You see a commercial for a new TV series everyone’s talking about, and yet you’re not interested. It seems too silly, too violent or much too time-consuming. Who has an hour to spare for another show when you’re barely able to keep up with your favorites?
No thanks, you conclude, and skip it.
Then, months or years later, when summer rolls around and a lazy vacation looms, you become curious. What exactly happened on that series about the singles in Manhattan (“Sex and the City”), the nitpicky comedian (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) or the mysterious island (“Lost”)? So you rent it on DVD or buy the first season and, instantly, you’re hooked.
What a great show, you realize. Thank goodness you gave it another chance.
Consider it a modern twist on a cherished ritual for baby boomers and Gen Xers. In days past, the children of television spent a chunk of their summers watching reruns. Remember how the repeats let you sample shows you’d never tried before?
Nowadays, network TV is moving away from reruns and padding its dog days with reality shows and other mediocre tryouts. “Age of Love,” anybody? “National Bingo Night”? Yawn. Although there are more offerings on cable, they can be hit and miss, too.
That’s one reason for the appeal of relaxing after a long day of outdoor fun with some TV on DVD.
On a recent afternoon at the Movie Store and Coffee Shoppe in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., customers talked about the shows they’ve experienced this way.
Roger Erics, 27, of Detroit, saw ABC’s “Lost” on DVD. “I never got a chance to watch it on television,” said Erics, who typically viewed a couple of episodes at a time at his convenience.
“It was on when I wanted it to be on,” he said.
Evelina Wang of Grosse Pointe Woods watched HBO’s “Sex and the City” on DVD. “I didn’t have cable,” she said, explaining why she needed to play catch-up.
For her, TV on DVD had many advantages. She was able to pause the episodes when she wanted, watch them back-to-back and savor the commentary tracks by cast and crew members.
How many seasons of “Sex and the City” did she watch altogether? “I saw the whole doggone thing,” she said with a smile.
Plenty of consumers are getting a TV fix through DVDs. Netflix ships about 1.6 million DVDs on a typical day, and roughly 20 percent is TV shows, according to Steve Swasey, Netflix corporation communications director.
“We’re finding that people have `Lost’ weekends or `Entourage’ weekends or `M.A.S.H.’ weekends and watch the whole series at a single time,” says Swasey.
Swasey says many recent series are popular rentals, including “Arrested Development” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” There’s also a fan base for older shows being rediscovered 30 or 40 years after their debuts.
Watching TV shows on DVD says something about our enduring love affair with the tube and our growing preference for viewing what we want, when we want it, whether through digital video recording, downloading from the Web or DVDs.
The Movie Store and Coffee Shoppe, which offers film rentals, beverages and ice cream, stocks a few sure-fire TV titles like “The Office,” “Lost” and “Sex and the City.”
Owner Scott Kilpatrick says renters tend to go through each series until they’ve seen the whole thing. “Once you start watching, what are you going to do? Watch three out of the five discs?” he says.
At Thomas Video in Clawson, Mich., which carries a wide range of titles, including hard-to-find ones, acclaimed HBO series like “Deadwood” and “Carnivale” are popular rentals.
Owner Jim Olenski understands why. “I don’t like to watch the shows when they’re on TV,” he says. “I don’t want to watch just a few. I want to make it a `Deadwood’ night.”
Vintage shows also are in demand as rentals and purchases. “Even `F. Troop’ does better than `Friends,’” says Olenski.
A recent surprise seller at Thomas Video was “Banacek,” an old George Peppard detective show from the early 1970s that came out on DVD in May.
“The A-Team” also has done well. “More women buy it than men,” says Olenski. “I don’t think they’re buying it for Mr. T. I think it’s for the explosions.”
The TV on DVD market is still growing, but growth is slowing, according to Adams Media Research, which provides financial and market research for the media industry.
This could be because the market is crowded with titles. “They’ve put out so much, I don’t know how much more it can grow,” says Olenski.
And yet, as with movies, there’s often a way to increase demand by releasing special editions. One example, the recent “Not Just the Best of Larry Sanders” DVD features hours of extra material, including a bevy of interviews with cast members and guests.
Should you rent or buy? That depends on your budget and your viewing preferences. Many shows cost in the $30 to $60 range for a single season. Others, like the special boxed set “M*A*S*H—Martinis and Medicine Complete Collection,” can run up to $200.
It’s not a bad idea to ask yourself if you want to build a home library of titles or merely sample them.
Either way, TV on DVD is an easy entertainment option. And don’t feel guilty about watching television in the summertime, either. That’s what muggy nights are for.
Here are some categories of TV shows on DVD:
The HBO hits. Not everybody subscribes to the pay channel that churns out quality programs. “The Sopranos” is an obvious place to start, especially now that you’ve likely seen the controversial final scene replayed on news reports.
But don’t forget equally worthy shows like “Deadwood,” “Six Feet Under,” “Entourage,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm ” and the short-lived “Carnivale.”
“Carnivale fits in with the David Lynch crowd,” says Jim Olenski, who owns Thomas Video in Clawson, Mich. “It’s sort of like `Twin Peaks’ set in the Dust Bowl.”
The talkers. Now’s a good time to get up to speed on shows with water-cooler buzz like “Lost,” “The Office” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
With most hit series, you can catch up on several seasons at a time. But there’s no pressure to rush before the new fall episodes arrive, because they’ll come out on DVD eventually.
“I’ve never watched `The Office’ on TV, but I’ve watched the whole series on DVD,” says Scott Kilpatrick, owner of the Movie Store and Coffee Shoppe in Grosse Pointe Park, Mich.
Childhood favorites. Why is “M.A.S.H.” a popular DVD choice even though it airs on TV Land? Partly because fans want to own shows that they grew up loving.
With DVDs, you can revisit mainstream hits and cult classics of your youth, like “Kung Fu” and “H.R. Pufnstuf.” But beware: Shows you remember as cutting-edge may seem more like artifacts now. Don’t expect a workplace comedy like “Buffalo Bill” from the 1980s to be anywhere near the sophistication of today’s “30 Rock.”
Critical hits that didn’t last. This often means recent classics like “Arrested Development,” but there’s a strong demand for older shows, too. Case in point: Olenski’s customers are wondering if “When Things Were Rotten,” a Mel Brooks attempt at a Robin Hood series from the 1970s, will come out soon on DVD.
SIX SERIES TO SAMPLE ON DVD
Here’s the buzz on some noteworthy shows, plus suggested retail prices for the first season.
There’s a strange poetry to the stream of curse words that dominate the dialogue of this richly layered, almost Shakespearean look at the down-and-dirty ways of the Old West. ($99.98).
Never caught a wave in Malibu or partied with Mary-Kate and Ashley at Hyde? Watching the carefree, self-absorbed lives of four young guys on the make in Hollywood is the next best thing. ($39.98).
“Six Feet Under”
“The Sopranos” hogged the attention. But this HBO drama about another family, the funeral home-running Fishers, is just as compelling on life-and-death issues. Plus, the final episode rocks. ($59.98)
You know how you can watch some sitcoms and fold the laundry at the same time? Not this one. The hot messes of the hilariously flawed Bluth clan are worth careful viewing. ($39.98).
Unfamiliar with this convoluted puzzle of castaways on a weirdo island? Lucky you, because now you can start from the beginning and see if you can decipher what’s going on any better than the “Lost” junkies. ($59.98).
Rediscovering a childhood favorite is one of the joys of TV on DVD. This 1970s cult classic—which got loving shout-outs in “Pulp Fiction” and “Office Space”—shows how cool David Carradine was way before “Kill Bill.” ($39.98)