no one escapes the transcendental importance of songs used in television series. Brendan Fraser’s farewell in ‘Scrubs’ wouldn’t be the same without ‘Winter’, by Joshua Radin; ‘Two meters under the ground’ would not have left us devastated with any other song than ‘Breathe me’, by Sia; ‘Wild world’, by Cat Stevens, is not the same after ‘Skins’ or, more recently, ‘Stranger things’ marked a new direction for ‘Running up that hill’, by Kate Bush. But, What if I tell you that the soundtrack of your favorite series… may not be the original?
a series of rights
To understand the problem with the soundtrack of series like ‘Malcolm in the middle’, ‘Daria’ or the one that concerns us, ‘Doctor in Alaska’, you have to understand how US copyright law works… And, above all, keep in mind that this law was made in a radically different cultural context, when nobody could imagine another use for the music in the episodes than that of the broadcast on a couple of occasions and maybe a few more by syndicating the series.
Even then there may be problems with some songs by artists who they only signed on for the linear airing of the episode. This is what happened to the -very unknown here- ‘Radio Cincinnati’, which in the 90s had to change many of its original songs for which it no longer had the rights. If this happened when going through syndication, Imagine when a new concept arrived: the DVD. The distributors saw a hole to get more of classic series like ‘Those wonderful years’, but the solution was not so simple.
And it is that in the United States, the rights of each song have to be resolved one by one with the artists or record companies. Depending on how successful you anticipate your DVD series is going to be, you can make the effort to go track by track or simply swap them all out for other tunes. This is what happened to ‘Doctor in Alaska’ in physical format: from season 2, all his songs had been changed by other much simpler melodies that often broke the rhythm of the scenes and left a Dantesque sensation. To give you an idea of this problem: ‘Parenthood’ and ‘Those Wonder Years’ were released on DVD and Netflix, respectively, with another opening song, leaving Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker aside for another song on the first case and a tricky version of ‘With a little help from my friends’ in the second. Tremendous.
The Alaskan case
Sometimes, when launching the series in physical format, Distributors only get a percentage of the songs (90 percent, say) and try to replace the rest with some of the same style. For example, the ‘Daria’ DVD included a note saying “Let’s answer the big question: 99 percent of music has changed, because the cost of licensing all the songs we used would have made it impossible to launch the series (…) To make it clear, we had to replace the music. Does it mean the episodes are different? The Daria from season 1 would have said ‘Yes’. The one in Season 5 would have said ‘Shut up and hand me the controller’.”
and that’s how we come to the case of ‘Doctor in Alaska’, one of the examples that is usually put to show that not being able to license music more easily in the United States is a mistake: the mythical songs that gave a special aura to the series became, especially in the second season, simple songs without copyrights that many times did not resemble the original at all. For understanding us, elevator music. A disaster. But on his arrival in Spain, Filmin has announced that it is a restoration and that it is how you saw it for the first time. It’s true?
The short answer: yes. The long one needs two explanations. The first has to do with European copyright laws, which are much more lax than American ones. Here it is enough to pay a percentage of the profits to the different artists who have songs in the series. The second is that, sadly, many times the European editions also come with these changes in the audio because the image and music of the American DVD are simply dumped onto a disc that is compatible with players from our continent. When it comes to streaming, the DVD is dumped and This is how restrictive laws in the United States take their toll on us in Spain. Luckily, ‘Doctor in Alaska’ has been spared.
All songs, all dances
Fortunately, after the American catastrophe, ‘Doctor in Alaska’ had an edition in the United Kingdom where the music was respectedand that is the one that has been used when taking her to Filmin, at least in the episodes that we have verified, so you can see Dr. Fleischman without problem, with the assurance that it is a complete remaster.
Anyway, this problem is only going to increase in the coming years, as the inevitable debacle of the physical format continues. If, due to American copyright laws, the distributors end up making the classic series packs at a loss, they will end up releasing them with the audio directly changed and without asking the artists (or trying to get them to give them the songs at zero cost). And if we are lucky enough to see them in Spain, it is hard to believe that this search for the original audios will be carried out here, simply being able to overturn the Yankee. If the benefits of the physical format there are few, imagine the ones here.
The list of problems due to these American laws is endless: ‘Dawson’s Grows’ had to change its initial theme when it went to streaming, ‘Sabrina, things of witches’ changed almost all the songs that were playing… Most current series have made sure they don’t have this problem and always sign for home video and streaming rights as well., but many of the old ones live in a limbo from which they will probably never come out. ‘Doctor in Alaska’, luckily, has been one of the lucky ones. Now You just have to enjoy the return to Cicely.