St. Elsewhere isn’t the only series that has the bulk of its episodes being held hostage by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment – and when I started examining what only can be described as bizarre release habits by that division of News Corp., I realized financial decisions alone can’t explain all its moves away. For example, if you live in England, you can access all six seasons of St. Elsewhere as Britain’s Channel 4 makes all 137 episodes of the series available through its on demand service.
Repeated attempts for comment from James Finn, senior vice president for consumer and corporate communications at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment along with attempts to reach Julie Henderson and Dan Berger in News Corp.’s Los Angeles corporate communications office went unreturned.
“They have the whole MTM library and they’re pissing it away,” Tom Fontana said. Of the many award-winning and popular programs from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, only The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Remington Steele can be purchased, rented or viewed in their entirety. “I think things would have been different had MTM had not been sold to British, who failed miserably in doing anything, and then Fox gobbling it up,” said Mark Tinker, whose late father, Grant Tinker, founded MTM Enterprises. Between MTM’s ownership by the British company TVS Entertainment and its purchase by News Corp., the company and its library were held by Pat Robertson’s International Family Entertainment.
Along with only releasing the first season of St. Elsewhere, which Norman Lloyd calls “a failure of the industry,” Fox also stopped Newhart after releasing the first season on DVD, so two television shows with the most famous final episodes in TV history don’t have those final episodes available for the public to see. Fox also has done strange things such as releasing two out of three seasons of The White Shadow, Bruce Paltrow’s series before St. Elsewhere. Fox leased the rights to release Rhoda to Shout! Factory, the company that has produced some of the best DVD box sets ever for shows such as The Larry Sanders Show and Freaks and Geeks, but only four of the five seasons of Rhoda were released. When fans of the show contacted Shout! Factory to ask why they didn’t complete the series, the company blamed Fox Home Entertainment. I attempted to contact Shout! Factory as well but received no response. Lou Grant, winner of multiple Emmys, never has been released.
Apparently, there is evidence that a season 2 St. Elsewhere DVD release had been prepared at some point. When I spoke with Blythe Danner about her second season episode “The Women,” she expressed surprise that it wasn’t available for home viewing. “Oh no, because I did an interview for the guy who was putting it all together,” Danner said. If you’re interested in seeing what demand for some shows exists, as well as the anger that they haven't been released, go to Amazon and check out the listings for The Bob Newhart Show Season 5 or The Bob Newhart Show Season 6. Nearly a year ago, Fox announced they would complete the release of that series; they set a price and Amazon began accepting preorders. At some point, Fox changed its mind but Amazon hasn’t caught on; the nonexistent products are filled with comments from potential customers who not only wanted the episodes but kept getting emails telling them “no release date has been set yet.”
Steven Bochco, co-creator of the award-winning and landmark Hill Street Blues for MTM (stopped at season 2), also has had subsequent series disappear into the Fox black hole. Only season 1 and the reunion movie of L.A. Law were released, and then they stopped NYPD Blue releases with season 4. “I’m sure those are financial decisions—the cost of putting them out wasn’t justified by the return, although that’s when it was all DVDs or videotape,” Bochco said. “These days, you can make direct deals with Netflix or Amazon or whatever to access stuff. I don’t know why these shows aren’t readily available.” Gordon Clapp, who won an Emmy as outstanding supporting actor for his work as Detective Greg Medavoy in the fifth season of NYPD Blue, wrote in an email that he’s heard about the missing episodes from the show’s fans: “I can't tell you how often I've been asked about the DVD situation. There is clearly a demand, but DVD's are going the way of 8-tracks so who knows if there is even a chance we will see seasons 5-12?” Though the rights aren’t owned by Fox, two of Joshua Brand and John Falsey’s other series never have seen release. “TV – a lot of it is so perishable and the culture changes. We did I’ll Fly Away and that’s never been released on DVD and it won all kinds of awards,” Brand said. Neither has A Year in the Life.
It would take too long to list all of the shows that Fox holds hostage, but prominent examples include only releasing the first season of Picket Fences and no seasons of Chicago Hope. They also employed the strangest marketing gimmick: they released half of the first season of The Practice and called it Vol. 1, but never released a Vol. 2. (They did the same trick with the second season of the 1960s Western The Big Valley). At least you can say that Fox has no qualms about eating its own. Malcolm in the Middle ran for seven seasons on its network but only its first season was deemed worthy of DVD release.
Television and movies are, of course, a business and these series are being preserved in places such as The Paley Center for Media, but not everyone lives in New York or Los Angeles. In addition, cultural education of all kinds in this country has reached distressing levels. As a rule, whenever I meet a new parent, I try to make them promise to keep all knowledge of the movie Psycho away from their child until he or she is old enough to see it, so it can surprise them. Earlier this year, I told this to a 23-year-old health care aide. She had no idea what movie I was talking about, though the name Hitchcock sounded familiar. Is it too much to ask that culture trump commerce occasionally?