by / January 28th, 2008 /

Feature: Moving Pictures

The Wire - HBO
DVD is the New TV

Have you been perturbed by Prison Break? Tickled pink by Family Guy? Frustrated by Lost? Chances are, you’ve watched at least one of those shows on DVD, the perfect medium for TV shows.

The creation of 24, the real-time series starring Kiefer Sutherland, changed the face of television as we know it, possibly moreso than The Sopranos. Here was an edge-of-the-seat thriller with more cliff hangers than a charity climb of Kilimanjaro, with an episode for every hour of the day. Up until its launch, the big American studios in the US had been shying away from long-running series that weren’t self-contained 40-minute stories, feeling that the majority of television viewers didn’t have the attention span or intelligence to care for characters over an entire season. They were wrong.

Sure, it’s a massive commitment to follow a show with over 20 episodes: it means either ensuring that you’re couch-side by a certain time every week, or having the wherewithal to set your recorder to do its thing on a weekly basis. While this is easier with the advent of Sky+ and the proliferation of smart DVD recorders, it still requires no little effort on the part of the viewer. Personally, I’ve found it far easier to ignore Lost on television and reach for the box-set when the hype dies down. And I’m not alone.

Family Guy is a whole other story. Canned by the Fox network after an indifferent performance in its first three seasons, the animated show was returned to the small screen amid massive fanfare, thanks to extraordinary DVD sales: the first volume sold 1.6 million units in 2003, that year’s top selling TV DVD. This was unprecedented: the first time that a cancelled show had been returned to a television network due solely to DVD sales.

Today’s greedy, impatient viewers (myself included) want everything now, and the thoughts of having to wait an entire seven days to find out if Michael Schofield and Lincoln Burrows manage to escape to Panama (Prison Break) or if Jack Bauer will make it to the press conference before the assassination attempt on the presidential candiate (24) are too much to bear. It’s far easier to avoid the hype around the TV show, wait a couple of months and watch the entire season in a weekend marathon. OK, so it’ll take you a week to get the popcorn out from between the cushions and there’s a danger of being suffocated by fag butts, but ultimately, it’s worth it.

I know countless people who have never watched even a single episode of The West Wing on television, but have sat through all seven seasons on DVD, and gone into mourning when it was all over. The same with The Sopranos: while the brilliant mob drama doesn’t necessarily end with somebody’s fate in the balance at the end of every episode, watching an entire season over the course of a few days really adds to the sense of building tension and drama, nowhere more than Season Four, with the escalation of hostilities between Tony and Ralphie Cifaretto. Watching a TV show on DVD gives us on-demand control of what we watch and when we watch it, and satisfies our need to know what happens.

It’s not just hit shows like CSI or Seinfeld that have sent DVD sales soaring, however. Many American series, reduced to bit-parts on digital channels over here, have proved massively popular. I’m thinking Alias (Mission Impossible meets Charlie’s Angels, with Jennifer Garner in a variety of costume changes), Battlestar Galactica (where sci-fi became intelligent) or The Wire (along with The Shield, the best cop show ever). And it’s not just new shows either. Whether it’s the US broadcasting monoliths releasing box sets of I Love Lucy or Bewitched or the BBC getting in on the act with the seminal 90s drama This Life or their joint production with HBO, Rome (some of the best TV ever created), DVD sales of TV shows continue to explode.

Every time that TV companies think this market has peaked, it climbs higher, and it’s not just an American phenomenon. Two of the best selling DVDs in Ireland in recent years were Wanderley Wagon and Paths To Freedom, homegrown TV at its best. Whether we’ll ever see that Glenroe omnibus is another story, but for an ever-growing number of armchair enthusiasts, DVD is the only way to watch TV.

  • pivoboy

    JOHN, am I alone? I have never watched a series on Dvd, but I don’t watch lost, gave up on prison break, and the rest I flick through when the champion league is over. Yet I haven’t bought a flat screen yet and wonder is this Dvd craze a symtom of people wanting to extract and show off the most their home cinema has to offer?

  • Yep, definitely the only way to watch shows. I had never seen 1 episode of The West Wing up until this year. I’ve now seen every episode from all 7 series.

    It was the same with 24 last year. And I believe I’ve a treat in store when I watch my first Sopranos show next week..