was taped. Due to lack of a suitable venue in Australia and insurance reasons, the IAK revival series was shot in Malaysia.
  • BBC halted all US VHS releases of Jackanory due to CBS/FOX Video not doing a major licensing contract of the classic children's show from the 60s up until the 90s and beyond as these are replaced with Playhouse Video's own CBS Videobreak US VHS releases. Jackanory was only released in the UK on VHS and could not be played in North American Video Cassette Recorders at all unless CBS/FOX retained their NTSC rights of the classic children's show by dropping the "Jackanory" name, showing only the name of the book on screen (similar to their CBS Videobreak US VHS releases). Unfortunately for Disney, the US VHS release of Winnie-the-Pooh does violate the company's trademark rights of the cartoon character of the same name being shown on a slipcase of the actual UK show's episode.
  • The NFL allegedly stepped in and told ESPN to no longer correspond with PBS, or have their reporters contribute to the Frontline documentary League of Denial involving concussions and brain damage among players in the league. The writers of the tie-in book worked for ESPN and continued to work with Frontline independently, though without the Worldwide Leader's backing.
  • Masters of Sex, loosely based on the lives and research of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, renowned sexuality researchers of the 1950s and 1960s, faced undisclosed legal issues in its third season requiring several plot changes and deviations from the true story. For example, in the show, Johnson had a third child with her husband in 1965 and remarried her ex-husband. In reality, Johnson only had two children, remained divorced from her ex-husband, and married Masters in 1971.
  • Possibly a reason why episodes of Maury prior to September 1998 are no longer rerun or showcased. That bulk of the series is owned by CBS, while all episodes after that era have been produced by NBCUniversal. The relationship between the two has been so sour that not even Maury Povich himself has been able to get the two to make up and allow the episodes to be shown again.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000:
    • The show got hit with this during the Volume 10 release of DVDs. One of them was Godzilla vs. Megalon and had been available for a short while. Then, Toho stepped in and said "no". A Volume 10.2 was soon released with a special Host Segment created to show why the movie wasn't included.
    • Until 2013, Shout! Factory couldn't release the episode featuring Pumaman because no one knew who to contact.
  • While most of the Perry Mason franchise is available on home video, The New Perry Mason hasn't been seen since its ill-fated run on CBS, and not just because CBS disavows its existence. The New Perry Mason is owned by Fox (who, ironically, provided studio facilities for CBS to film the original Perry Mason series in), so CBS has no legal authority to release anything from that series despite owning the franchise. Unless the two come to an unlikely agreement, forget about trying to look for it.
  • In 2003, ESPN aired a series called Playmakers which was a depiction of the behind-the-scenes actions of players of a fictional pro football team (in a fictional league). However, the NFL, who was in the midst of a new lucrative deal with ESPN, were not pleased with the stark, unflattering look at the world of pro football, and pressured the network to scuttle the show after one season, which they obliged. Several pro players like Warren Sapp praised the show for its realistic (to a point) depiction of football players and their shortcomings in the world, and criticized both the league and the network for trying to scrub anything negative about the sport. Later on the Playmakers name was used to market a line of cheap footballs and basketballs with ESPN branding.
  • The Six Million Dollar Man and the original The Bionic Woman were withheld from North American VHS or DVD video release for close to 30 years due to rights issues, before a breakthrough was reached that allowed their release in late 2010.
  • The reason for the almost-10 years long absence of Star Trek TV series between Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Discovery. See here for more details. For a Cliff Notes version - Star Trek was produced by Desilu Studios back in the 60s. Paramount bought Desilu during Trek's run and would hold on to the rights for many decades, even after Viacom purchased Paramount. In 2005, Viacom opted to split its movie and television divisions in two, creating a new Viacom and a restructured CBS Corporation, having bought the old CBS six years prior, which merged with CBS' in-house studio to become CBS Paramount and, later, CBS Studios. This is where things got messy - the Star Trek franchise was now split in two as Paramount had the rights to make movies and CBS had the rights to make TV shows. Bad Robot, J. J. Abrams' studio, wanted to make a massive multimedia franchise out of the reboot Star Trek film series, but CBS, content on fueling nostalgia and sticking with their old TV universe, would refuse. It wouldn't be until November 2, 2015 that Discovery was announced and it was specifically mentioned that it would be set in CBS's TV universe — dormant for a decade since Enterprise's ending — rather than Paramount's film universe. For the shortest and simplest answer, rights to Star Trek shifted hands three times, the third of which saw them being split between rights to TV and film productions, and it started a rift between whose visions for the franchise got the green light because both camps hissed at each other's ideas.
    • The same issue affects any revival of Mission: Impossible. Despite the massive success of the film series, there hasn't been a new Mission: Impossible television show since the 1988 revival was canceled in 1990, six years before the first film was released. Like Star Trek, CBS owns the Mission: Impossible intellectual property while Paramount owns all movie rights pertaining to the series, meaning that as long as the two parties don't see eye-to-eye there may never be another M: I series for the foreseeable future. There are other factors affecting this beyond ownership complications, as the revival wasn't that well-received to begin with and Peter Graves died in 2010, meaning that Jim Phelps will have to be either recast or replaced.
  • Shout! Factory's failure to secure licenses may explain why twelve live-action segments from The Super Mario Bros Super Show! went missing from their DVD sets. At least three of them managed to be streamed online, but there's still no word on whether or not the other nine segments will ever see the light of day again.
  • With the exception of Salty's Lighthouse, any preschool show that used a Framing Device surrounding imported cartoons will probably never see the light of day again due to rights needing to be cleared for the shows they are a framing device for. These include Shining Time Station, The Fox Cubhouse, Big Bag, the Lacey Entertainment version of The Mr. Men Show, The Noddy Shop, Mr. Moose's Fun Time and Someday School.
  • Ultra Series: Ugh, where do you even begin with this one? The reason why the franchise was almost impossible to distribute outside of Asia until 2017 was because the first six shows (Ultra Q, Ultraman, Ultraseven, Return of Ultraman, Ultraman Ace, and Ultraman Taro) were caught in the midst of a huge copyright dispute between Tsuburaya Productions (the creators) and the Thai company Chaiyo productions (who had done several co-productions with them in the 70s), which meant anybody interested in trying to release Ultraman in non-Asian countries could approach either company only to get caught up in their heated debate. Full story here.
  • The Goodies changed a Take That! cameo of Spock to Jon Pertwee for the DVD release.


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