First Richard Kimble found his wife’s dead body.  Then he was convicted of her murder.  Then he found himself on the run with a psychotic nutjob vowing to send him to the death house.

But all of that was a cakewalk compared to what happened when Dr. Kimble fell into the hands of CBS Home Video.

The latest volume of The Fugitive to arrive on DVD, the third such set, has had all of its incidental music stripped out and replaced by an entirely new score composed specifically for that purpose.  This is not the removal of occasional snippets of songs, which has (lamentably) become commonplace in the DVD realm because it’s expensive to clear the rights to popular tunes for home video.  Instead, it’s the wholesale deletion of the entire original musical element of the series – and without any warning to consumers beyond a standard boilerplate disclaimer in tiny print.  This is the first time any television show has arrived on DVD in such an aurally mutilated form.  It’s a very big deal.

“Where did they put my music?  Is it behind this fence?”

I’ve sampled the new music in some episodes on the set and compared them scene-for-scene to tapes of the show with the original score intact.  The results were dire.  To their credit, the new composers have been conservative in their approach, placing the new music for the most part in the same spots as the old – even imitating it note for note in some sections.  Roy Braverman, a music editor who worked on the new score, wrote on his website that the “new music library is being composed ‘in the style of’” the original scores.

Up to a point, that’s true – the new music isn’t quite as obtrusive I expected.  However, it is pedestrian and generic.  As I watched the first act of one of my favorite episodes, “Devil’s Carnival,” my heart sank.  The mournful Pete Rugolo melody used whenever Kimble would amble wearily into a new town, was gone, replaced by new notes that have no emotion at all.  The Rugolo score played under William Conrad’s basso narration, adding a wistful quality to lines like “Richard Kimble: He travels a lot by thumb, makes many a long, lonely hike between rides.”  The new music fades out abruptly as soon as Conrad starts speaking, and pops back in with an annoying two-note sting as soon as he falls silent.  (The main and end titles of all the episodes have their original music intact, although the musical bridges from the teaser into the opening titles have been effaced in a rather jarring way.)

On a technical level, the new music has a tinny, squawky quality and the remixed audio tracks exhibit a lot of abrupt changes in volume.  Even if you’ve never seen The Fugitive before, and aren’t sensitive enough to the styles of sixties music to detect the anachronistic, modern tinges to the new score, this release will hurt your ears.

This week I called Alan A. Armer, the producer of The Fugitive‘s first three seasons, and broke the news to him about the music replacement.  Armer told me that he was “totally in awe of what you’re telling me . . . . I’m a bit staggered.”

Armer had less involvement with scoring The Fugitive than most TV producers do on their shows; at QM Productions, series producers focused on story while the post-production was supervised by other executives (on The Fugitive, Arthur Fellows and John Elizalde).  Nevertheless, Armer expressed dismay that the original cues are gone.  “You just have to wonder how much that will affect the dramatic quality of the shows,” Armer told me.  “I suspect that the show may have suffered as a result of it.”

The Fugitive has a somewhat unusual musical history.  It was, as Jon Burlingame writes in his invaluable TV’s Biggest Hits: Television Themes From Dragnet to Friends, the only major hit series of the sixties for which “no single episode actually received an original score.”  Instead, QM commissioned jazz composer Pete Rugolo (a former arranger for Stan Kenton) to write a library of cues that could be tracked into multiple episodes.  Rugolo composed the theme and basic Fugitive motifs based upon either a screening of the pilot, or possibly just a description of the show’s premise.

To supplement Rugolo’s library (there were “other things they needed that I didn’t write,” Rugolo told Ed Robertson for his book The Fugitive Recaptured), Elizalde and music editor Ken Wilhoit pulled stock cues from outside music companies.  Cues from the Capitol Music catalog were licensed, along with the CBS music library and, eventually, an archive of scores composed by Dominic Frontiere, the Outer Limits composer who became closely associated with QM during the sixties.  The CBS library was an especially important source, and many treasured cues from The Twilight Zone and Gunsmoke (by such famous composers as Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann) were repurposed for The Fugitive.

