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Site News - Editorial: Lawyers, Disclaimers and the Replaced Fugitive Music

What happened?

Posted by Gord Lacey
Some episodes may be edited from their original network versions.
Some music has been changed for this home entertainment version.

Those are the warnings that appear on many of the CBS/Paramount TV releases in small, microscopic printing on the back of the box. The first statement is vague, and is used to cover the ass of the studio in case someone discovers an episode is a syndicated print, or in case the studio has to edit an episode, for whatever reason. A well-paid lawyer came up with the wording to protect the studio, should anyone complain. It's the same reason they've dropped the word "Complete" from the name of the releases. Look at sets of 7th Heaven and you'll notice season 4 is no longer called "complete," because the definition of "complete" can be debated. Is a season "complete" because it contains all the episodes, or is it "complete" when it contains all the original music and content in an episode? You can find arguments for both sides, so the word was removed.

The second statement, while not as vague, indicates that "music" has been changed. This could be anything from a single song, to the entire underscore in a TV series, as fans of The Fugitive discovered when they popped season 2, volume 1 into their DVD players. The music which played throughout the episodes is gone, replaced by newly recorded sound-a-like versions, and new musical credits were added to the end of each episode. The fans were less than impressed, and they grabbed torches and pitchforks, ready to strike out at anyone who could have been involved in the bastardization of their beloved show. One CBS employee, someone involved in producing bonus material for DVD sets, was singled out as the cause of the musical "edits," and his mailbox was flooded by angry fans simply because he had put his email address out there while trying to track down the original pilot for The Invaders. He had absolutely nothing to do with the musical edits.

I haven't been able to get a straight answer as to what happened to The Fugitive music, but it's brought a more serious issue to light: companies are hiding behind disclaimers. A quick check of 20 recent CBS/Paramount titles reveals an "edited" disclaimer on 17 titles; that's 85% of the recent releases that "may" be edited. Are we to believe that CBS/Paramount edits most of their content, or are they just being lazy and using the disclaimer as a way to cover their asses? Five of the 17 titles also carry the music disclaimer, though there are two versions: "Music has been changed for this home entertainment version," and "Some music has been changed for this home entertainment version." One implies that all the music has been changed, while the other implies only some songs been changed.

Could fans of The Fugitive have known what was in store for them? Nope, not a chance. The previous sets have all included the same disclaimers as those on the back of season 2, volume 1; episodes may be edited, and some music has been changed, yet fans in forums such as The Home Theater Forum insist that all the underscore music is intact on the earlier sets. There was absolutely no indication that the music they enjoyed, and many would argue made the show, would be stripped clean. While fans of classic TV have become used to popular songs being replaced, whether they support the practice or not, this is the first time underscore has been removed on a TV-DVD set. The back of the box even mentions that the audio has been "restored," leading fans to believe it's been improved upon, not butchered. Hmm... did the lawyers miss a possible lawsuit-worthy phrase on the packaging?

We can assume that this wasn't a malicious act by the studio, but rather due to high music licensing costs, or the rumored inability to track down some of the rights holders to the music library cues that were used. The reason for the change, whatever it may be, doesn't let the studio off the hook for the bait-and-switch tactic that was used on the set. Did someone actually think the newly recorded music would fool the die-hard fans of the series? Someone just had a rude awakening if that's the case.

Studios need to stop hiding behind vague disclaimers and take responsibility for their actions, or they risk alienating the people they expect to buy their products. The consumers should be told exactly what's been done to the set, either on the back of a package, or a statement issued to press. Sony, knowing fans wouldn't be happy with the replaced theme song on the third season of Married... with Children explained that they used a sound-a-like song before the set was released; Warner Bros did the same thing with Life Goes On. This prepared the consumers for what they would hear instead of surprising them when they went to watch an episode. The die-hard customers, the ones that faithfully purchase these DVD sets, are the ones that will notice the smallest change in an episode. They're the ones that have episodes recorded onto worn-out VHS tapes, and some may even have 16mm film of their favorites. They've analyzed every second of every episode, and they won't be fooled by sound-a-like songs. By trying to trick them, studios risk alienating some of their best customers, ensuring they'll stop buying sets of the show, and will think twice about buying other sets, ones that could be unedited.

A customer has very little recourse once a set has been opened, so that leaves fans with a couple of options when it comes to classic TV: don't buy the set for a few weeks, or buy it and sit on it (if you can resist the urge to open it up). Monitor fan sites and DVD forums and keep an eye open for complaints about the set. Studios hate returns, and it sends a signal if they start getting lots returned. It's also recommended to send mail if you're unhappy with a DVD set; studios print their mailing addresses on the back of the box (just address it to the Home Video division, and it should get to the appropriate people). Try to keep a civil tone, and it may be a good idea to write the letter and leave it for a few hours before coming back to edit it. A well-worded letter conveys your message a lot better than one filled with swearing, demands and threats.

CBS/Paramount should come clean and let fans know why The Fugitive music was stripped on the season 2, volume 1 set. Was it an over-cautious lawyer scared by some music licensing issues, or was it related to poor sales and high music costs? The studio also needs to stop hiding behind vague disclaimers and let consumers know what was changed on a release; disclaimers appearing on 85% of the sets is pathetic. While the disclaimers may prevent a lawsuit, it won't prevent consumers from feeling ripped off and resentful. This will translate into a decrease in sales and ultimately the death of a great hobby. CBS/Paramount, which has been trumpeting the number of TV releases for the past few years, needs to concentrate on quality, not quantity. It's time they start living up to their ads (pictured below).

CBS/Paramount was given an opportunity to respond to many of the questions asked of them in this article. Our last correspondence indicated they were still looking into the issues.

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