IMHO: 8 September 2002
Stop the insanity.
The history of one of the world's most popular television series appears condemned to repeat itself.
The Avengers was born from the ashes of a very different series, Police Surgeon. It could never keep a costar for more than two seasons. The production team changed as often as the costar, and at one point was ousted and then recalled. It sat in limbo for months while the studio went through mergers and leadership changes. The studio even closed down for a couple of months while awaiting a re-infusion of cash. Its fifth season was never finished. It is a miracle, really, that the series survived as long as it did.
It was a show everyone loved but no one wanted. It was only sold to America on the third try, and then only after cutting an expensive deal. By the time the series went to color film, no one in the UK was placing orders for episodes! It was the Americans who kept the series alive—and, in perhaps the most bitter of ironies, subsequently killed it.
Ownership of the series after production ended continued the same trend: changing hands several times, it passed from a defunct British studio to an American film producer and finally to a French cable TV giant.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the video product history has proved every bit as rocky: its arrival on DVD in its home market occurred only after a DVD release was already well under way in America, and now has been fouled by a technical and legal quagmire created by the current copyright owner. No distributor has yet to release the complete series, although A&E looks to have the best shot (you can read the gory details here). Mighty sad, considering that TV shows on DVD are the hot item these days.
Presently the franchise is in a very strange split ownership arrangement. American film producer Jerry Weintraub owns the film rights. Despite his best intentions, his attempt to bring The Avengers to the silver screen has all but killed off any future potential. The only way to fix the problem is to find a way to buy it all from him; this assumes one can even reach him—he seems to have gone into hiding and refuses to even discuss the matter.
The series itself belongs to Canal+Image International, a multi-billion-dollar cable conglomerate. After years of inaction, Canal+ finally began an effort to market the series that has proven to be rather half-assed. And to add insult to injury, they have demonstrated their contempt for their own customers by refusing to correct major technical problems with their DVD masters. The only way to fix the problem is to find a way to buy it all from them; this assumes one can cough up enough cash—Canal+ has a reputation for demanding utterly absurd fees.
Why is it that The Avengers never seemed to belong to someone who knew what to do with it, or even want it? Believe me, if I had "unlimited" resources, I would buy all of the rights right now. I would immediately fix the video distribution problems and quite likely launch a new film project at the same time (I have a perfectly good script all set and waiting). I'd also develop licensing agreements with a myriad of sources to make all manner of goodies available—DVDs, T-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, video games—anything and everything for which fans have been clamoring. Having spent 25 years working in marketing, my mind boggles with the possibilities!
But the difference ought to be painfully clear: I love the series, and want to share it with the world. Alas, I'd probably wind up losing money as a result, because I'd likely be producing more than the market can support—frankly, it just isn't big enough. But I don't care—I'd find some other way to compensate for the losses just to keep stuff coming.
By contrast, the present owners demonstrate no such interest in the series, and their collective indifference has stalled future development for The Avengers. Sadly, with lawsuits flying between Contender and Canal+, and the potential demise of the latter, the situation appears to be deteriorating.
Somebody needs to save the series. If anyone out there has the means but not the ideas, we need to talk, right now.
And that's my humble opinion.
David K. Smith, 8 September 2002
materials copyrighted per their respective copyright holders.