(There’s some debate as to whether any of Frontiere’s music appeared in the episodes on this DVD set.  I’m almost certain that the familiar Outer Limits melodies from the Daystar library didn’t begin to crop up until The Fugitive‘s fourth and final season, but it’s possible that Frontiere’s scores for Daystar’s Stoney Burke or an earlier QM show, The New Breed, were sourced.)

Rugolo’s score would have been owned outright by QM and, though there was no connection between The Fugitive (an ABC show produced by QM and United Artists) and CBS Music in 1963, both properties are now owned by the same corporate entity, Viacom.  Naturally, then, there’s ample cause for speculation as to what element of the Fugitive scoring could have triggered the music replacement – especially since the series’ first season, comprised of the same mix of musical elements, arrived on DVD intact last year.

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Adding insult to injury, CBS has digitally altered the closing credits of each episode to insert the names of the composers of the new score:

It’s a move that reeks of duplicity.  Instead of appending a new card containing the modern names to the end of the titles, as one would see on a film that’s been restored (although, in this case, these would be the “desecration credits,” not the “restoration credits”), CBS has hidden the new names in plain sight to avoid a clear admission that the music was changed.  Here’s how that same card (from the episode “Devil’s Carnival”) is supposed to read:

Nothing personal against Messrs. Heyes, Winans, and Komie, but seeing their names embedded among those of the people who actually worked to create The Fugitive back in the sixties gives me a sense of almost physical revulsion.

Somewhat overlooked, given the magnitude of the score-replacement problem, is the fact that CBS sliced out portions of the image in the “Ballad For a Ghost” episode, in which Janis Paige plays a chanteuse who bears a haunting resemblance to Richard Kimble’s late wife.  The two songs that Paige performs on-camera have been changed on the audio track, and so all of the closeups and medium shots during her numbers were deleted (a total of about a minute of footage).  One of the missing shots is a fast-dolly into a closeup of Paige immediately after Kimble (David Janssen) sees her for the first time.  The camera move emphasizes Kimble’s shock upon discovering his wife’s doppelganger; without it, the scene loses much of its power.

I didn’t realize this because I haven’t been watching any of the affected shows, but CBS has been taking this approach to some of its other classic television releases as well.  Often when Jim Nabors sings in Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., or when Jack Klugman or Tony Randall belt out a few bars of a pop tune during the banter of The Odd Couple, those moments have been excised from the DVDs.

Look what they did to my song, Dr. Kimble: Janis Paige in a shot you won’t see on the new Fugitive DVD

The high costs of clearing popular music are widely known and many fans have been quick to forgive the studio and buy into the argument that paying the license fees for these songs would give the DVDs a prohibitive pricetag.  I won’t take a position on that except to suggest that cynicism rather than blind trust would be a more productive attitude toward any issue of corporate accounting.

One fact made clear by the extensive song deletions on various DVDs is the fact that CBS has an active corps of intellectual property lawyers scrutinizing the musical history of their television properties.  In off-the-record remarks to me, several people with recent experience in the home video world have characterized both the CBS/Paramount legal staff, and their counterparts at other studios, as inexpert, inconsistent, and overcautious.  (As an example, when you hear long stretches of silence in a Paramount or Warner Bros. DVD audio commentary, it’s usually not because “these people got caught up in watching something . . . they hadn’t seen in over 40 years,” as Jeffrey Kauffman suggests in his review of the recent Mannix DVD.  It’s because the lawyers have scissored out any material that could in theory trigger some kind of defamation claim.)  The convoluted nature of The Fugitive‘s underscoring raises the possibility that CBS’ attorneys scrutinized the show’s cue sheets, found some unfamilar names, and made a hasty decision to replace the score without fully or accurately investigating the ownership of the music.

(Before publishing this piece I attempted to solicit a comment from CBS, but calls and e-mails to several CBS home video personnel, as well as a Paramount media relations representative, were not returned.  Roy Braverman and one of the credited composers of the new Fugitive score also did not respond to interview requests.)

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A separate, but very much related, issue is the ignorance and/or sympathy that on-line DVD reviewers exhibit for this sort of nonsense.  Ronald Epstein, proprietor of the widely-read Home Theater Forum website, praised Paramount for its “wise decision” regarding the Fugitive music replacement.  Both DVDTalk and DVDBeaver, well-respected sites among cinephiles, gave the Fugitive DVD set high marks without noticing the music substitution.

