Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Failure Of The Mary Tyler Moore Show On Dvd

Recently it was announced for the first time in their history that NBC was not debuting any sitcoms in their upcoming Fall lineup. I realize that everything goes in cycles but for people who grew up with classic sitcoms as a part of their family this news is more than a little shocking.
I have been meaning to write on THE MARY TYLER MOORE show for awhile since it is a real favorite of mine and because I am frankly mystified by its failure in the dvd market.
Few shows in history were more critically acclaimed or loved by its fans than THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. While never being a number one hit, the show consistently received solid ratings in it's initial run from 1970-1977. It won many awards, was successful in syndication and for the millions of people who fell in love with Mary and the crew of WJM, it became part of our lives.
Along with a handful of other shows from the early 1970's THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW broke major barriers in the way people viewed women and minorities on television. The importance of Mary Tyler Moore, the person and the character, Mary Richards, she played shouldn't be underestimated in modern culture. Equally important were Valerie Harper's Rhoda Morgenstern as well as the often overlooked Gordy the weatherman played by John Amos. Here was a show that presented people of different color, sex and religion joined together in work and friendship; the show showed it was possible they could love each other and we loved them. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was amazingly progressive and groundbreaking in the way that it presented real people instead of typical stereotypes.
The show was also important in the way that it presented friendship between women. The early years are particularly moving in looking at the way Mary and Rhoda related to each other. Bonds between women in early tv often focused on the men in their lives, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW presented two extremely independent women who loved each and felt a kinship that didn't center on men, and this dynamic would have a huge effect on countless shows after. Also the handling of the work place and the surrogate family Mary forms there has been copied over and over again, but it would never feel as real or as endearing as it does in this show.
Still none of that would mean much if the show hadn't succeeded as a situation comedy, but the fact is that it did and continues to. This is an incredibly funny show, and there isn't one episode I can think of that doesn't at least make me laugh at loud a couple of times. James L. Brooks and Allan Burns managed to create a show in 1970 that featured a group of the best actors, writers and directors in the business and from the beginning it always seemed a step above all the others.
Within the past few years a statue has been erected in Minneapolis celebrating Mary's iconic hat being thrown in the air, CHUCKLES BITES THE DUST was voted the greatest episode in television history by a panel of critics and fans and the show is still considered one of the best examples of how good tv can why has it failed on dvd?

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW premiered on dvd in late 2002. The first season box was an elaborate affair featuring all of the initial episodes, commentaries, rare promo spots, Emmy award clips, a booklet, a deluxe box and a very detailed 90 minute documentary. The studio obviously felt like it had a major winner on its hands and wasn't skimping on it. As further evidence of their belief in it the supplements were specific to Season One with hints that each season would feature the same elaborate extras. Also the first season came with a card promising the second season in March 03. It was released to much acclaim as one of the best presentations of a tv show yet on the format...and nobody bought it.

I remember getting the set the day it came out and being floored by all the extras and the opportunity to watch the show in order. It also got me excited at the prospect of it's spin-off shows, including the landmark RHODA and LOU GRANT series as well as PHYLLIS, also being released. I pictured the young decade as being a time when I would be able to revisit all of the great shows from the MTM family.
I hadn't read about the poor sales but remember around Christmas time of 02 being in a local Best Buy and noticing that there seemed to be the same copies of the box on their shelves that had been there months before.
Soon Amazon removed Season Two from it's pre-order page and March of 03 came and went and the second box was no where to be seen. So what happened?
The main problem was in a bad pricing scheme that I think has damaged the entire series on disc. The original season was marked at nearly three times the cost of other shows coming out. This huge difference really hurt it. The only reason the second season eventually did get released is that the studio finally lowered the price of the first. This marketing error destroyed the momentum the show had in 2002. It had just come off a successful syndicated tv run, a Reunion show had been aired to high ratings and it was honored in grand style at the TVLand awards. It was a perfect moment to release the show but a sixty dollar tag on it pushed away any potential new or curious fans. I think to this day people still don't have any of the season's because they remember that initial high price and have never thought to revisit it.
Season Two was released 3 years after the first in a slimmed down set with just a few extras. It sold even less than the first season. Seasons Three and Four were released in 2006 just six months apart from each other. The extras had been completely dropped by this point and sales plummeted even further. To date Season Four (one of the funniest years of any sitcom ever) has sold less than 75,000 copies.
Late last year Twentieth Century Fox announced that due to poor sales the final three seasons of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW have been shelved. There is an online petition to get them out but it is doubtful that it will happen anytime soon. With TVLand getting further and further away from classic tv it looks like these last three seasons might be missing in action in any format for quite a while.

Of course it can't all be blamed on a once high price tag. There just seems to be something in the air this decade that is about as far removed from the seventies' positive role models as possible. After all this is a decade where Paris Hilton is considered a role model by many young girls so what place could Mary Richards hold right now?

Like I said though at the beginning of this...things go in cycles and this show will return. Quality lasts long after the cloud of what is fashionable passes.
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW lasted for 168 episodes, it one nearly thirty Emmy's and three Golden Globe Awards. Its ceator has since gone on to win several academy awards and its writers contributed scripts week after week that that featured situations and ideas that are more than just a little relevant to this day. The cast featuring Mary Tyler Moore, Valerie Harper, Ed Asner, Ted Knight, Gavin Macleod, Cloris Leachman, Goergia Engel and Betty White were among the finest actors the Seventies had to offer.
And it was always very, very funny.
For an entire generation that grew up with this show, it is still proof positive that we can indeed make it on our will return.


