Three TV Classics Still Not Available To Stream

Three TV Classics Still Not Available To Stream

There is, of course, an endless list of shows and films that are not available to stream on any platform. But I wanted to examine three series, all dating from the mid-eighties to mid-nineties that are still not available in the UK, but some of which have been appearing in the US.

Last autumn Moonlighting appeared on Hulu in the US, in a version that saw all the film elements restored in HD, and many (most?) of the original music cleared for the streaming version. Moonlighting dates from 1985, running until 1989, and with shows like this, it’s usually the music rights that cause hold-ups preventing them from appearing elsewhere. Around the mid-80s, producers started to include more commercial music in their productions, and music rights are complex. Contracts with the rights holders from the time obviously didn’t include future uses like DVD or streaming. And even though Moonlighting was one of the biggest, and most expensive, television shows of its time, it didn’t hit mainstream US syndication because it never reached the magic 100-episode mark that stations need to fully “strip” a show across its schedule. It did get some replay however, and often the original music was trimmed out or replaced for those repeats.

In the UK, Moonlighting aired on BBC2 and I used to love the show which had screwball comedy style rat-a-tat dialogue between the two main protagonists played by Cybil Shepherd and then then unknown Bruce Willis. Scripts were said to be vastly longer than regular US shows of the time, and the production techniques that the producers used, meant that the show was produced at a slower pace than many of its contemporaries. On the other hand, you could see that lavishness on the screen.

Following the appearance of Moonlighting on Hulu, the start of this year saw Northern Exposure appearing Prime Video in the US. That show began airing in 1990, around the same time that Twin Peaks was airing – another series at least partly shot in Washington State. The slightly off-kilter sensibility of a show that saw Rob Morrow’s Joel Fleischmann forced to work off his medical student debts by taking a job as an Alaskan GP alongside a curious bunch of local characters. Again, music has probably been the main issue prior to this release. During its run, the show spawned at least two soundtrack albums.

Still unavailable to stream in the US is the classic cop show Homicide: Life on the Streets. This was essentially the first TV creation of David Simon (he co-wrote early season scripts and later became a producer on the show), and was based on reporting he did for a book of the same name, having spent a year embedded with the detectives of a Baltimore police precinct. With a diverse cast, and an ability to show that not every crime could be solved, the show had a fantastic ensemble cast. Among them were Yaphet Kotto, Melissa Leo, Kyle Secor, Michelle Forbes and Reed Diamond. Richard Belzer’s Detective John Munch character would later transfer across to Law & Order, and then Law & Order: SVU for many seasons. Munch would also pop up on more other shows than just about any other character on television – from The Wire to The X-Files to Arrested Development. The character even gets a mention in Luther! Then there was the late, great Andre Braugher who played Frank Pembleton and had some classic episodes where they interrogated suspects in “The Box”, the interview room in their police precinct.

So far Homicide: Life on the Streets has not appeared on any US streaming service.

More to the point, none of these shows has yet made it to British streaming services either. So Moonlighting might be on Hulu, but it’s not on Disney+ in the UK. Likewise, Northern Exposure may be on the US Prime Video, but it’s not on the UK one. And no, Homicide is not streaming here either.

Physical media is the way to go for British fans of these series right now, although it won’t be perfect. Moonlighting was released previously on DVD, and I chased down a used copy of that release a few years back via CeX. I’m unsure if 100% of the music is there, but I think it mostly is. Obviously, it would be lovely to get the newly cleaned up and rescanned HD version that Disney has made available on Hulu, here in the UK.

Northern Exposure is still available to buy on physical media. I have a DVD copy of the boxset, but I see that there is a Blu Ray boxset available which seems to be HD remasters, and seemingly with the music intact.

You can also hunt down copies of Homicide: Life on the Streets DVD boxsets. It’s not still in print (the last release seems to have been via the now sadly defunct Network DVD), but there seem to be copies around in the market. The UK complete series release however does not include the final movie. Years ago, I bought the US DVD boxset that came in the style of a filing cabinet – it was cheaper then. I’m unaware of an HD version based on going back to the film negatives.

Curiously, when I heard about the news surrounding Northern Exposure in the US, I started writing this piece specifically about these three otherwise unrelated series, all of which left an impression with me at the time. And it was interesting to see this week, in an edition of the NY Times “Watching” newsletter, that their TV critic Margaret Lyons also referenced these three specific series in light of the re-emergence of Northern Exposure:

“Northern Exposure,” one of a few white whales of the streaming era, has been harpooned at last, and its 110 episodes are finally available on Amazon. It follows “Moonlighting,” which came to Hulu in September, and feels like a glimmer of hope for “Homicide,” interest in which has been especially strong since Andre Braugher’s death, last month. Open the vaults, already!

Margaret Lyons, Watching newsletter, NY Times, 9 Jan 2024

What is becoming clear to me is that I need to do more to digitise some of the films and TV I still have discs of. Those discs won’t last forever, and there is zero certainty that every series I love will always be available to view somewhere. Indeed, I was trying to rip some old films recently, and had to use more than one drive to read some of them, because the discs had deteriorated since I’d bought them. Then one of the discs actually shattered inside a drive mid-rip! And when a DVD shatters, it really shatters. I had to take that drive apart to get the hundreds of pieces out.

If there’s one thing streaming has told us recently, it’s that there are no certainties that something available today will still be available tomorrow.