Five classic U.S. TV shows still unavailable on home video

Fred Savage of The Wonder Years,1989
Fred Savage of The Wonder Years,1989 | Source

With home video having been around since the late 1970’s, you’d think that practically every major U.S. network TV show would have been released for sale or rent by now. But that’s not the case. There are still a lot of classic TV shows that haven’t seen the light of day on DVD and Blu-ray, or available for download.

Here’s my list of five favorite U.S. TV programs that remain unavailable on any of the home video formats:

1) The Wonder Years-1988-1993- Yes, the growing up, coming of age in the 1960’s series starring Fred Savage is currently shown on the Hub cable TV network, and available via Netflix and Amazon Instant Video streaming. But, what’s blocking this program from home video are the music licensing rights. Music played an important role in the show. For example, in a season three episode, Winnie Cooper (Danica McKellar) tearfully tells Kevin Arnold (Savage) that she has a new boyfriend while The Beach Boys classic “God Only Knows” plays in the background. At the end of a season two show, Kevin and his fellow students walk out of class to protest the Vietnam war. While Kevin and his classmates gather together, John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” is played in the background. Some of the music has been changed in the rebroadcasts and streaming of the show. Even Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help from My Friends”, the program’s theme song, has been replaced. Two DVD’s, “The Best of The Wonder Years” and “The Christmas Wonder Years” were released, without the music, in 1997. Both are currently out of print, and sell for big money on eBay.

2) Batman-1966-1968- The show was campy in comparison to the “Batman” films released starting two decades later. But, the series was “must see television” in the 1960’s. In this instance, it’s legal issues that are holding up a video release. According to TV Shows on DVD.com’s David Lambert, 20th Century Fox owns the TV show episodes. DC Comics owns the rights to the character Batman, and other trademarked properties. Negotiations between the two so far have not produced positive results. Plus, it’s possible music rights, including the show’s theme song, might need to be worked out. Also, with all the guest villains and cameo appearances on the program, clearances might be needed from the actors or their estates. And behind the scenes workers, producers, and more might be entitled to residuals too. So, a “Batman” home video release turns into a big mess. The 1966 “Batman” movie starring Adam West, Burt Ward, and the rest of the TV cast is available on DVD. As with “The Wonder Years”, Hub cable TV network does currently run the 1960’s “Batman” series.

The Best of 1966 Batman/Bruce Wayne

3) Fridays-1980-1982-“Fridays” was ABC’s answer to NBC’s rival “Saturday Night Live”. The show’s probably best known for featuring Larry David and Michael Richards prior to their big success with “Seinfeld”. But, the rest of the ensemble cast were strong performers, too, including Melanie Chartoff ( “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” and the voice of several characters on the “Rugrats” animated series), John Roarke (who did a great impersonation of Ronald Reagan on “Fridays” with Chartoff as Nancy Reagan), Mark Blankfield (“Robin Hood: Men In Tights”), and more. The program also featured such then cutting edge bands as The Clash, The Jam, The Pretenders,The Boomtown Rats, and more. Again, there could be a problem with music rights for these shows. Yet, “Saturday Night Live”’s first five seasons are available on DVD and Amazon Instant Video download with the musical performances intact. It’s true there was drug oriented humor in several of the “Fridays” sketches, But, the surprising reason the series is not available on home video comes down to one of the cast members. “Fridays” co-Executive Producer John Moffitt says Richards had in his contract a clause which says a “Fridays” home video can’t be released without his permission. So far, Richards hasn’t given the okay. Some video clips of David and Richards on “Fridays” appear on the “Seinfeld” season three and five DVD sets, and a “Fridays” segment with Father Guido Sarducci and Dawn is one of the bonuses on a 2005 “Tony Orlando & Dawn DVD release. Kiss's DVD set, "Kissology Volume Two: 1978-1991", also includes the three songs they performed on a 1982 "Fridays" broadcast.

4) The Beatles cartoon show-1965-1968-The Beatles themselves weren’t thrilled at this Saturday morning TV series when it originally aired. They had nothing to do with the show, except that their music was used in it. Paul Frees and Lance Percival provided the speaking voices for The Fab Four. However, the show was very popular when it was first broadcast, and is looked back on fondly by many. Plus, many of the cartoon show’s production teams worked on the 1968 “Yellow Submarine” animated movie. The Beatles cartoon series was influential in that it was the first weekly television program to feature animated versions of real, living people. It also spawned similar animated shows based on The Jackson 5 and The Osmonds. The Beatles company, Apple Corps Ltd., owns the rights to the TV shows. In a 1999 interview with Billboard’s Timothy White, George Harrison even said that “I always kind of liked [the cartoons]. They were so bad or silly that they were good, if you know what I mean. And I think the passage of time might make them more fun now”. In the 2000’s, Apple Corps Ltd. licensed the characters, with Beatle cartoon action figures, recreated animation art, Christmas tree ornaments, lunch boxes and more available to purchase. So, Apple knows there’s a market for Beatle cartoon items. You can find the Beatle cartoon show being sold in bootleg DVD form on eBay and elsewhere on the Net. Why can’t these toons be officially released, with the money going into Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono, Olivia Harrison, and the rest of the Apple Corps. Ltd. team’s own pocket books? It’s all a mystery.

