Monday, August 11, 2008

Tactics of the Masonic lodge

I’ve just finished checking my e-mail and have discovered four press releases from concerning several classic television DVD releases for this December…all of which have swathed themselves in the continuing “split-season” cloak of controversy.

I’ve discussed the issue of split-season releases on the blog in the past, and while I find it an abhorrent practice it’s never really bothered me to the point where I lose my normally calm and collected cool and start throwing things about and questioning people’s parentage and the like. But recent events (and the Fugitive music snafu has, I believe, contributed to some of this) have dictated that perhaps I need to re-think my position on the whole friggin’ Volume 1-Volume 2 situation.

Next Tuesday, CBS DVD/Paramount releases Perry Mason: Season 3, Volume 1 to stores. The third season of Mason found room on its production slate for only twenty-six episodes to be telecast, as opposed to thirty-nine in its debut season and thirty its sophomore year. But the company still insists on splitting Season 3, which means you’ll going to get thirteen episodes apiece in Volumes One and Two.

My question is: why is this necessary? Is it really beyond the capability of DVD technology to release an entire season in one collection, particularly if there are only twenty-six episodes in total? CBS/Paramount has released (so far) every season of Mission: Impossible in a single box set, and the early seasons often contained up to twenty-eight episodes. The first season of Mannix totaled twenty-four installments, and not only did they manage to fit it in one collection but it could be found online for about $25 and change. The same goes for classic sitcoms like I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show. So why 13 and 13 for Mason?

The rationale behind the split season—which was a brainstorm courtesy of Fox Home Video…and in their heads, anything is a brainstorm—was that in splitting up seasons it would make the shows more affordable (they took this for a test drive with the second season of Lost in Space). Again, I’m skeptical of their motives here, but I’ll accept the argument. The only problem with this is that in splitting Mason’s third season it’s not accomplished the directive of making the sets cheaper. They’re selling Season 3, Volume 1 for the same price as they sold the previous split seasons—even though Season 3, Volume 1 has fewer episodes!

Now, I’m a fan of Perry Mason and had fully intended to buy the third season…but now, I’m not so sure. If I do purchase it later on down the road, I’m certainly going to wait to see if there’s a price dip ( has it for $34.99) or if there’s a chance of getting a used copy at a decent price on eBay. Now that my rant is over, I do want to point out that Season 3, Volume 2 is due out on December 2nd, which will make a nice overpriced Christmas gift for the Raymond Burr fan in your family.

Also due out on the same date is Cannon: Season 1, Volume 2—containing the remaining 11 episodes of the debut season. Rick Brooks, of course, will be happy to hear about this release but after watching a few reruns on RTN (where the show ran weekday afternoons before the channel’s forced decision to go Universal) I decided I could wait on this one. (Cannon featured twenty-four episodes in its first season—another example of the split-season concept escaping from its creators and turning on the consumers.)

The following week, CBS/Paramount saddles up with two of their popular series in their franchise of Westerns: Rawhide: Season 3, Volume 2 will feature the remaining thirteen episodes (this is gettin’ monotonous!) from the 1960-61 season. Gunsmoke: Season 3, Volume 1 will be released in tandem with Rawhide—twenty episodes in all (of course, since Gunsmoke was still a half-hour at this time, that means you’re getting the equivalent of ten hour-long episodes—the biggest rip-off yet).

(Long sigh) I don’t know what to tell you. Jesse did the same things CBS/Paramount is doing, and they called him a bandit. Must have been the bandanna.


Rick Brooks said...

Well said. Another rationale I've heard for the split seasons, one you've no doubt come across yourself, is that it's a direct response to big retailers like Wal-Mart that don't want to stock the expensive full season sets. I'm always skeptical of that, though, because of the inconsistencies that you mention (a la Mannix), and because who's the one setting the price in the first place? The studio.

If the price point was such a big deal, I'd think Paramount could knock a few bucks off the MSRP of a full season set--you know, them being the manufacturer and all.

Doc Quatermass said...

More bucks. Look at Season Two of Gunsmoke. Half an hour shows but split the season up. As Carnac the Magnificent might say, "May a diseased yack sit on their cheeseburger."

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

More bucks. Look at Season Two of Gunsmoke. Half an hour shows but split the season up.

And as if that weren't bad enough, one of the episodes in Gunsmoke: Season 2, Volume 1 was mistakenly replaced with an episode from Season 4...yet when they were alerted to the screw-up, CBS-Paramount couldn't even bother to include the correct episode on the second volume release.