Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Rummaging, the Cap'n, and the price of DVDs

I spent a while this morning rummaging around on websites, trying to find out if Torchwood season 2 would be airing in Australia (it's my day off; I'm allowed to rummage). To date there isn't a word about it, one way or the other, but it seems Season 1 was shown almost under protest. Well into 2007, neither the ABC (which screens the parent show, Doctor Who), and SBS -- the station specializing in international favorites like Inspector Rex (Austria, German language, subtitled), Iron Chef (Japan, Japanese overdubbed into English), and Red Dwarf (England; English; subtitles for hard of hearing; like kids whose music has been making their ears bleed), among rafts of others -- seemed to have any interest in Torchwood ... the reasons for which remain obscure.

Someone suggested they'd shy away from it because it was foul mouthed and sexy. Well, that's possible, I suppose; but there are already shows on both networks (esp. SBS) which are equally explicit, and more so. I doubt they'd turn down ANY show which would sell advertising space (yes: SBS is showing commercials now. And it drives you bloody nuts) ... so the bottom line is much more likely that thehy can't/don't/won't believe Torchwood will rate in Australia.

It's painfully true that this country doesn't have much time for SF ... and South Aus is the nation's dim spot. SF won't rate worth a deleted expletive down here (much less gay SF, or SF with a gay twist: perish the thought), and SciFi shows usually bumped back into the wee small hours of the morning.

It would also be reasonable true to say that some (even most?) Aussies view SF as being something of a juvenine genre -- it's for kids, isn't it? Now, Doctor Who might slide into the niche with a couple of inches to spare on each side. For decades it's had a cheesy-horror aspect which contributed to its cult status ... but who could take the horror seriously, much less get a chill out of it, when the monster is all-too-obviously a guy lurching around in a suit?

Okay, there's maybe one exception to this rule. The Brain of Morbius was fairly well done. It was 'let down' here and there by some pretty silly costumes and a few bit-players over-acting, but the idea was excellent and much of the execution was good enough that, when it aired in Australia for the first time, the ABC shoved it on at 9:30pm. Reason: (shock, horror) it was SF that had exceeded what The Powers That Be (hereafter referred to as TPTB) deemed to be suitable for kids. As per the new incarnation of the show -- it's what we used to call 'kidult.' Certainly not kids' TV pure and simple, but something a wide range of people can enjoy. The horror aspect is done well, without being gross; even in 2008 you have to know where to draw a line with the blood, gore, dismemberment and so on. And as it happens, the way the 'movie violence' aspect is handled, within it's own parameters it's quite effective.

You can hear the South Aussie TV executives spluttering. Good golly, SF that's not for kids? SciFi that can't be shown in the 5:00 - 8:00 bracket? Now, there has to be something wrong with this picture ... if kids can't watch it, who in the world will be watching it? Nobody else watches SF! Do they?

Therefore, in the minds of TPTB, nobody would be watching, so no one would be buying advertising, so the show constitutes a dead loss.

Naturally, they're dead wrong. I was reading somewhere, a while ago, that Torchwood out-perfomed Doctor Who in the US. But TV executives down here don't seem to be able to learn from the experience of others, and Torchwood landed firmly in a category which was too-hard to label. And if you can't label it, you can't market it.

Perhaps against the odds, Torchwood season 1 did go to air here, but its premier was in a late-nite slot and it was soon bumped back to midnight-ish. I have to confess, we used to set up the DVD recorder, go to bed, and figure it out in the morning. And before the show was halfway through, a friend handed us a DivX DVD with the whole shebang on the one disk, so we abandoned the actual broadcast.

Now, season 2 probably won't screen down here at all (following in the time-honored tradition of Highlander and Trek, and the new Galactica, and what have you) ... but the good news is, the whole season just came out on DVD in the UK. Of course, it'll be months before you can get it down here, and it'll be very expensive when it does put in an appearance. However, the DivX people won't let that stop them. I have absolutely no doubt that someone, somewhere has already uploaded it --

And no, I am NOT an advocate of, nor a participant in, video piracy. Let this be firmly understood, or nothing significant will come out of the argument I'm about to make (and my apologies to Dickens for the mutilation of that line).

