Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Where's the Batman?

Prior to the introduction of DVDs, television shows were considered to be a bust when it came to home video. Bulky videocassettes with limited capacity were not ideally suited for producing season sets. Most studios who tried selling television reruns on VHS made the decision to release "Best Of" videocassettes, which weren't big sellers. Most collectors wanted entire seasons, not selected episodes.

Enter the DVD. It was finally possible to release entire seasons of favorite shows, which allowed completists to have every episode of their favored shows at their fingertips. All of the most requested shows were getting released on DVD. All except one- the 1966 Batman.

Why wouldn't one of the most iconic shows of the 1960's get a DVD release? The rights issues were a nightmare. Back in 1966, DC Comics was just a publisher. It wouldn't become a division of Warner Brothers until the early 1970's. Since DC Comics had no studio arm, it sold television rights to ABC. ABC in turn hired 20th Century Fox to produce the show for them. Fox chose to get Greenway Productions to actually make the show. So before the show began, four companies had a stake in it- ABC, DC Comics, Fox and Greenway. Warner Brothers' purchase of DC Comics further complicated matters. Needless to say, most shows are not typically produced this way.

By the time of the DVD era, various mergers and acquisitions left Disney, Warner Brothers and Fox with interests in the show. More problematic was Greenway, which had been broken up by the death of Greenway owner William Dozier who split his assets up among his children who were allegedly not speaking to each other. This would prove to be a difficult roadblock. When asked about the odds for release, Warner Brothers would just shrug. With so many other shows in its catalog that weren't a mess to get cleared, the 1960's Batman was not a priority.

Strangely enough, it was an outside party that began the arduous task of clearing the way for a home video release. Classic Media stepped in to buy the Greenway rights from the various Dozier family members. This was tricky because each family member negotiated separately for their piece. With Greenway out of the picture, Classic Media approached Fox, seeking to release the series themselves. Fox wasn't eager to cut Classic in, but secret negotiations took place that resulted in Fox buying out Classic Media. Fox then went after ABC's stake, allegedly cutting a deal to return some Marvel rights in exchange.

Finally, just Fox and Warner Brothers remained. A deal was finally struck, granting Warner Home Video the rights to get this sought after classic on DVD and Blu-Ray. Batman had finally defeated his most fearsome foes- the rights lawyers.