DVDs put new spin on TV viewing

New on DVD

Movies: on screen, DVD/ Video

March 25, 2004|By Mark Rahner | Mark Rahner,KNIGHT RIDDER / TRIBUNE

There's particular joy in defying the Outer Limits Control Voice. You remember, the bossy one:

"Do not attempt to adjust the picture. ... We are controlling transmission. ... We will control the vertical. We will control the horizontal. ... Sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear."

Oops. Just hit pause. Time to fast-forward, maybe skip a chapter on the DVD. Who's in control now, punk? I own you.

MGM's two Outer Limits TV collections are part of the fastest-growing trend within the DVD explosion. Collections are changing the way we watch shows, and even the way some shows are made - because viewers are in control.

In any given week, half or more of Amazon.com's 25 top sellers on DVD are TV shows. A&E Home Video reports that its business has doubled since TV-on-DVD took off roughly a year ago. Sources at Warner Bros. - the studio with the most TV on DVD - have reported a 98 percent rise in those titles from last year.

That all amounts to about 10 percent of the total DVD business (up from 6 percent last year), or $1.2 billion, says Video Store Magazine editor Thomas K. Arnold.

Arnold says, "They're really changing the way we watch TV and regard TV shows." A series isn't something you plan your time around any more; it's something you consume like a book. You pick it up whenever you want, and each episode is like a chapter.

Too cheap for HBO? Got plans with actual humans on Sundays? Work your way through a boxed season of The Sopranos. Separation anxiety over Carrie and her Cosmo-swilling pals? Sex and the City sets have been flying off shelves like half-price Manolos. Keep hearing raves about British series The Office and Absolutely Fabulous? Cancel your plane ticket and check out the discs.

But being able to hoard your favorite shows is nothing new. "TV shows came out in smaller quantities in VHS days, but the problem was space," Arnold points out. When MGM released all 49 episodes of the '60s Outer Limits anthology series in two sets, each was no bigger than a single video tape.

The archival nature of DVDs is another reason why people are clearing shelf space. Cassettes wear out, but DVDs are permanent, with extras such as cast commentaries that fans eat up.

The two most popular kinds: current hit shows, and cult shows that have loyal followings. And there's still a learning curve in effect among the studios.

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which people thought would be a no-brainer, didn't do that well, but cult shows like Outer Limits are going like gangbusters," Arnold says.

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