I DO NOT advocate video piracy. I firmly agree that video pirates should be quashed.

However, I also CAN NOT condone the abuse of the video public, where two DVDs in a slipcase can cost $125. This is executive level thieving, just as surely as video piracy is boot-end stealing. There is no case anyone could make to justify charging over a maximum of maybe forty bucks for a two- or three-DVD set of ANYTHING. People would line up to pay forty bucks for a season of their favorite show. You'd beat 'em off with a stick. But at double, and triple, that price ... people can't pay it. Not won't. Can't. And, if TPTB fondly imagine fans will go without, well, I have some glorious shoreline property at Lake Eyre I'd like to sell to them. So video piracy happens, and it'll continue to happen, as a direct result of the executive level thieving.

You want to stop video piracy? Make DVDs affordable. It's as simple as that. Who in his or her right mind would be watching a dub-down, or a shonky copy, when you could have perfect copy in a beautiful slipcase, at a price you can afford??

Okay, Keegan, get down off the soapbox!

Feet on the ground. Right.

Interestingly, though, Torchwood is morphing as it heads into a third season ... and you gotta wonder why. They're only doing a short season (5 shows), which smacks of something experimental. Jack's gone (!), along with other vanishing characters, and the whole show is being dumbed down and polished up to appeal to a younger audience.

Well...shoot. I have no idea if John Barrowman left the show because it was being dumbed down, or if it's being dumbed down because he's gone. It's almost as if the mature nature of the show was riding on the shoulders of Jack, who, being gay/bi/omni, was a character designed, and predicted, to appeal to, uh, big kids. Take Jack out of there, and what's left is the SF element --

In which case, there's no good reason not to ramp it up and be a whole lot more like Doctor Who, which, admittedly, has been a lot of fun. Your audience is wider, your viewers can afford to be younger. You might leave a 'sub-text' omnisexual element in there for the sake of continuity, but until or unless Jack's back again, the gay element can be put on hold ... and when he *is* back, the gay element could be handled more along the lines of what we saw in Doctor Who.

So I would be guessing the 5-episode 3rd season is an experiment ... try the waters, see what they're like. (DW itself is having a shakeup, with a number of movies being scheduled instead of a whole 13-show season; looks like Tennant is probably back -- I don't know that anyone's too sure of anything much more than that, right now.

Surprising what you can get out of an hour's rummage among websites and blogs!

Right now, I'm on my break, the winter sun is shining and I'm going to take a book, a cup of tea, and go find a suntrap.

Cheers for now,


Josh Lanyon said...

Terrific to see you online, Mel. Love your work. I'll look forward to delving through the blog archives.

Gaycrow said...

Torchwood is being shown on Foxtel on their new BBC HD channel. I doubt if it will ever be shown on free-to-air at a reasonable hour. :-(

Regarding the Box Set of Series 2. Many people are complaining about the lack of extras - no commentaries this time around, and very few Ianto extras (he's one of the most popular characters, so it's unfortunate they've chosen to virtually ignore him.)

I've managed to watch all the episodes of Series 2, so I won't bother buying the Box set.

Regarding Series 3 ... as far as I know John Barrowman will be returning, but there will be many changes. Rumours are that it will be more kiddy friendly *rolls eyes* so most of us are anticipating there will be very little Janto action.

The whole thing situation is seriously depressing.

Mel Keegan said...

JOSH -- thanks! This is a new experience for me, and I'm actually enjoying it. Blogging isn't something I ever saw myself doing, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of it. Initially, I'd been tellng myself I'd probably post once a week because I couldn't think of anything to write about, but it's odd ... turns out there's always something. And when there isn't, I can always slide into my Dave Barry routine.

GAYCROW -- yes, the Torchwood situaton is depressing ... also mystifying. Looking at the web feedback for the show, I got the imression the gay angle was what drove it, fast, into top-ratings. You don't (usually) cook the goose that lays the golden eggs, so ... what goes on? I admit to being confused. Could the restructuring have something to do with timeslots and advertiser revenues for the US marketplace??? Art is always subservient to income. (Of course, take out the gay angle and it won't out-perform DW in the States, so -- how dumb can you get?

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