PopMatters Picks: The Best of TV on DVD

Edited by Bill Gibron / Produced by Sarah Zupko

There’s no doubt about it, the DVD format has forever altered the way we approach the boob tube. While there have always been fans of reruns and the endless syndicating of their favorite shows, DVDs literally reconfigured the way we watch television. Suddenly, entire seasons of a favored series could be sampled in a single day, the ability to program your own mini-marathons and revisit classic episodes over and over again as easy as popping in another disc. While studios shivered in anticipation of their future ratings and distributors argued over the effect such access would have on possible marketing revenue, something strange happened…

Viewership actually grew stronger, the curious hoping to experience a show before making a decision on digital’s almost permanent product dynamic. Instead of killing the industry (an argument fostered by floundering CD sales blamed on technological advances), TV on DVD actually brought the business back to life. It allowed for greater creative license, while giving less than popular offerings a final respectable resting place.

Of course, once the newbies finished filling up the inventory, those looking for more classic titles made their voices heard. With the considered complications of long dead rights issues, music clearance problems, and talent participation residuals, older programs initially appeared with less frequency. Even worse, those in control of these forgotten entities often were unsure of how strong the cult would be. So they released unnecessary compilations, volumes of incomplete seasons with time-adjusted edits and bare bonus technical specs.

As a test of the demographics’ desire for something long forgotten, it was a callous commercial ploy. But the faithful responded favorably, and resulting windfall translated into a more respectful consideration to the past. Now, when an honored drama or stalwart sitcom finds its way to the digital domain, providers pay close attention to the needs of the audience. Many releases contain more context than was ever offered during a show’s original airing.

Still, the inconsistent level of availability (there are some definitive programs yet to make it onto DVD) along with the haphazard approach to packaging makes recommending certain titles difficult. So how does one pick the best of this still fledgling format? Is it merely what makes a good show, or are there other facets used to formulate a consistent benchmark? Bonus features, perhaps? Scholarly appreciation? Simply the ability to view something missing from the medium for several decades? The writers at PopMatters have put their heads together and come up with 60 examples of exceptional television artistry, our picks for the Best of TV on DVD.

Each submission is backed by a definitive release that confirms the reasons for a series’ timeless qualities. Granted, some lack a bevy of bells and whistles, and there will be choices that challenge your personal perception on what makes TV so enticing. As a matter of fact, it’s safe to say that several of these suggestions wouldn’t have been made possible without the archeological aspect of the format. Clearly, that shiny aluminum disc has forever changed the way we experience -– and embrace -– television.

— Bill Gibron