For Contractual Reasons Certain Edits Have Been Made
I am very sick of reading this on the back of DVD covers. Or, indeed, not reading it on the back of DVD covers, and then finding out that music substitutions have been made anyway. Yes, Life On Mars, I'm looking at you.
It's understandable, of course. The usual problem is music - stuff that's fine for broadcast use can be very expensive, or even impossible, to clear for DVD release. A lot of shows these days take this into account when preparing the show for broadcast - and only use music that they know they can clear for commercial release. But not every show does this, as they feel it impacts on the quality of the broadcast version - see Life On Mars, again - whilst with a lot of older shows, DVD or video release was never a consideration.
(There is, of course, a prime rant to be had here against various music companies, agents, and even bands themselves, about causing trouble with commercial releases - the main point being that getting their music out there can only increase sales. But I believe I will postpone.)
Of course, it all brings up questions about wanting things "as broadcast" for TV geeks - and there's no better way to make people download stuff illegally if they're getting a better version of the product by doing so. (Not that this is the DVD companies fault, of course - although it does mean that extras become ever more important. Indeed, they're the only reason I shelled out for Life On Mars.) It all gets into heated debates about treating TV as art - which is what it is - and wanting the original creators intentions.
On the other hand, there is the quite relevant issue that subsitutions or other edits take up very little actual screentime (or, rather, non-screentime), when the length of the entire feature is taken into account. How much do they actually matter? The answer, of course, depends on the individual edit.
I think for me, it's almost a matter of loss of confidence. Now, when I watched my Life On Mars DVD, I have no idea whether the song playing was the choice of the original creators or not. (And, more than most series, music is incredibly important to the show.) Or take an episode of Hi-Di-Hi I bought recently - A Matter of Conscience - where you've got a big, emotional (and very well done) speech by Peggy at the end. And then there's an appalling edit that brings you right out of the show. Was it simply badly-done at the time? Or was it an edit done for the DVD? I think it's the former, but I can't tell for sure. Did I miss anything important? Thus, I've got a loss of confidence in the all-important ending of the episode. And even I think I should have better things to worry about than that.
The answer is very simple. Whilst it would be nice to have the full, original episodes of things released, it's an impossible goal at the moment. (Give it 50 years.) But what we could have is DVD companies listing the edits they have made to their releases on their websites. If a piece of music has been replaced - tell us what the original was, and what you've replaced it with. If you've had to cut out some dialogue altogether because you couldn't replace the music, tell us what was snipped. If you've had to edit out something for legal reasons, at least tell us as much as you can about it without getting sued.
Sure, it's for a small minority of an audience. But frankly, so are some extras. Do you think many people sit there and watch the VT clocks that Network put on some of their releases? Do you think that many people care about the unrestored footage of the first scene of The Caves Of Androzani? And who really cares about the clean jingles on the I'm Alan Partridge DVDs? Answer: geeks. Part of DVDs appeal is to the geek market. And the geek market cares about programme integrity. And programme integrity is important to a show - it's just that most people don't know that editing goes on. Anything that encourages people to pay attention to a show properly has to be good. To use a wildly-overblown metaphor - if people started cutting bits off the edges of the Mona Lisa, people wouldn't like it, would they?
As it is, it's left to fansites to do their own lists. And it's such a tedious job - so tedious that it's really not been done for most releases. It'd be far easier for the DVD companies to compile the list during production of the DVD. It really wouldn't take that long to do - a couple of hours for each release? - and I'm sure it would get extra sales. I know I've not bought DVDs because of edits - if I knew exactly what was cut out, I'd be a lot more keen to buy. Or at the very least, judge whether a particular edit matters to a show, and decide accordingly.
And once you know what you've actually missed, a lot of edits don't seem nearly as important.