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TV on DVD is OK, 11.14.02 ...

Wanna program your very own network?

Why be at the whims of a primetime schedule when you can watch four hours of "The X-Files" after savoring three hours of "The Sopranos"? Tivo, you say? No, DVD.

Plenty of the cult hits of the 1990s have made their way to the land of box set but DVDs are still an unmined resource for television show creators and TV watchers alike. How can the tube dealers and junkies make the most of those fabulous little silver discs?

Old shows, new fans

Most television shows don't win fans after cancellation. But how many people actually caught the 1990 cult fave "Twin Peaks" and how many have seen it-post-bradcast-demise-on video and DVD? All the Dale-come-latelys can catch the entire first season without losing the story in time slot changes, pre-emptions and mid-season hiatuses.

And, though Laura Palmer devotees new to the fold don't have the benefit of contemporaneous fandom, the DVD format includes directors' commentaries, cast and crew interviews and interviews with TV experts-thus simulating the early 90s frenzy. My votes for now-cancelled shows that could find new fans in the aisle of Best Buy: Jay Mohr's wonderfully vicious "Action," "Dark Angel" (first season only, please) and, of course, "Seinfeld." (What? Even "Mad About You" has released a season one disc.)

Catch up

Fox's "24" moved quickly in to the DVD market by selling its first season before the second season hit the airwaves this fall. For a show that received so much critical acclaim, this kind of customer service may seem both over-eager and unnecessary. But "24"'s format-each episode was one, real-time hour of a day-could make it difficult for even the curious new viewer to check it out. By putting out season one, the show probably helped find new watchers for season two.

Make it up in volume

Many hour-long dramas, especially sci-fi and genre shows have a high production value. (Those alien foreheads and giant snake people don't come cheap.) Since these shows can sit on the edge of profitability for those crucial early seasons, what better way to bring in a little extra revenues than put the puppies out on DVD? For fans and newcomers alike, these season sets instantly increase in value with the addition of deleted scenes, alternate endings, commentaries and creator interviews. Cheap add-ons to expensive productions, writers, directors and creators can use these one-on-one chats to build that oh so important fan base. (After all, it's the slightly crazy ones who write letters, organize show conventions and do the word-of-mouth-marketing.)


For viewers, the best bonus on a DVD is the control. My first exposure to "The Sopranos" was from a weekend with the first season's DVD set. Viewed back to back (or over and over), a good series will show off its continuity, its character development and its story arcs in a way that weekly viewing doesn't always make clear. Conversely, of course, lousy shows will become even lousier viewed in painful, rapid succession. ("Sex in the City" can be a guilty pleasure in rare 30-minute installments. Watch more than an hour and you'll want to kill yourself with the heel of a Manolo Blahnik.)

Trivial pursuit

Control over the viewing schedule is the very best but those little extras are important cherries on top of the series sundaes. DVD's ability to offer geektacular levels of over-explanation is best used when fans get a peak at the minds behind the show. I'm a director's commentary junkie and none is better than Joss Whendon's nerdily proud discussions of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He has a vision for his show that he not only demonstrates through scripts and direction better than any of his Mutant Enemy minions but also articulates like master showman he is.

Watch all you want, we'll make more

So many more shows scream for the box set treatment. HBO's "Six Feet Under," "The Wire" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" should all be made available to the not-cable-ready masses. "The West Wing" needs to get a few seasons in on disc if for no other reason than to remind everyone how good it can be. Even little The WBers like "Smallville," "Gilmore Girls," the late great-ish "Grosse Pointe" and the first season of "Roswell" could find suitable homes in the release-by-season format. Can a deluxe edition of "Birds of Prey" be far behind?
Credit: Hippo Press

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