Okay. So here we are - less than a week away from the one year anniversary of the September 11th tragedy - and what do Disneyana fans choose to get upset about? "They're canceling that block of TV programs on the Disney Channel that I like but don't really watch."
Seriously. Quick show of hands here. How many of you out there were actually sitting up from 1 to 5 a.m. watching "Vault Disney" every night? I see one ... two ... three insomniacs. As for the rest of you, you were sleeping. Just like me.
So how can you all pretend to be so upset that a show that you didn't even watch is getting cancelled?
Oh sure, some of you probably taped "Vault Disney." Or set your Tivo to snag particular programs for you. But - sadly - the Nielsen ratings system doesn't work that way, kids. It doesn't take into account the number of people who tape shows and then watch them later. The only way that a TV show can get a decent ratings these days is if people at home actually sit there and watch it.
And - since most of us were asleep while "Vault Disney" aired - naturally this block of programming on the Disney Channel was getting zip for ratings. Which is why that network felt justified in finally pulling the plug on these programs.
Okay, so these shows were a part of your childhood. They were part of mine too. Some of my happiest hours as a kid were spent plopped down in front of the television set on Sunday night, watching Uncle Walt work his magic on "The Wonderful World of Color." I seriously think that my dweebhood dates back to those shows where Walt would take viewers behind the scenes at WED. Where he'd show off the dinosaurs that the Imagineers were building for the Ford attraction at the 1964 New York Worlds Fair or the audio animatronic birds for "The Enchanted Tiki Room."
So - yes - you're allowed to feel sad that the Disney Channel has decided to close "Vault Disney." But what you're NOT allowed to do (unless - of course - you want to look like a complete ass) is act like the world is coming to an end just because the Mouse has decided to cancel a block of shows that aired from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Programs that you probably weren't watching anyway.
You know what I find particularly maddening about this whole situation? Here are all these Disneyana fans, supposedly up in arms because the Walt Disney Company is closing "Vault Disney." But where were all of these people a year or so ago when the real damage was done? When the Disney Channel opted to move "Vault Disney" out of its basically prime time berth (It used to air from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. weeknights, didn't it?) and began showing this block of programming in the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. time slot.
Back then is when we all should have begun making noise. Let the Walt Disney Company know that there were people out there that actually valued and enjoyed these programs. But we didn't do that, did we? We just meekly accepted this Disney Channel programming change and - if we remembered to set our VCRs to the right time - we occasionally got to see cool reruns of "The Wonderful World of Color."
So - when "Vault Disney" goes off the air next week - we (the hardcore Disney fans) have to accept some of the responsibility. After all, if we'd acted earlier (instead of bitching and moaning about it now), that block of programming might still be on the air.
So what happens next? Well - in spite of that woman in Glendale who's threatening to sell all of her Disney stock if the Walt Disney Company dares to cancel "Vault Disney" - the Walt Disney Company is still going to cancel "Vault Disney."
"But, Jim," I hear you saying, "What happensafter that? Does this mean that - from this point forward - I'm forever going to be denied free access to black & white reruns of 'Zorro'?" Well ... Yes ... No ... sort of.
Let me explain. Yes, all of the shows that were featured in the Disney Channel's "Vault Disney" programming block are going off the air as of September 9th. But that doesn't mean that these shows are going away forever.
I mean, think about it, kids. We live in an age where you can walk into your local Blockbuster and buy Seasons I & II of "The Simpsons," Seasons I - III of "The Sopranos" and Seasons I - IV of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
So you don't think that the bright young executives who work at Buena Vista Home Entertainment have noticed this phenomenon? That these guys aren't already picking through Disney's enormous library of television programming and thinking "How much do think people would be willing to pay for a three DVD set that has the first full season of 'Zorro' on it?"
