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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Remote Controlled: Q&A with Gord Lacey

What do you do when you get so many new TV on DVD sets to review, you run out of places to store them? You start making room in your bathroom, of course.

If Gord Lacey doesn't have the best job in the world, it doesn't take long to get to his name on the roll call. Creator of one of the Web's most comprehensive TV on DVD sites - the appropriately named TvShowsOnDVD.com - six years of hard work paid off with TV Guide acquiring his "baby" earlier this year.

Lacey, who also writes for the Commentary Track blog on TVGuide.com, recently chatted with the Press-Gazette. It's the first in what Channel Surfing hopes will be multiple conversations with folks who we not only enjoy reading - or in the event we nab someone from a show, watching - but who've also helped inspire this very blog.

And for our maiden voyage, we couldn't have asked for a funnier, more informed, more engaged subject than Mr. Lacey ... or as he referred to his last name, "You know, like 'Cagney and ...'"

What DVD sets would make good holiday gifts this year?

"I think 'Seinfeld' is a pretty good set. Obviously it has every episode from all the seasons. But the coffee table book is really, really nice. I just find the packaging to be really simple, but elegant. It works really well compared to some of the other sets I’ve seen.

"One of the sets I've personally had a lot of fun with is the 'Young Indiana Jones Chronicles' (Volume One.) It was a show that was never warmly received. People went, 'Eh, this is kind of educational and not really Indiana Jones.' But watching the DVD's, (creator George) Lucas has done an amazing job with the featurettes. The episodes focus on a couple different topics, for instance, one is on the slave trade, so there's a whole documentary that accompanies it. And in another episode, Indy meets (President Teddy) Roosevelt, so they have a whole documentary on Roosevelt. And these are actually in-depth documentaries. Not two minute pieces. The shortest one was 19 minutes, and the longest one was about a half hour. And there were 38 of them on the DVD set."

Do you even have a wish list anymore, or do you get to watch what you want, when you want because of your job?

"Well, my job allows me to discover a whole bunch of shows I've never watched. Recently, I've been catching a lot of documentaries, a lot of BBC stuff. Like 'Planet Earth,' and I know everybody knows 'Planet Earth,' -- 'Oh, 'Planet Earth.' It's so good!' -- but David Attenborough has done so many documentaries. I had seen most of them before getting into 'Planet Earth,' stuff like 'Blue Planet,' 'The Life of Mammals,' 'The Life of Birds' and 'Life in the Undergrowth' ... Those are all really, really neat.

"Some of the other BBC shows I'm into are the new 'Doctor Who,' which is really cool. I really, really like 'MI-5.' I don't know if you've ever seen it, but it's by far the best spy show I've ever watched. They just do stuff that you wouldn't do on American TV, like actually kill characters off. For instance, you know that Jennifer Garner isn't going to die on 'Alias' because she's the star of the show. That's just how American TV works. But in the second episode of 'MI-5,' they killed off this hot agent, and they did it in a very gruesome way. And I was watching on my couch and I went, 'Oh my god, oh my god! I LOVE this show!' It's the idea that they're going to do something different on a show that really excites me."

That gets me thinking about my current obsession, HBO's "The Wire," which I'm into really late, but glad I decided to watch before the final season airs in January.

"I was just going to mention that show. 'The Wire" is one show that, really, you have to commit to watching the entire thing. You watch one or two episodes, and you'll probably go, 'Eh.' But you watch the whole season and it all pays off. That's why I think it hasn't caught on as much as other HBO shows have."

The whole idea that you have to really think about the overall puzzle and pay attention to every scene, every bit of dialogue.

"Yeah, and it doesn't have any big name actors. Like, try and name someone in 'The Wire,' and it's 'Oh, that guy. Wasn't he on another HBO show? Or, that guy who was from 'Oz.' 'Well, what's his name?' 'Oh, I don't know' ... and (show creator) David Simon has said this before, 'The Wire' is like a book. Each episode is like a chapter. And if you were to pick up a book and read Chapter Five, you'd be like, 'What? That doesn't make any sense!'"

Looking back on TVShowsOnDVD.com's history, is it safe to say you were just a TV fan living in Canada who wanted to know when 'Family Guy' was coming out?

