We live in an incredible era – one where thousands of television shows are instantly at our fingertips. On top of the hundreds of DVD sets that studios continue to churn out each year, we have a treasure trove of new and classic TV awaiting us on over a dozen (and counting) streaming services. Gone are the days when we needed to wait to catch a rerun – DVD boxsets have allowed long-running TV shows to fit comfortably on our bookshelf, and Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and their ilk have provided us with massive libraries of their own. All in all, we have a seemingly endless world of TV to choose from.
But there’s the question: Is it really endless? While the streaming boom has made it easy for a new generation to become enraptured with shows like Cheers and The Sopranos and Buffy and Battlestar Galactica, not every show is as easy to find on a streaming platform. In fact, there are some TV shows – including some fairly popular ones! – that have never received a proper online release, or even a proper DVD set… and probably never will.
What follows are five such TV shows. We’ll go through each, one by one, and try to learn why they don’t have a shot at a legal release. (Operative word there being legal – most of these shows can probably be found on bootleg DVDs or through low-quality YouTube uploads. But an official, authorized release is virtually impossible.)
We begin with…
Ed (NBC, 2000-04)
Might as well start with this one, since it’s perhaps the most notorious “lost TV show” in modern history.
Ed was a dramedy starring Tom Cavanagh (The Flash) as a big-city lawyer who moves to his hometown after losing his job, his wife, and his dignity, and strikes up a romance with his old high school flame (Julie Bowen). Originally developed as a half-hour sitcom at CBS (where it was given the working title Stuckeyville, after the hometown), it eventually wound up at NBC as an hourlong series. Functioning as a sort of “Gilmore Girls meets Picket Fences,” each episode of Ed featured the title character taking a legal case for one of the quirky town residents, while subplots revolved around his friends and neighbors, played by the likes of Michael Ian Black, Justin Long, and Ginnifer Goodwin.
Ed was an upbeat, charming show with an eye for good casting and humorous running gags, receiving decent reviews and modest ratings through its four-season run. (Halfway through the first season, it was moved from Sunday to Wednesday nights, where it spent several years as the lead-in for The West Wing.) Yet it has never received a single DVD release, nor ever shown up on any streaming services. (It briefly aired reruns on UPTV in 2016, but vanished just as quickly as it came.)
The primary culprit is the show’s music. Like many TV shows of its era, Ed utilized a lot of outside music, and producers neglected to get the rights for their usage. This was not a big problem for initial broadcasting (excepting the theme song, Foo Fighters’ “Next Year,” played in every episode – producers were forced to replace it in the second season, but were allowed to use it again once they finagled the rights for Season Three). But the heavy use of unlicensed music became an issue for DVD release.
Ed was hardly the only show to face this hurdle. The Wonder Years was trapped in DVD limbo for years, due to its heavy reliance on late ‘60s and early ‘70s tunes, and WKRP in Cincinnati’s licensing deals expired long before the word “Netflix” was part of anyone’s vocabulary. Both shows were eventually granted DVD releases, but only after securing rights to a ton of music (and even then, some background tunes had to be cut). Netflix infamously replaced Joe Cocker’s cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends” when they added Wonder Years to their library; this new version remained when the show moved to Hulu.
Ed’s other problem is that it’s not quite clear who owns the show itself. The series was produced by NBC and David Letterman (under his distinctively named production company, Worldwide Pants), along with the TV branch of Viacom. In 2004, Viacom bought Paramount Pictures and shut down their own TV production. Shortly after, they bought CBS and formed a new TV production company, CBS Paramount Studios, which now owns the library of Viacom’s old TV shows. But (still following this?) the distribution rights to Viacom’s shows, including Ed, are to this day owned by NBCUniversal, which owns NBC.
If all that sounds confusing, that’s because it is. And the conflict over who owns what means we’ll probably never get to see Ed on a major streaming platform. Which is too bad, because everyone deserves the chance to hear “lettuce” pronounced as “letoos.”
