Nostalgia makes money. It's an unassailable concept that companies have latched onto with gusto. Whether it's VH-1 pimping up-to-the-minute remembrances like I Love the '90s or the veritable armada of late night infomercials plugging the best of forgotten rock 'n' roll, American society loves to reminisce through commerce. Of course, some might reject that as a cynical worldview, and respond by pointing out that many just prefer things for which they have fond memories. Regardless, the nostalgia market is at full boom, and nowhere is the din louder than in the collecting of TV shows onto DVD.
The "collected series" isn't really a new idea. Columbia House began producing VHS collections of various shows several years ago, with Star Trek being a notable success. The problem with the VHS collections was that they were unwieldy. DVD conquers that problem, fitting a 22-episode season into a box that's slightly smaller than a hardback novel. Cram in extras and commentaries, and you've got that magical phrase: "added value."
HBO's celebrated crime drama The Sopranos helped to kick-start the DVD flood. Sets based on shows in production are easy sells; they get network support and feed an ongoing enterprise. What's really interesting is which shows from the past make it to the dance, and why.
The industry leader in the TV-to-DVD conversion is likely Warner Brothers, and they employ several levels of strategy. On one hand, they have megahit Friends in their stable, but they're also powering out sets based on their low-rated critical darling Gilmore Girls. Neither of those is as interesting as the late June release of the first complete season of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman hails from DC Comics, a subsidiary of Warner, and is commonly called one of the "Big Three," along with label-mates Batman and Superman. The character has experienced a rush of press lately, including appearances by both the character and Carter on nostalgia shows, the takeover of the comic writing chores by acclaimed novelist Greg Rucka and ongoing rumors as to who might play the Amazon princess in a proposed big-budget film (everyone from J-Lo to Shannon Elizabeth wants a crack).
What's intriguing about the Wonder Woman release is the timing. Though the character is rising on the pop radar, there's no extra product to support it, like a feature film. That doesn't even factor in the oddball nature of the first season. It was set in the '40s during World War II; when the show switched from ABC to CBS for the second year, the period trappings were jettisoned and the show moved up to the '70s. It remains a beloved, if campy, stretch of episodes that even featured Debra Winger as Wonder Girl (really).
Many see this release as a trial balloon. With the Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman Begins currently filming (starring Christian Bale and Michael Caine), a release of the '60s Batman seems imminent for next year. Likewise, if the troubled Superman film ever takes flight, a Warner release of the '50s Adventures of Superman series is almost a given.
Until then, Warner and other companies will continue to go with one surefire nostalgia subdivision: cartoons. Again, Warner leads the charge with compilations of Looney Tunes and complete first season sets of the Emmy-winning Batman: The Animated Series, the much-loved Legion of Doom-filled season of Challenge of the Super Friends and a combined season one and two set of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? With Saturday morning animated programming almost a distant memory and the shifting of most televised animation to Cartoon Network, young parents seem eager to share their old faves with their kids (or least use that as an excuse).
While up-to-the-minute cult releases like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Freeks and Geeks will always rack up sales, it'll be an interesting progression to see which shows get to make returns. Already, the recently-cancelled Firefly went to DVD to huge success and got a feature film out of the deal. One wonders if long-missing cult classics like It's Your Move, Tales from the Gold Monkey and Misfits of Science now have a chance.
We all have our reasons for looking back. Maybe we long for simpler times and simpler pleasures. Maybe the current crop of TV is so bad, we welcome the arrival of quality shows like Crime Story that we can watch anytime. Whatever the reasons, nostalgia is the next big thing, and someone's going to be there to sell it.