"I had been buying DVD's for about a year, year and a half. And while participating in some (Internet) forums, I kept noticing people were posting, 'Oh, wouldn't it be great if such and such a show came out?' A bunch of random people posting comments in random message boards doesn't get anything done. I had previously put out some petitions for 'Family Guy' and 'Kids In the Hall,' two shows I wanted to see released. I collected a few hundred names and then it became, like, 'Now what? I don' t know anyone at Fox. What am I going to do with this?' You know, because a lot of peope do petitions -- 'We demand such and such be released!' -- and then nothing happens. So then I got to thinking, 'Wouldn't it be really cool if there were one Web site where people could just go and register, then vote on the different shows they wanted released? Instead of a petition, they'd basically be saying, 'I will buy this.'

"A couple days later, I didn't really have much to do, so I started working on the Web site. I was working as a Web developer at a college, so I had the skill set. But that was a day job, the sort of thing where you do what people expect of you -- or basically, other people told me what to do, so I really didn't push my abilities. So when I sat down with the idea, I realized that in order to achieve what I wanted, I had to learn a lot of stuff to get to that goal. I started doing it, working on the Web site for about nine months, and I wanted to have 1,000 shows that people could vote on, 500 DVD's listed. So when I opened Nov. 1, 2001, that's what I had, and that first day when people started coming, it was kind of like, 'How is this happening? It's the first day.'"

So was it gradual that people started to turn to the site for information?

"I wanted to make sure that we had material on the site, because I knew our death would be to launch without content. People would go there and say, 'Yeah, it's cool. I guess it has possibilities. But there's nothing here,' and then who knows if they'd return later? So it was very difficult getting everything on there, and I put a lot of work in the site. And still, no one really knew about it. So absolutely, early on, there was no reward in doing it. At one point, I almost scrapped the site. I had been kind of losing interest because I had spent all this time on it, you know, and about halfway through I was coding stuff, and I probably ran into a couple of problems and thought, 'Man, I had all these ideas. And it's summer. What am I doing this for?' But one of my friends said, 'No. Do it and get it done. Then you can look at doing something else.'"

Was there a tipping point? Because if I think back to 2001, the DVD industry was still pretty dormant. Did it just suddenly kick into high gear and you caught the wave? Were you partly responsible for the wave?

"I started the site before TV on DVD really took off, so we were basically in a really good position to be in. We had something already in place and then a bunch of companies started to release stuff one after another. So then it was like, 'Cool!'"

Have your viewing habits changed because of the job? Is it TV overload for you?

"I get asked that all the time: 'Do you get sick of TV?' No way! That's crazy. I watch so many types of shows. I can literally go from 'The Wire' to a cartoon, and those are so different. You know, day-to-day, I watch a lot of reality shows because those aren't going to DVD. Like the 'Amazing Race.' I try to stay away from the really crappy stuff, though."

I hypothesized awhile back that maybe the writers' strike would have a positive impact on the TV on DVD industry, that some forgotten or overlooked shows, namely "The Wire," might benefit from the lack of new programming. Do you think that could be the case?

"Yeah, definitely. And I know Amazon.com is helping a lot with all of these TV on DVD sales. They've been holding two-to-three a week for the past month or so, which I think is tied more to the holidays and not the strike. But either way, a lot of people are reaping the savings."

The timing of both can't hurt. Maybe it's a perfect storm of sorts, because the advantages of TV on DVD seem to outweigh the negatives, which is why the industry is booming.

“That holds true for me. I watch most shows on DVD. It's a hell of a lot easier, and well, TV is annoying. You sit down and have to watch at a certain time. Obviously, (DVR's) have helped with that, but all this extra stuff is flying onto the screen. 'Watch 'American Idol' on Tuesday!' It's like, 'OK, I'm trying to watch this show right now.' Or then a logo suddenly appears on the bottom of a screen, or commercials pop up and interrupt my show. Look, you save a ton of time watching shows on DVD. I’m sure you've noticed that an hour-long show is 42 minutes now. Think about that. If you watch two shows a night, you've saved a half hour. If you watch four shows a night, you've saved a whole hour. That's another show you could be watching."