Now, I have some sympathy for DVD reviewers in this situation, because nobody can be an expert on every TV show or movie that’s thrown over the transom.  And as we’ve seen above, the studios will do everything they can to disguise the alterations they’ve made to their product – so each DVD is a little trap for the unsuspecting DVD reviewer to step into.  But I feel that the ignorance displayed by DVDTalk’s Paul Mavis in this case is inexcusable.

Two days before publishing his review of the altered Season 2 set, Mavis posted a review of the largely unchanged Season 1, Volume 2 Fugitive DVD.  How could any remotely competent film historian or “Fugitive fanatic” (Mavis identifies himself as both) watch parts of these two collections back-to-back without immediately noticing the radical changes to the sound of the series’ music?  After being alerted to his error, Mavis posted a defense of CBS’ decision: “I know it feels good to bitch out the studios for doing this . . .  but I also know this is a business – pure and simple . . . . I’m not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  I’m going to enjoy the show.”  As of this writing, Mavis has yet to substantially amend his review, which still claims that the audio on the DVD set “accurately represents the original broadcast presentation.”  This is not consumer reporting as I understand the concept.

And speaking of consumer reporting, I vowed after February’s Route 66 debacle that I wasn’t going to turn this into a DVD blog.  I also wrote that I was going to balance my reporting with some positive posts about successful DVD editions of early TV shows.  But before I’ve gotten around to doing that, we have yet another crisis to address – another essential series of the sixties that’s being butchered in its initial videodisc release.  It’s ironic that The Fugitive should join Route 66 in the virtual wastebin (and the wastebin, make no mistake about it, is exactly where I’m recommending you file your Fugitive Season 2 discs).  The two series have always been paired in my mind because of their peripatetic structure, and because they featured protagonists who were anti-heroes of a sort – social dropouts at a time when television typically celebrated establishment figures (doctors, lawyers, policemen) and looked askance at nonconformists.  In this regard The Fugitive, which arrived on the air as Route 66 began its final season, can be seen as a natural continuation of the earlier show – Richard Kimble was a forced exile from society while Route 66‘s Tod and Buz had left on their own accord and could re-enter the mainstream at any time.  Both of them were prescient hints of the years ahead when “dropping out” became a widespread credo for disaffected young people.

Because of that, although I’m not sure that I’d call The Fugitive or Route 66 my favorite television drama of the sixties, I would argue that the two of them have to be considered the most signifant.  It’s beyond dispiriting that both shows are in real peril of being utterly ruined in their first (and likely only) complete home video release.

It is of – pardon the pun – paramount importance that CBS undo its error, untangle whatever legal or financial morass underlies the music substitution, and give us the real Fugitive.  With the release of this DVD set, if not before, I’ve become convinced that large-scale music replacement is a form of aesthetic butchery that’s the equal of panning-and-scanning or colorization during the days of VHS.  It took a long time, but those battles have largely been won by videophiles.  Now those of us who care about television and movies know what the next fight will be.

Update (4/20/2013): After more than four years of further gaffes – more numerous than I could attempt to report along the way - CBS/Paramount issued a definitive box set with all of Pete Rugolo’s music and the vast majority of stock cues intact. For the most part, replacement copies were not provided to consumers who purchased the mutilated sets, and no official explanation for the music replacement was ever offered.

Update, 9/15/08: I haven’t purchased the reissued Season 1 Route 66 DVD set yet.  But word on the street has it that while the second half has been redone in the correct 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the first fifteen episodes are still presented in the original mediocre 16mm transfers.  I guess it’s up to the individual consumer to decide whether the glass is half full, or half empty.  The complete Season 2 will be released on October 21.  7/14/09: The name of the Infinity Entertainment spokesman with whom I corresponded for this piece has been redacted at his request.  He is no longer affiliated with Infinity.