5) Jackie Gleason and His American Scene Magazine-1962-1966 and The Jackie Gleason Show 1966-1970. There’s a lot of “The Great One” Jackie Gleason’s TV work available on home video. You can buy The Classic 39 episode “Honeymooners” series, “The Lost Honeymooners” episodes, and “The Color Honeymooners” musical shows from the 1960’s. But, the variety programs with Gleason performing in sketches as The Poor Soul, Reginald Van Gleason III, and Rum Dum still haven’t made their way to DVD. The shows were edited into half hour syndicated episodes back in the 80s, but haven’t been seen in reruns since then, either. These were the programs from “The sun and fun capital of the world,Miami Beach”. Plus, it would be great to again see Gleason’s Joe the Bartender sketches in which he’d ask Crazy Guggenheim (Frank Fontaine) to sing a song. “Craze”, with the silly speaking voice, would end up crooning in a nice, smooth baritone voice similar to when Jim Nabors would talk and then sing on “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”

Which classic American TV shows are you still waiting to be released on video, download, or stream?

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Comments 12 comments

Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 4 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

I really liked this hub. I especially agree with you on The Wonder Years. To me it's one of the best coming of age shows as well as one of the best shows in terms of using a wonderful soundtrack. While I enjoy watching it occasionally on the Hub network, I'd like to start from the beginning on my own time. Wonderful job, I loved reading this hub :)!


Kris Heeter profile image

Kris Heeter 4 years ago from Indiana

Very interesting. I think sometimes we just assume that everything from the past has become available but obviously not. I know I'm amazed sometimes when I try to find old cassette song that one would think would be available as an mp3 now hasn't been converted yet!


MarshFish profile image

MarshFish 4 years ago Author

Thanks for your comment, Kris. I agree with you about the mp3's. There are still some songs that aren't available in that format, too, whether for legal reasons, the artist still doesn't want their songs on iTunes etc. Speaking of the artists, I've read that AC/DC, Bob Seger, Kid Rock, and Garth Brooks are a few of the performers that still don't want their music sold on iTunes.


MarshFish profile image

MarshFish 4 years ago Author

Thanks too, Alecia. I appreciate your comments. It's so disappointing that The Wonder Years aren't available on DVD and/or Blu-ray with the original music. It's such a great show.

In a similar situation about six years ago, the late 1970's-early 1980s TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati had their first two seasons released on DVD. Being the show was set in a radio station, a lot of music was played. But, there was a big outcry that much of the music was replaced on the DVD releases.


McCartney 4 years ago

Ugh.. The Wonder years, I can do with out - Batman YES!

The Beatles cartoons.. most definitely!


MarshFish profile image

MarshFish 4 years ago Author

Thanks for the comment. I appreciate it.

Marshall


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Wow, seriously, these aren't available? I thought for sure that Wonder Years and Batman had been out for years. Voting this Up and Interesting.


MarshFish profile image

MarshFish 4 years ago Author

Thanks for the comment! Yes, unfortunately, those two shows aren't available on home video.


Bob Gassel profile image

Bob Gassel 3 years ago from Fairfield, Connecticut

Although "The Wonder Years" isn't on home video, the entire series is streaming on Netflix. Don't be discouraged that the theme has been replaced by a soundalike, they use much more of the original music than I expected...skimming thru a few eps I found songs by the Byrds, Beach Boys and Rolling Stones intact.


MarshFish profile image

MarshFish 3 years ago Author

Thanks for the update, Bob. I'm glad to hear that at least some of the original music is still in the Netflix streams of the show.


markphilly333 3 years ago

Actually the streaming of The Wonder Years is now on Amazon Prime -- I too found that a lot of the original music was retained for the new format. However, some music has definitely been replaced; on another board one viewer said that out of the first 11 episodes, 5 songs were replaced.

Marsh, did you record the entire series from the recent HUB showings? I wish I had received that channel before HUB stopped showing the reruns.


MarshFish profile image

MarshFish 3 years ago Author

markphilly333,

I didn't record the recent airings of The Wonder Years on Hub, but did watch several of the episodes.I still have a couple of VHS tapes I recorded back in the day of the original ABC broadcasts, though.

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