K Street (HBO, 2003)
Not every HBO drama of the 2000s was a success, but even the short-lived shows have been granted a new life on HBO Now. Rome, Carnivale, John From Cincinnati, even the near-forgotten Tell Me You Love Me.
And yet K Street has never appeared on a streaming platform. Why?
Created by Steven Soderbergh (who directed all 10 episodes in its first and only season), K Street premiered in September 2003, during the height of acclaim for shows like The Sopranos and The Wire. Set in Washington DC, the show centered on real-life married couple James Carville and Mary Matalin. They played fictionalized versions of themselves who ran a consulting firm, working alongside fictional characters played by John Slattery and Mary McCormack (the latter of whom would soon after land a regular role on The West Wing).
Most episodes saw James (a Democrat) and Mary (a Republican) interact with several real-life politicians in manners both serious and comical. Some of the politicians and pundits (guests included Chuck Schumer, Steny Hoyer, David Dreier, Donna Brazile, Chuck Grassley, Bill Kristol, Tucker Carlson, Mary Bono, Rick Santorum, Orrin Hatch, and Howard Dean, among many others) were in on the “joke”; others seemed unaware.
K Street satirized real-life politics and events, mocking both sides of the fence in a volatile Washington during the early run-up to the 2004 election. Its up-to-the-minute commentary meant that each episode had to be filmed days before it was aired, and it heavily featured improvised dialogue, a la Curb Your Enthusiasm. But its most compelling features also doomed it to TV purgatory. The show’s very 2003-era commentary has dated it horribly, and its inside-baseball feel meant that even during its original airing, it could not find an audience outside of Washington DC. Be hard-pressed for it to gain a following today.
HBO would find much greater success at political satire in the following decade with Veep, but nowadays, K Street feels like an unsatisfying vanity project, one with far less appeal than even the limited window it had in 2003. In fairness, it was given a cheap DVD release many years ago, but copies are hard to find – and don’t expect to see it on HBO Max anytime soon. But hey, it’s not like we lack for entertainment in politics these days, anyway…
Eek! The Cat (FOX, 1992-97)
If you were an American kid growing up during the ‘90s, odds are you watched a lot of Fox Kids. One of the most popular children’s programming blocks of all time, it pretty much defined animated entertainment to a generation of impressionable youths. Some of Fox Kids’ most popular shows have been lucky enough to live on at your local Best Buy or through the click of a Hulu button; others have been less fortunate.
Eek! The Cat falls into the latter category. Created by Bill Kopp and Savage Steve Holland, the show centered on the titular Eek, a wide-eyed cat with a penchant for helping others, even at the expense of his own health and well-being. The show became popular with kids, along with some adults, thanks to its penchant for irreverent humor and a laundry list of celebrity guest voices, and had a healthy run of five seasons. But while a few dubbed DVDs have been released in European markets, the show has never been given a new platform for North American audiences.
The problem here lies with Fox Kids itself. In 2001, the Fox Family network was sold to Disney and rebranded ABC Family (the name has since been changed to Freeform), a deal which included Disney gaining control of Saban Entertainment, the studio responsible for a large chunk of Fox Kids programming.
Saban, as many people know, is most famous for the Power Rangers franchise, and if you want to watch Power Rangers these days (not sure why you would, but bear with me), you can only find it on the Disney networks. Similarly, other Saban shows like The Karate Kid, Mad Jack the Pirate, and of course Eek! the Cat are now fully under the thumb of Mickey Mouse and friends.
And what did Disney do with them? Um… nothing, really. Sure, X-Men: The Animated Series got a few DVD releases, but most of the shows have been languishing in a closet for twenty years. And the simple reason is that Disney doesn’t have any interest in most of the properties, which weren’t theirs to begin with. Recently, Saban-produced Marvel cartoons like Silver Surfer and Spider-Man Unlimited began streaming on Disney Plus, but you can attribute that to Disney owning Marvel and wanting to complete their superhero streaming library. Unless a giant Venus’ flytrap features in the next Avengers flick, don’t expect to see the Little Shop of Horrors cartoon streaming anytime soon.