Kimberly Lindbergs said...

My mom really loved this show and I can remember watching it with her a few times and enjoying it even when I was a kid. It's a shame that the show didn't find an audience on DVD and now the studio is holding it hostage. I've really been happy to see so many old shows coming out on DVD recently. Hopefully the rest of the episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show will see the light of day some day.

It's seems so strange to me that women like Paris Hilton are now the new "it" girls in 2007... It often feel like the so-called "women's movment" has been going backwards since the 1980s.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks for your thoughts Kimberly,
Since I have been back in school I have noticed a disturbing trend in younger people in admiring completely empty and sometimes totally corrupt people. I find it really sad some of the folks who are considered role models today.
As a male who grew up in the seventies with mostly just my mom I was surrounded by images and thoughts of incredibly stromg and positive female role models...everyone from Jane Fonda to Patti Smith to more political figures like Angela Davis and Shirley Chisholm.
Even if you didn't always agree with them it was refreshing to be raised in an environment surrounded with such open and free thinkers.
It's pretty horrifying to me how many times I have heard 18 and 19 year old girls in the past year or so say there biggest goal is to find a man to take care of them. I feel like I am on a different planet sometimes...
sorry to ramble on...

thanks for your comments...I do think the show will eventually find its audience again, but it might be awhile.

Anonymous said...

Your post made me feel some guilt as being in Britain and not around in the 70s I had never seen the Mary Tyler Moore show. I read the Internet reviews at the time the first season came out and was planning to buy it, but other things I wanted to buy more kept coming up - each and every month after! I have to think much harder about committing to television box sets as I worry sometimes, as in this case, that the full series will not make it out (I had the recent problem with the early 90s British topical comedy series set in a newsroom called Drop The Dead Donkey - the first two seasons didn't feature commentaries but did have interviews. Then the third, fourth and fifth series had nothing but the episodes and despite being announced the sixth and final series has yet to be released on DVD - so close and yet so far!)

I have been buying Lost and 24 on DVD, but that is more to do with being unable to see them when they are shown on the television in Britain.

However I still have some television season gaps that are nobody elses fault but my own. Somehow I have every season of Six Feet Under but the fourth! And I'm trying to slowly pick up Oz but have only got the first two seasons so far! While I've still got to pick up boxsets of these shows I'm churlish about committing to another DVD television series, if that makes any sense!

It does seem a real shame, and shows a lack of committment from the producers, that they pull the plug on DVD releases. Even if the extra features disappear completely it just seems wrong to not put out the rest of the shows for customers who bought the earlier shows.

I sometimes worry about the pace of change and the moving on to new formats such as the HD Blu-Ray thing, while being fine and a sign of technical progress, preventing many films and television shows being released as the companies concentrate on releasing stuff on the new format that they've already brought out numerous times before. Despite video being around for a good twenty years there are films and television shows that never turned up on that format, and of that number many of those have probably not appeared on DVD yet, and soon from what I hear things will be reset again so we can buy another copy of Titanic in HD!

Not that I'm against progress, but I sometimes wonder about all the material that has fallen into obscurity because of financial considerations such as those you talked about in your post. Will the final Mary Tyler Moore seasons and the spin off shows you talked about become prized rarities because they never got brought out, even if it was on a barebones disc?

Nostalgia Kinky said...

Thanks Colin for your very well thought out and detailed comments. I agree that there just seems to be too big of a push towards constant new technology. It's just been about ten years since the dvd market began to bloom and I am frankly overwhelmed by all of the new HD formats that are flooding the marketplace. And you are right, ineviatbly it is smaller titles that will be lost in the shuffle...anyway, lots more I could say on the subject...thanks again for the great and detailed comments.

Anonymous said...

MTM was the best written and funniest sitcom of all time-and I love All In The Family, Bob Newhart etc.-but nothing holds up like MTM. Remember the Feiffer cartoon with the guy throwing his TV off a cliff with the caption,'The cancellation of The Mary Tyler Moore Show". I may be over optimistic but is it possible the delay has to do with trying to get MTM herself involved, particularly since Season 5 contains 'Chuckles Bites The Dust'. The saddest thing about the possibility of Fox squashing the rest of the series is that it just got better as it went and as nice as the Season One extras were, it's the later shows that should contain more goodies. Thank God I taped The Nick At Nite Marython in 1992! Mary on old video tape beats any sitcom on the air today!

Tommy said...

I am one of those kids who grew up in the 70s and was unable to experience Mary Tyler Moore until I got older and saw it in re-runs. I fell in love immediately and a lot of my friends did too. Well, I agree that it's a shame that once this show was put on DVD that it failed to sell enough to produce the entire seven seasons. I have purchased the four seasons and only recently found that one network, the American Life Network, is playing re-runs of MTM. Actually it's part of their Monday night line-up, which I call the MTM lineup because they have a marathon of sorts of MTM shows, starting with Mary Tyler Moore, then Newhart, WKRP in Cincinnati, and concluding with The Bob Newhart Show. If you can find this network on your cable system, these shows can be found Monday nights, starting at 9pm EST. They sometimes go off the broadcast order but hey, it's the episodes and they really go to a lot of trouble not to cut out a lot like syndication often does. It might not just be on your cable system, you might have to get a digital box to get this channel but it's worth it if you really want to see these shows. Hope this cheers a few of the MTM fans up!