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Mary's down — but not out — on DVD

Mary Tyler Moore in the fictional Minneapolis newsroom WJM-TV.
Mary Tyler Moore in the fictional Minneapolis newsroom WJM-TV.
CBS Photo Archives

It looks as if Mary Richards might just make it after all on DVD.

On Sept. 24, 2002, Minneapolis' favorite fictional daughter debuted on DVD with a fantastic first-season set of "The Mary Tyler Show." And then — well, nothing.

Despite the TV show's classic status, the lavish four-disc set was a flop, selling a relatively meager 85,000 copies to date.

"We were disappointed," said Peter Staddon, executive vice president of marketing at Fox Home Entertainment, which released the DVD. "We put a lot of effort into marketing and promoting it, so our costs were very high as well."

The rest of the series — including a finished second-season set that was supposed to come out in March 2003 — has been in limbo since.

But the image of Mary tossing her tam in downtown Minneapolis, circa 1970, could be back on DVD soon.

"We haven't got any definitive plans at the moment," Staddon cautioned, "but we're looking to do it sometime in 2005."

Thank "Lost in Space," another Fox TV property, for the resuscitation of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." The '60s sci-fi series also did worse than expected when its first season came out earlier this year in an eight-disc set that cost $79.98.

So Fox came up with the idea of splitting its second season into two $39.98 volumes released 11 weeks apart. The idea, Staddon said, was to "get the cost down lower so that more people will be inclined to buy it as an impulse purchase."

Early returns on "Lost in Space: Season 2, Vol. 1," which came out Sept. 14, have been encouraging, Staddon said. Vol. 2 is due Nov. 30.

Now, Fox is optimistic that the same plan might work for "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

"When we do something like that, there are two things that are important," Staddon explained. "The first is that you announce outright that you are going to release both halves of the season, so someone doesn't buy the first half of the season hoping that the other is going to be released; they know it's going to be released.

"The second thing is that if the full season goes for, say, $60, that you don't try and charge $40 for each half of the season, because then you're just gouging. You should charge $30 or less for each half of the season so it doesn't cost anyone more to own the complete season; it just makes each half of the season accessible to more people because the price point is lower."

What's not clear is what will happen to the supplements that were produced for the second-season set by Danny Gold and Matthew Asner, who also created the extras for the first-season set. Asner is the son of series star Ed Asner, who played Lou Grant and served as executive producer of the DVDs.

Gold had to think for a few moments last week just to recall what the second-season extras were.

"This was a few years ago!" he said by phone from his and Asner's Los Angeles office, Mod 3 Productions.

He said the extras include a new 40-minute documentary called "Eight Characters in Search of a Sitcom," commentary for selected episodes, a Mad magazine parody of the show from the 1970s, and a gallery of photos and script pages with original notes. He said they also secured the rights to "a really cool thing": a 1970s documentary about the making of the show's opening credits, which were filmed in locations around Minneapolis.

"We got wind of the fact that it was done when we interviewed (series producer and writer) David Davis," Gold said. "Matthew and I did this extensive research and located it. They didn't even know they had it, almost."

But will those extras be included if the second season comes out next year as planned?

"That's part of what we're looking at at the moment," Staddon said. The number of discs in each set is one of the issues under discussion and, once decided, will affect how much room is left for the extras. The first-season set devoted three discs to the 24 episodes, some with commentary, and the fourth to supplements, including a 90-minute documentary. "We hope that Fox can find a way to include these bonus features for the fans," Gold said. "It will really enhance 'The MTM Show' experience. Classic TV on DVD deserves inclusion of bonus material much like feature films get."