A few non-Marvel Saban productions have been lucky – Howie Mandel spent years trying to make the long-running Bobby’s World available to 21st-century audiences, and the show now sits comfortably on Amazon Prime. But most of the library will probably never see the light of day.
It’s especially vexing for Bill Kopp, who not only created Eek! and Mad Jack, but also produced the short-lived Shnookums and Meat animated series for the Disney Afternoon. Despite being a studio-produced property, Shnookums and Meat is also unavailable on Disney Plus. Why drop the Kopp, Disney?
Suburgatory (ABC, 2011-14)
I’m bending the rules with this one. The first season of Suburgatory is available on DVD and for digital purchase. But good luck finding the second and third.
Created by Emily Kapnek, Suburgatory was a single-cam sitcom centering on single father George (Jeremy Sisto) and his daughter Tessa (Jane Levy) who move to a suburban town where everything is quaint and perfect to the point of creepiness – “suburban purgatory,” as the title implies. The series earned good reviews, particularly for the performance of Carly Chaikin (as Tessa’s rival), who would earn greater fame on Mr. Robot.
Suburgatory is a particularly strange example for this list because it’s less than a decade old, airing at a time when streaming and digital downloading were already established mediums. Yet although the first season was given the traditional DVD and streaming release, Seasons Two and Three remain trapped in a purgatory of their own.
And truth told, I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps the show’s conflict of ownership is an issue (it was produced by Warner Bros. Television), but studios crossing network lines to air TV shows isn’t exactly uncommon. The ratings my not have been great, but you’d think the show would at least get the luxury of online purchasing, since most everything does in the 2010s.
But whatever the reason, Suburgatory has been largely forgotten since its release and shows no sign of resurfacing (even with Levy generating a few new waves on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist). It’s proof that even recent shows aren’t guaranteed the promise of streaming immortality.
The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (NBC, 1987-88; Lifetime, 1989-91)
Oh boy. This one is going to haunt the TV world for generations to come.
Running for two seasons on NBC and an additional three on Lifetime, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd was a critically acclaimed series centering on a divorced woman (Blair Brown) trying to piece her life together in New York City. It was one of the first sitcoms to air without a laugh track (though, depending on your perspective, it could also have functioned as a half-hour drama). It featured storylines that spanned multiple episodes – still rare territory for TV in the late ‘80s. And it was one of the first TV shows ever to depict a long-term interracial romance – between Molly and Nathaniel (Richard Lawson), who eventually fathered her child.
In short, it was a show ahead of its time on many levels, one that earned it a loyal fanbase (who convinced Lifetime to resurrect the show after its network cancellation) and several Emmy nominations. And yet barring some massive turn of events, the show will never, ever get a proper DVD or streaming release.
As with Ed, the main obstacle keeping Molly Dodd from modern audiences is the music. There was a ton of it in the original show, including several songs which Brown sang herself. (The cost for licensing outside songs performed by castmembers is catastrophically high.) Worse, Molly Dodd aired long before DVDs existed, and even shows that did license their music did so with contracts that only stipulated then-existing mediums. No one could predict at the time that entire TV seasons could be stored compact discs, let alone that people would one day be watching television on their phones.
Jay Tarses, creator of Molly Dodd, has been through the licensing hell before. He also created Buffalo Bill, a short-lived but critically beloved sitcom starring Dabney Coleman as an antisocial talk show host. Buffalo Bill did receive a DVD release, but only after some of the music was chopped out; taking a scalpel to Molly Dodd would make that process look tame by comparison.
Moreover, it would be incredibly expensive. Although Molly Dodd maintains a passionate fanbase, and its main character is hailed as a trailblazer for complex, nuanced women on television, it has been largely forgotten over time. Making the show available for DVD or streaming purposes would come with a hefty price tag, and there’s no guarantee the producers would recoup the expenses, especially when there are so many hundreds of other shows, both old and new, flooding the market.
Beloved and culturally important as The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd may be, it is destined to remain forever locked in the TV vault.