You covered this in a great TVGuide blog post about complete series sets potentially killing single season sets, and hurting the industry overall. I know it's a situation that has me personally frustrated, and is a big debate: the release of complete sets like “Seinfeld” with bonus material, all as a potential middle finger to folks who've bought the individual sets loyally over the years. What do you want to see done?

"I want the studios to make that extra content available. For the ('Seinfeld') coffee table book, I don't know if they can make that available because of licensing or what. But for the bonus discs, make it all available. Each one of those companies has an online store. Maybe you don't sell it at Amazon or Best Buy, but make it available at the Fox store, or the Warner Bros. store, or the Universal store. Give people the opportunity to get the extra bonus material.

"I think the studios have to look at what percentage of people who already own all the seasons are re-buying this stuff, compared to what percentage are new purchases. If its 90 percent new people buying it, 10 percent re-buying it, why don't they look at trying to capture 80 percent -- well, let's be more realistic -- 60 percent of people who already own those sets but are interested in buying the bonus discs. You look at a set like 'Stargate,' and that has four bonus discs. We're talking serious Sci-Fi fans here, and they WANT that stuff. Find a way to get them the bonus discs."

What do you hear from fans who feel like they shouldn't have to re-buy seasons they already own to get some cool extras?

"Most people are saying '(Bleep) the studio. This is (bleep).' Using those words. I don't understand the home video industry. If you fly a lot, there's a rewards plan in place. You get frequent flyer miles. 'Thank you for supporting us. Here's some bonus stuff for you.' If you buy 10 coffees, you get the 11th free … all kinds of rewards. What happens in home video? 'What, you bought 10 seasons already? Ha ha! Screw you! Here's something even BETTER than what you bought and we're not going to give it to you unless you re-buy everything we already sold you. Ha ha ha ha! Thanks for the money, sucker!'"

It's sad but true, though ultimately it might come down to patience, right?

"Hey, a lot of people out there buy so much TV on DVD, they've come to realize that there are some sets they just don't need to get right away. So they think to themselves, 'Huh, maybe I should stop collecting this set.' Because they're probably going to release something like 'The Complete Sopranos.' That's pretty much a given. In fact, I will bet someone that in November of next year, you'll see HBO release a 'Complete Sopranos.' So if I'm a consumer, and I've been slow buying those sets, maybe I only have up to Season Three, so do I really want to buy Seasons Four, Five and Six, in two parts? Hell no! I'll wait for the complete series set.

"And now, HBO lost some sales there, because we know the 'Sopranos' is going to come out. But for some series', maybe the studio has no plans for a complete set. So now fans are waiting for something that might not get released. Let's say 'La Femme Nikita,' which had five seasons, and the fifth season came out, what, a year and a half, two years ago? But there's no complete series. So now you have people waiting for a complete set that might never come."

What unreleased show or shows do you get the most e-mails about?

"'The Wonder Years' and the original 'Batman' (starring Adam West.)"

Any reason for the delays?

"Well, I think 'The Wonder Years' would be music licensing. That's probably the main reason there. And then 'Batman' is another licensing issue. Basically, Fox owns the show, but I don't believe they own the rights to the characters anymore. So they'd have to work with DC Comics to license the character again. And well, when you have two big companies arguing over profits, good luck. That show: it could be never."

What show are you most surprised that people are SO passionate about?

"Um, 'Golden Girls?' I had no idea. I was over at a friend's house last week and he has a very small DVD collection, yet he owns every single season of 'Golden Girls.' And he's like, 'I LOVE 'Golden Girls!' Do you know when 'Golden Palace' is coming out?' And I'm like, 'Um, no ...'"

What's the coolest thing you've been a part of because of the Web site?

"For me, I have to say it's 'Kids In the Hall,' because if you go back to before the site started, that was one of my petitions. And once I got the site up and running, I started looking around and seeing that there was definite interest. So I called someone at Broadway Video and starting talking to them. The first phone call was really short, like, 'Hey, I'm Gord. I run this Web site and there's a lot of interest in 'KITH' on DVD.' And they'd be, 'Oh, great! Send us an e-mail. Thanks. Bye.' So then six months later, I'd try again and it'd be the same, 'Oh, really. Lots of interest? Hmmm, we'll look into it. Thanks. Bye.' And it wasn't until 'KITH' went on tour and came to Edmonton that I was sitting there in a packed room of fans. All these people were waiting to see them while buying programs, eight pages or so, and paying $30 for them! I was like, 'This is ridiculous! This show has to be on DVD if that many people are spending money on programs! They'll buy the DVD!"

