Rejoice, TV nerds! Max Headroom – ABC’s expansion of the original short film explaining the origins of the UK video presenter and ubiquitous 80’s Coke pitchman, a “digital” character actually portrayed by Canadian national treasure Matt Frewer under tons of latex – is finally out on DVD. The estimable Shout Factory are behind the new box set, which means that the show’s 14 episodes (two of which never aired on ABC) will get beautiful treatment on disc, allowing fans to geek out over it once more. Not to mention giving Joe Q. Public the chance to at last rediscover one of the best cult series of the 80’s. One which, though it suffered a tiny bit from a clearly limited budget, beautifully combined sci-fi with socio-political relevance and humor. Its dystopian future context in which the disenfranchised underclasses are addicted to television like a drug, and relatively early pop-culture instances of cyber terms like “firewall” and “nanotechnology,” was so wonderfully ahead of its time. (Plus, as if you needed any extra incentive, it’s got Jeffrey Tambor. Everything that features Jeffrey Tambor is GOOD. This is a scientific fact.)
Max Headroom, prior to its DVD release, was without question high up on the list of beloved series (some cult-y and short lived, others very popular in their day) that remained unavailable on disc for a long, long time. Every year that list gets a bit shorter, yet like the Susan Luccis of home video liberation, some shows just keep getting passed over for one reason or another. Some of the best and/or most egregious ones follow; let’s hope, like Max, they make it to the shelves some day:
Batman: It’s a classic push-pull rights scenario: 20th Century Fox owns the episodes of the Caped Crusader’s campy 1960’s TV outing, but Warner Bros. (in its deal with DC Comics) owns the characters now. Until these two sort out their copyright snafu, no one’s getting a shiny DVD set of Adam West and Burt Ward in their spandex anytime soon. Which is a shame if you are of a certain age and look back fondly on the camp, remembering a time when it was okay for Batman not to be morose and broody and, y’know, true to his comic book roots or anything. (And for young female wannabe crime fighters, you know you gave a cheer any time Batgirl sped by during the opening credits.)
The Tracey Ullman Show: Haven’t really been able to figure out what the holdup is here, though one might assume it has something to do with rights for the original Simpsons shorts that debuted on the show. (Even though it aired on Fox, which also owns the Simpsons… anyone? Bueller?) At any rate, it’s a terrible shame that Ullman’s brilliant first U.S. comedy series – the one which also featured the likes of Julie Kavner and Dan Castellaneta pre-Springfield – is still the only Fox network flagship show not on disc. We’ve got 21 Jump Street, but not this?! Tragic. Tracey & Co. were breaking out into song long before musicals were popular again.
Fernwood 2 Night: The 1977 Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman spin-off starring Martin Mull and (recent Nerdist podcast guest!) Fred Willard as two hapless hosts of a small-town, late-night chat show ran for just two months, was briefly re-incarnated as America 2 Night, then has sporadically turned up on places like TV Land on very rare occasions ever since. Meaning many have yet to experience its goofball genius, incorporating classic late-night shtick (Dig real-life TV composer Frank DeVol leading house band “Happy Kyne & the Mirth-Makers”), oddball local “talent” and the occasional true great like… Tom Waits?! Awesome.
You Can’t Do That On Television: Oh, this one really stings because it nearly was released! Early in the 00’s, Nickelodeon launched “Nick Rewind,” sets of their beloved vintage shows like The Adventures of Pete & Pete and Clarissa Explains It All. Arguably the cornball-yet-hugely loved Canadian kids’ sketch program that introduced the network to its trademark slime (Not to mention Alanis Morissette, during one of its later seasons) was the most anticipated title yet. YCDTOT was next to be released and then Nick pulled the plug on the whole DVD series, citing poor sales. What, they expected Spongebob numbers?! It’s enough to make us cry all over our Barth burgers.
The Wonder Years: I know, I had the same reaction: What the?! How?! Why?! Again, it’s a rights issue, this time with regard to the dozens of 60’s rock and pop songs that peppered the soundtrack of one the most beloved coming-of-age series of all time. Many shows, like Freaks & Geeks (also released by Shout Factory) and Spaced have overcome music clearances to make it to DVD, but those shows usually had a relatively short run; The Wonder Years ran for six seasons ABC, so that’s a big tab that someone’s going to have to front to get it to release. Here’s hoping someone with deep pockets steps up soon. I mean, who could possibly forget where they were when Kevin kissed Winnie for the first time?
There are many other still-not-on-DVD shows fighting for a chance to gobble up your dollars – what are some other worthy titles? Sound off below.