DVDs and online streaming are a godsend to TV fans. Binge viewing has practically become a new phenomenon now that fans can watch and re-watch their favorite TV shows at their own leisure. But while a wide selection of TV programs have been released on DVD or made available on streaming formats like Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon, others have either been given a single season release or haven’t been released at all. Whether due to music rights or fears that these releases won’t be profitable, production companies are reluctant to make some of these shows, including formerly popular ones, available for the public. You’d be surprised by what isn’t available on either format.
Frank’s Place (1987)
When this sophisticated “comedy” began airing on CBS in 1987, it quickly won critical plaudits for its non-stereotypical portrayal of African Americans. Unfortunately, when the network began shuffling its time slot, Frank’s Place lost viewers and was eventually canceled after 22 episodes. A shame considering that this rare gem about a college professor, played by Tim Reid, who inherits his estranged father’s New Orleans restaurant effortlessly balanced humor and drama. Populated with an assortment of colorful characters that could only be found in the Big Easy, Frank’s Place was smart, funny, thought-provoking and original. It also boasted one of the best intro’s featuring Louis Armstrong’s “Do You Know What it Means (To Miss New Orleans)”. Easily this show is deserving of a DVD series set.
A Different World (1987-1993)
Only the first of this series’ six-season run is available on DVD and it’s not even its best. A spin-off of the Cosby Show, A Different World was meant to be a showcase for actress Lisa Bonet, who played Denise Huxtable on the classic sitcom. Unfortunately, Bonet wasn’t a strong enough actor or comedian to carry an entire series, so she left and Debbie Allen was brought in as producer to breathe new life into the premise. Under her helm, the series became a fairly realistic portrayal of life at a historically black college, but it’s main draw was of course the on-again, off-again romance of Dwayne and Whitley (Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy). At times poignant and funny, A Different World offered a different glimpse of black life in America in the 1980s and ‘90s. If there is one TV show that deserves a full season treatment it is this.
St. Elsewhere (1982-1989)
Like A Different World, the first season of St. Elsewhere is only available on DVD. That’s simply criminal since this seminal, groundbreaking drama set the stage for the medical dramas that followed. Blessed with a great cast that included such vets as Norman Lloyd and William Daniels, as well as Ed Begley, Jr., David Morse, Howie Mandel, and Denzel Washington, St. Elsewhere was both gritty in its depiction of a run-down, neglected public hospital (the hospital is called St. Eligius but was nicknamed St. Elsewhere because if you were a patient you’d rather be elsewhere), while sprinkling in flights of absurd humor that made it uniquely surreal. Before the series finales of Lost and the Sopranos upset fans, St. Elsewhere was there first, suggesting the entire series was the imagination of an autistic boy. Tom Fontana, who produced and wrote Homicide and Oz, series that were as equally groundbreaking and influential, cut his teeth on St. Elsewhere. With a pedigree like that, why isn’t this show’s entire series run on DVD? Your guess is as good as mine.
Head of the Class (1986-1991)
Head of the Class was an ABC sitcom that celebrated nerds and geeks. Based around actor Howard Hesseman, who played a substitute teacher for a class of advanced students at a Bronx high school, Head of the Class found humor not in the kids themselves but in their funny, sometimes painful phases of growing up. While the cast of students, which included a young Robin Givens, obviously changed over the course of the series (Hesseman likewise left after the series’ penultimate season and was replaced by comedian Billy Connelly), the premise remained the same. Despite its popularity, the show is still unavailable on DVD.
I’ll Fly Away (1991- 1993)
Airing on NBC, I’ll Fly Away starred Regina Taylor and a pre-Law & Order Sam Waterston as a maid and district attorney respectively in the Civil Rights era south. During its brief run, the series won Emmys, Humanitas Prizes, Golden Globes, and NAACP Image Awards for its realistic portrayals of life for black and white southerners during this tumultuous period in American history. Not only that, future Sopranos-creator, David Chase, was also on the series’ writing staff. So why is this little remembered award-winner not on DVD?
The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (NBC, 1987-1988; Lifetime, 1988-1991)
Music rights may ultimately prevent this series from ever being released on DVD and that is unfortunate because this intelligent, sophisticated urban dramedy deserves to be seen by a new generation of TV viewers. Starring Blair Brown, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd was about a divorced woman in her mid-30s who juggled her personal and professional life in 1980s Manhattan. Originally airing on NBC to moderate ratings, the series later moved to the Lifetime network which continued to air it for 13-week runs for three years. Also starring David Strathairn and Richard Lawson who played Dodd’s love interests, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd is one series that definitely deserves to be widely seen again.
Spenser: for Hire (1985-1988)
Based on the Robert B. Parker serial novels, Spenser: for Hire set itself apart from other 1980s procedural crime dramas for its grittiness and attention to detail. It was also one of the few series that was shot on location in Boston, lending it an authenticity that was also a rarity. Starring Robert Urich and Avery Brooks, who played the bad ass Hawk, Spenser: for Hire would make a great DVD series set. The fact that it isn’t is a real mystery.
South Central (1994)
South Central, the Fox-based TV series from 1994, starred Tina Lofford as Joan Mosley, a single mom raising her two biological kids and a foster son in South Central L.A. after the death of her eldest son in a gang-related killing. Avoiding the usual clichés of urban dramas, the series focused on the innocent people who were affected by the emotional and economic costs of drugs and gang violence. What was often a depressing and true-to-life depiction of urban life, was also funny, uplifting, and real. The series also boasts the early career work of Larenz Tate and Jennifer Lopez.
This is the most shocking DVD omission on the list. Why? How about the fact that this critically popular Fox series was smart, funny, poignant, thought-provoking and damn well entertaining all at once. Charles S. Dutton was funny and caustic as Roc Emerson, a garbage collector living with his wife Eleanor (Ella Joyce), his father (Carl Gordon), and musician brother (Rocky Carroll) in Baltimore, Maryland. While there were comparisons made to Jackie Gleason’s The Honeymooners, Roc was much more than that as it tackled everything from marriage and family responsibilities to poverty, homelessness, and the War on Drugs. Roc was also the first series to be set in Baltimore, a city that became a character of its own in the HBO series The Wire.