Thus far I’ve refrained from turning this blog into a report on home video issues, even though I do keep tabs on them, because there are many other sites which perform that function ably.  I’m also not fond of people who use their blogs as bully pulpits to harangue others less civilly than they would in person.  But I’m suspending precedent and decorum today because I’m outraged by the offense that’s been committed against one of my favorite TV shows of the ’60s, Route 66

Last week, a new collection of Route 66 episodes was released on DVD.  This time, unlike in the preceding batch, every episode was shown in an incorrect aspect ratio that deletes a large swath of picture in a brutal effort to make the image conform to the dimensions of high definition TV sets.  This has been tried by the studios before, when Warner Bros. released the first season of Kung Fu in faux widescreen.  Outraged fans shamed the studio into correcting its mistake in subsequent volumes.  But now it’s happening all over again, and to a TV classic far more important than Kung Fu.

Last October, Route 66 made its DVD debut in a package consisting of the series’ first fifteen episodes.  I was overjoyed, because Route 66‘s combination of powerful writing (Stirling Silliphant’s beat-styled dialogue and existential, wanderlust-driven narratives introduced the counterculture into mainstream television), exceptional guest stars (New York-based casting gave unknown actors like Gene Hackman and Alan Alda key early roles), and location shooting in cities all over the U.S. made it a unique treasure.  I’d seen all 116 episodes already, but I was delighted that a new, younger audience would have the opportunity to become conversant with this offbeat masterpiece.

Then reality set in.  The first fifteen episodes were transferred to DVD mostly from sixteen-millimeter prints, rather than the far better looking tape masters that were broadcast on the Nick at Nite network in the late ’80s.  The image quality wasn’t abysmal, but it was fuzzy and flat-looking enough to turn off many viewers who might be discovering the show for the first time; and there was the further problem that one of the first season’s strongest episodes, “A Fury Slinging Flame” (about nuclear paranoia), was cut by five minutes.  All of this was especially frustrating that Route 66‘s “sister show,” Naked City, had received a partial DVD release on the Image label a few years earlier, and those transfers were jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

The problems seemed to stem from the fact that Sony, which owns Route 66 (along with the rest of the old Screen Gems TV library), had licensed the show out to an entity called Roxbury Entertainment which is, to put it kindly, inexperienced in the arena of home video.  Roxbury is the operation of one Kirk Hallam, a producer of hack movies who optioned the property’s film rights and is currently trying to leverage a Route 66 remake out of development hell (which is exactly where it belongs).  I guess DVD rights to the original series were part of the deal – the best part, some might say, but so far they’re being treated more like that piece of toilet paper that sticks to your shoe when you leave the bathroom.

Then, last week, Infinity Entertainment Group (Roxbury’s distribution partner) released Season 1, Volume 2, in a form that had many fans longing for the battered 16mm transfers from the first batch.  Mr. Hallam had kept his promise to begin transferring the episodes from superior elements (what he referred to as “fine grain masters of film” in an interview), and indeed the level of clarity and detail was beautiful.  But someone made a catastrophically wrong-headed decision: to “enhance” the image for widescreen televisions by cropping the shows from their original 1.33:1 (4:3) compositions to a 1.78:1 (16:9) framing.  If you don’t understand the technical jargon, it means simply that 25% of the original image has been lopped off the top and bottom of the frame. 

The unique circumstances of Route 66‘s production – it was the only major television show of its era to be filmed largely outside New York or Los Angeles – make it the worst possible candidate for this butchery.  On the margins, the part that Infinity/Roxbury have seen fit to efface, is precisely where Route 66‘s cultural significance is located: in the architecture, the advertisements, the un-Hollywood faces of the local “background artists,” the uncluttered skylines that share the frame with Martin Milner and George Maharis. 

Today Infinity issued a press release which crushed fans’ hopes that this was a mistake soon to be corrected, and went on to insult the intelligence of those who complained by claiming that there’s “some confusion in the marketplace about some of the technical aspects of this restoration process.”  No, Infinity, we’re not the ones who are confused. 

Then there’s a ludicrous attempt to put a positive spin on the mutilation of the image.  Quoting the press release: “High Definition transfer which requires an update to the 16×9 aspect ratio for new HD TV Broadcast and future Digital Media delivery, i.e. Blu Ray DVD and HD Internet.” [Sic]  Wrong: there are films (like Casablanca) with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio available in HD, and those have mostly been presented on hi-def DVD in a proper pillarboxed format.  Cropping to 1.78:1 for HD is not a requirement, it’s a (bad) choice.  More press release excuses: “During the film transfer, the post production house used a process called tilt and scan which allows a Telecine technician to examine each scene individually and center the frame on the action.”  Terrific!  I’ll enjoy watching these so much more knowing that the 25% of deleted picture was chosen judiciously by a technician fifty years removed from the original production rather than simply chopped off the top and bottom. 

