What's with those TV DVD distributors, anyway? Seems they never release the later seasons of shows they've already started. And they don't dig down to cult faves, either. Much less oddities like, say, the Cathy Lee Crosby "Wonder Woman" that preceded Lynda Carter's run.
Oh, wait -- turns out Crosby's 1974 "Wonder Woman" just came out on DVD! And later seasons of "The Ricky Gervais Show," "Night Court" and "Cheyenne" are now on disc, too! So are cult cravings like sci-fi's "Time Trax" and legendary rarities like "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E." or Patrick Duffy's pre-"Dallas" adventure, "The Man From Atlantis." Even old-time drama fans can find '60s hits "The FBI" and "Medical Center."
Just don't look for these tube treats on store shelves. They're manufactured on demand -- MOD in industry-speak -- by Warner Archive Collection, an online offshoot of the Warner studio-distributor conglomerate. WAC has been growing like mad by serving collectors and cultheads the nonmainstream releases they seek.
MOD avoids those thousands of discs sitting unsold in stores, while delivering much-wanted product directly to its most dedicated fans. Once consumers place an order, WAC records their want(s) on DVD-R discs, packs them into cases with custom art and ships within days. Extras like featurettes and booklets are rare, but the episodes themselves tend to look and sound surprisingly sharp, even from vintage sources. Some content is actually remastered for MOD.
That's why the library at warner archive.com has mushroomed tenfold in the past four years, to nearly 1,500 titles, covering both TV and movies (even century-old silent films). That success has inspired similar efforts from Sony/Columbia and MGM, among other studios.
Sony Pictures Choice Collection is up to more than 350 releases. TV titles include recent seasons of CBS' current "Rules of Engagement," Gena Lee Nolin's "Sheena" series, the "Hart to Hart" reunion movies and 1972 sitcom trailblazer "Bridget Loves Bernie" (Meredith Baxter's Catholic girl marries David Birney's Jewish guy). There's even John Travolta's famed 1976 TV movie, "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." (Sony sells at sonypictures.com/
homevideo and through amazon.com; many titles also sell via WAC.)
MGM Limited Edition Classics offers 300-plus releases, too, though few come from the tube. (Warner now owns much of MGM's old TV library.) But fans can spot such wide-ranging finds as '50s copfest "Highway Patrol," '60s dolphin saga "Flipper," '90s sci-fi "Jeremiah," and 1999 TV movie "Inherit the Wind" with Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott. (MGM also sells through WAC and Amazon.)
Other dives into the studio archives for MOD booty include the Universal Vault Collection ("Scott Joplin" TV movie with Billy Dee Williams) and Fox Cinema Archives (Fox's "Raising Hope," Season 2), both offering DVD rarities on Amazon. Universal also sells at Turner Classic Movies' shop.tcm.com (click on Vault Collection), alongside Sony and Warner.
DVD prices for MOD can be high; most single discs are around $20, with season sets costing $30-$50. But discount sales at WAC and other outlets are frequent, so check online often. (You also can save a bit when WAC offers digital downloads of Windows Media files.) Warner Archive is now trying out high-def, too, with new Blu-rays of movies "Gypsy" and "Deathtrap."
Hang on for more. WAC is up to about 20 percent television content among its offerings, which include loads of animation from Hanna-Barbera ("The Jetsons") and other producers. And they're testing unusual packages: Warner's four-disc "Classic TV Christmas Collection" compiles yule outings from 10 shows, including "Doctor Kildare," "CHiPs" and "Mama's Family."
Amazon also is in the mix. The online retailer's Never Before on DVD store spotlights Paramount-allied properties from MTV ("awkward."), Nickelodeon ("Rugrats"), Logo ("RuPaul's Drag Race"), and CBS ("Survivor"), plus other MOD suppliers (Rankin/Bass animation). So visit amazon.com/neverondvd -- and keep your fingers crossed for the faves you never thought you'd find.