'So I called Broadway again ... and we had a more serious conversation. They flew me down to New York, and I met with them and outlined what a good set should be. I was involved in helping them pick a distributor ... and from there, I was pretty much a consultant. They'd send me tapes with timecoded episodes because they wanted chapters, especially for a sketch comedy show, that'd be important. So I was going through and writing down the timecode and where the chapters should be. It was crazy."

Well, you're Canadian. It'd be wrong not to love 'Kids In the Hall.' You also seem like you'd be a big 'Lost' guy.

"Yeah, I watch that on DVD. This past year was a little messed up. I had to go Comic-Con (in San Diego), and TV Guide wanted me to cover the 'Lost' panel ... and I was like, 'Oh, crap. I haven't watched 'Season Three' yet! And it's not on DVD!' So I had to figure out how to cover it without the season being spoiled, and I was going through all sorts of scenarios ... Luckily I have a friend who has a DVD recorder, so I called him up and asked if he recorded 'Lost." And he was like, 'Yep,' so I went over and picked up his DVD's made from recordings off TV, and this is two days before Comic-Con. The next day-and-a-half I watched the entire season of 'Lost' just so I wouldn't have things spoiled. And it was really great, because everything was fresh in my mind once I got down there. I think I watched the last episode on my flight to San Diego."

That's dedication.

"I told my boss what I did and she said, 'Gord, you are hardcore.' But you know what, first, I wanted to do a good job for TV Guide, and I just didn't want anything spoiled. I hate spoilers."

Talk a little about the TV Guide situation. When you visit your site, you can't tell that it's been bought out. Nothing changed.

"That's what has been so cool. A lot of people don't realize the site has been sold. And I took a lot of heat when the sale went through. A lot of people came at me with, 'You're a sellout! The site is gonna suck now and I'm gonna stop going to it!" And I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa! Why not wait until it does suck before you stop going to it. We just announced this. Nothing's changed ... I told people over and over, 'This site is like my baby.' I'm not going to hand it to someone who is gonna kill it."

You have to appreciate the extreme loyalty from fans, huh?

"A couple of days after the sale went through, my new boss said, 'Gord, we've been getting a lot of e-mail. People are really upset and think we're going to wreck the site.' What can I say? Those are my readers. It's really good to know we have such a following."

So it's safe to say a lot has happened in six years.

"If I ever have to go back and get a normal job, I am so screwed."

Well, I assume you work at home, so how can the public not be envious?

"I make my own hours, though I do have to work 40 with TV Guide, but I work WAY more than that. Honestly, it doesn't seem like a job. When people ask what I do for a living, I always say, 'Well, you're gonna hate me,' and then I tell them them and they say, 'Wow. I really do hate you.' I sit around, watch TV and answer e-mails. 'But that's what I do in my spare time!' It's great.

And then I'm sure when your doorbell rings, you get tons of new packages.

"Of course. And I'll never forget my first DVD. It was 'Twin Peaks: Season One.' I know the guy who sent it to me, and I still keep in touch with him. I remember running around my house and (singing happily) 'Free DVD! Free DVD!' Now, oh my god, I don't know where to put them anymore."

Yeah, where do you put them?

"All over. I have a lot in my bathroom ... Seriously."

What, so 'Freaks and Geeks' right next to the shaving cream ...

"Actually, 'Freaks and Geeks' is in here."

Well, Gord, I really appreciate the time and all the work on the site. I probably kept you way too long with my questions.

"Oh, no problem. I was just gonna watch TV anyways."

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, trozwado@greenbaypressgazette.com

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2 Comments:

Thanks for the interview. Gord knows his stuff. I'd love to see "Wonder Years" out and never knew why it hadn't been released.

By Anonymous A Guy Named Paul, At December 20, 2007 at 2:40 PM  

This might be the single best blog post. EVER.

What a great and interesting interview. Thanks!

P.S. I still have a crush on Winnie Cooper, even though she stole the part from her older sister.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At December 20, 2007 at 5:34 PM  

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