There’s plenty more to mock in that press release, but instead I’ll move on to report some clarifications that an Infinity spokesman was gracious enough to provide in an e-mail today.  Regarding my most crucial questions, as to whether Roxbury would reissue the Season 1, Volume 2 set in 4:3 transfers and what aspect ratio future volumes (if any) would use, the spokesman would comment only that: “The state of future releases is unknown as of now.  Discussions have been going on between IEG and Roxbury continually.”

When I pressed for details on whose idea it was to hack off part of the image for 16:9 formatting and why, the spokesman fingered a third party: “The post production house took it to widescreen without our knowledge.  We received complaints about the picture quality on Volume 1, so we decided to invest a large sum of money to telecine the second volume for the ‘die hard fans.’ Ultimately, we caused a larger problem when it was taken to HD/Widescreen.”  That represents a more forthright admission of error than anything in today’s press release. 

But wait, what about this part of the press release: “While we tried to remain as true as possible to the original programming, our overall goal is to not only make the program available once again on television, but to optimize it for the next generation of broadcast and television standards.”  Or the Infinity spokesman’s response when I asked who, exactly, made the decision to crop for widescreen, Infinity (which has distributed some exceedingly well-produced early TV packages, like Suspense and Man With a Camera) or Roxbury (which has no such track record).  The spokesman wrote that “it was a joint agreement between the two parties. The decision was made without knowing that making it widescreen would ruin the cinematic qualities.”  Well, okay, I’m with him on the “ruin” part, but now I’m confused.  It seems to me that Infinity is trying to have it both ways: Oops, we messed up and Forced widescreen is good for you - learn to like it.

But I’m hoping it’s really true that this was just a telecine gaffe, because that means it can be fixed easily on future Route 66 DVDs – and because it would put to rest the speculation that Infinity/Roxbury opted cynically to sacrifice their DVD consumers in order to peddle new 16:9 Route 66 masters to hi-def TV channels whose viewers want their screen filled with image no matter what the cost.  Just like in the good old pan-and-scan days of VHS.  It’s maddening to have to combat this ignorance over and over again.  Come on, people: remember Procrustes?  That thing with the bed did not end well for him.

I do think there’s some sliver of hope that we’ll see subsequent seasons of Route 66 in their proper format (and they’d better be derived from those same pristine film elements).  But that’s still not good enough for fans who would quite reasonably like to own the entire series in a watchable format.  And though I strongly encourage Infinity to find a way to remaster and reissue their Season 1, Volume 2 set (and ideally the entire first season), I can’t imagine that such an endeavor would be economically feasible even for a much larger company.  (That Kung Fu fix from Warners?  Still waiting on it.) 

To illustrate the impact of the cropping, here are a few image comparisons between the DVD and one of my bleary old tapes.  They’re all from the first half of  “The Opponent,” an episode from Season 1, Volume 2 selected more or less at random (except for the fact that the great Lois Nettleton has been on my mind lately).  It’s a skid-row story in which the atmospheric ugliness of Youngstown, Ohio is as essential to the meaning as anything in the script.

Each of these may be a couple of frames off, but I hope they illustrate more eloquently than I have above why, to slip into consumer-ese, I’m giving this package the strongest possible DO NOT BUY advisory:  

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Expansive skylines on the open highway?  Not so much any more:

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Not nearly so much feeling of bustling Youngstown, Ohio in the claustrophobic DVD version:

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A cool store sign . . . that would never catch your eye on the DVD:

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The lovely Lois . . . with hat, and without:

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Here’s Darren McGavin (giving a genuinely disturbing performance as a broken-down boxer) in a shot that loses all its seedy power when cropped:

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Whither Otto Zempski?  For those of you who bought the DVD, it turns out he’s at a “Pre-Fight Gala.”  I’m thinking that Telecine technician scanned when he should’ve tilted on this one:

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