Of course, you can't expect Disneyana fans to pay for something that they're already getting for free. But - if you were to pull all of those classic shows that ran on "Vault Disney" and then keep them from public view for a year or two - the time would then be ripe for Buena Vista Home Entertainment to begin rolling out DVD anthologies of all of these same shows.
So it wasn't just low ratings and a lousy time slot that doomed "Vault Disney." This was one of those "Wheels within Wheels" deals. The Walt Disney Company wanted in on the lucrative DVD anthology market. And wanted in BAD. Of course, the only way to make these old TV shows seem valuable again was restrict the public's access to them. So that Disney Channel 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. block of classic programming just had to go.
So when can we expect to start seeing these shows again. Well, there are already whispers coming out of BVHE that a DVD of the first full season of the "Disneyland" show (This ABC program's 1954 - 1955 inaugural season. The one that periodically gave viewers an update on the construction of the world's first theme park) will be released as part of the year long hoopla that the Walt Disney Company has in the works for Disneyland's 50th anniversary celebration.
As for a "Zorro" DVD anthology ... Well, I'm told that Disney is still haggling with the Guy Williams estate over assorted rights and clearances. But - if Sony does finally put its long rumored "Mask of Zorro" sequel into production sometime next year (Sony execs are hoping that this manuveer will help make the summer of 2004 extremely profitable for that company. Similar to what happened this year when Sony / Columbia had both "Spiderman" and "Men in Black II" in release, pouring profits into the studios' coffers) - it's not too hard to imagine that Disney might try have a "Zorro" DVD anthology out on store shelves just in time to capitalize on all the publicity surrounding that sequel's release.
So - yes - the shows featured in the Disney Channel's "Vault Disney" programming block are going away. For a while. They will be back, though. Over the next five years, BVHE plans to release a lot of these programs in DVD anthology form. So you will get to see them again. It's just going to cost you.
My apologies if the somewhat caustic tone of this column may have upset some of you "Vault Disney" fans out there. I understand that your heart is in the right place ... But it's honestly too late to start protesting this Disney Channel programming decision now. That ship has sailed. And she ain't comin' back.
This whole episode reminds me of those Disneyana fans who *** and moan whenever word leaks out about how the Walt Disney Company is thinking about shutting down Disneyland's "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" and/or Walt Disney World's "Carousel of Progress." These people will go on and on about the historical significance of these shows, how they loved to visit these attractions when they were kids ... And - yet - the very next time they visit the park, these allegedly huge Disneyana fans will just race right on by the Main Street Opera House in Anaheim and/or avoid the theater-go-round building in WDW's Magic Kingdom.
You want to have a real impact on the decisions that the Walt Disney Company makes, people? Back up your words with action. You want to keep "Mr. Lincoln" open (And don't think that - just because WDI poured all that money into installing 3D sound equipment for this attraction last year - that "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" is now out of the woods. Even with its recent million dollar makeover, this attraction still draws less than 2% of the tourists who visit Disneyland annually. Which means that this Main Street U.S.A. attraction is still in eminent danger of closing)? Make a point of visiting that attraction (and dragging friends and family members along with you) the next time you're in the park. Then make a point of visiting "Great Moments" every time you got to"The Happiest Place on Earth."
That's what keeps theme park attractions open. And TV shows on the air. Not empty words or promises.
It's too late now to save "Vault Disney" and - to be honest - WDW's "Carousel of Progress." But the next time ... don't just sit there. Do something. (Or - if you're trying to keep your favorite TV show on the air - don't do something. Just sit there ... But make sure you accurately note what you're watching in your Nielsen diary.)
(What's the "R" stand for? "Really." As in: I'd really love it if someone who taped "Vault Disney" and got a recording of the "Disneyland" third anniversary show - the one where the Mouseketeers perform musical numbers from Disney's never produced "Rainbow Road to Oz" movie - could send me a copy. Thanks.
And - yes - I know how that sounds on the heels of the story that I just wrote. Which is why the "H" now stands for "hypocrite.")