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DVD Sales Sparks Series Returns

Posted: 12/09/2003
By David Lambert

Lucky there's a...
In November we first reported that Fox was considering a plan to resume production of Family Guy...based on strong DVD demand and ratings in syndication, according to a story that was then being run in USA Today. Just a few days ago, TVShowsOnDVD's owner, Gord Lacey, had the opportunity to interview Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, who confirmed that a return of new episodes to broadcast was pending, and that a decision would be forthcoming very quickly.

Now The Hollywood Reporter has checked in on the matter, with an interesting roundtable discussion between them and the Presidents of 5 different home entertainment divisions: Universal's Craig Kornblau, DreamWorks' Kelley Avery, Disney/Buena Vista's Bob Chapek, Artisan's Steve Beeks, and 20th Century Fox's Mike Dunn.

That roundtable will be good reading to anyone interested in the DVD industry. In the course of their discussion, Mike Dunn (President of Fox Home Entertainment) mentioned that they will do something with the Family Guy property:

    THR: And now with TV DVD coming on so strong, there are even more titles to get in front of people.
    Beeks: I think what's really amazing is something like what happened at Mike's company with (Fox's)
    "Family Guy," which only aired for one season but went on to become this phenomenal DVD success ...
    Dunn: And we're going to go back into production on
    "Family Guy" specifically for the DVD market, as a result of the DVD success. I think this 34-year-old male, who is a very avid purchaser, fits right into the demo of our TV DVD business. The things that really work, like (Fox's) "The Simpsons" -- which will do 1.6 million units on Season One alone, over the period of a year and a half -- are in that sweet spot, and it's created a revenue source that didn't exist during the VHS days. It's that male consumer that has a high-end home entertainment system and is a collector.

A couple of notes about that quote: first, Steve Beeks was mistaken in one respect: Family Guy aired for 3 "seasons" (though it was on-again, off-again a lot, so we can understand anyone being confused about this). Second, Mike Dunn's choice of wording seems to indicate that this is for Direct-to-DVD. We don't think so, after our interview with Seth MacFarlane. He seemed convinced that it was a broadcast return deal that was on the table. And that he was merely waiting for the go-ahead decision. Well, Dunn's comments at the roundtable certainly make it sound like the decision has been made to go ahead. A move to return Family Guy to production status is unprecedented. But it won't necessarily be unaccompanied.

It was the dawn of the third age...
IGN Filmforce reports that J. Michael Straczynski admits he's working on a new Babylon 5 follow-up, and that strong DVD sales are the cause:
    ...with the big success of the first three Babylon 5 DVD sets, talk is turning back to renewing the popular sci-fi series.

    J. Michael Straczynski, the series creator, posted on a
    Babylon 5 newsgroup this week that he was indeed working on a follow-up. Straczynski says that phase one of this as-yet-unnamed endeavor is a go, but that he can't say anything specific about it until January 15th. In the meantime, it sounds like JMS is busy writing material for the project.

The strong revenue generated by Babylon 5 sets is certainly making the folks at Warner Home Video happy. There was an initial hesitation to even release DVDs, due to lower-than-expected sales on VHS of the series - so low, in fact, that the VHS run was cancelled before it was completed. However, many fans have spoken up since then to say that the only reason they stopped buying VHS tapes was in anticpation of DVD compilations, which were becoming popular at the time for other shows. Sales have been so brisk on these sets that Jerry Doyle, who played "Garibaldi" on the original series, commented that "If they want to do 20 years of Babylon 5, they recoup their entire production cost just one box set run of DVDs." That's certain to be an exaggeration, but certainly the idea is there that the DVD income helps immensely.

TV Shows on DVD
The popularity of DVD releases based on Television Show properties is one of the great success stories of this format. This hasn't been lost on us here at, and over the two years we've been here we get asked this a lot: "Do you think they will ever start producing television shows *just* for DVD, never having aired them on television?" The industry is discovering just how powerful the DVD format is, to tell a story in its own right, and to deliver unique content to the viewers. So yes, it's not only possible, but people who read this news item we posted several weeks ago will know that Fox is already formulating such a plan, as a spin-off of sorts from 24.

How long will the DVD format last? The future already seems to be full of talk about HD-DVD, and competing formats like Blu-Ray and China's EVD format. On the other hand, there is also significant movement on the part of the studios to push for non-ownership forms of delivery, especially Video-On-Demand (VOD). We think that the latter would be a push in the wrong direction, and for many reasons. But it also occurs to us that with VOD, we wouldn't be seeing the miracle of show revivals like Family Guy and a new Babylon 5 spin-off, or new DVD-only releases of a 24-inspired show. Because, after all, VOD isn't TV-on-DVD. It's just TV, all over again.

Our thanks to Mike D. and B. Rourk. for their contributions to this story.

NOTE: Readers of the above article (and the IGN FilmForce article about J. Michael Straczynski's new Babylon 5 universe project) are quick to point out to me - and rightly so - that nowhere does JMS himself say that the new proposition is a TV Series. He has left the door open for the project he's working on to be a new telefilm or mini-series, a feature theatrical film, a videogame using filmed sequences, etc. One reader, Joseph DeMartino, wrote to point out that in a newsgroup post back on September 27th, JMS indicated he had 1 or 2 possible B5-related projects on the horizon, that "they're not print projects", but also that "neither of them are series". This new activity is almost certainly one of those projects he was hinting at back in the fall. So, with this information in hand, we wanted to be sure that our readers knew that this upcoming venture wouldn't be an ongoing show, but instead is a 1-time event. Nevertheless, whatever the mystery undertaking turns out to be, it's obvious that the reason JMS continues to play in the Babylon 5 universe is because of strong fan support, and that the great DVD sales is a major representation of that.

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