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September 26, 2006

Fans Finally Get Mama on DVD

For the past several months, I've written about the struggle for fans of the 1980s situation comedy Mama's Family to get their show released on DVD. The show was finally released today, with the 13-episode first season hitting shelves.

I grew up watching the show, and it's a nostalgic favorite of mine. Last year, when I was interested in finding out if the show was available on DVD or would be, I stumbled onto a Mama's Family fan community, something I was actually pretty surprised to find. While I enjoyed the show, I never realized that a sitcom from the eighties that has not really been heralded as one that belongs in the all-time classic canon would have such a vibrant following.

Yet, on a variety of fan sites, there were discussion boards on which Mama's Family fans were updating every day, schedules of when the episodes were running in syndication, which episodes they would be, and further discussion about those sitcoms, etc. And there was a vibrant campaign to get those shows released on DVD. One fan had all of the episodes transferred to DVD from recording the shows every day off television and offered to share with others, but the fans as a whole wanted an official DVD set.

There were petitions going around, and the fans made concentrated effort on voting for the show on the TV Shows on DVD Web site. It didn't take long to move the show up the chart, so that Mama's Family remained in the Top 15 fairly consistently.

The campaign seemed to work because it was only a few months later that news broke that they were considering a DVD release and then an announcement that they were releasing the show on DVD. Now, finally, Mama's Family has been released.

It makes a fascinating case study for understanding the power of products to reach to fan communities. In this case, it was a user-driven demand for Mama's Family to be released, even though the show was available in syndication every day. What still baffles me, even with my own love for the show, is that there was a connection with this program so strong that it has driven people to maintain a relationship to the content more than 15 years after the show went off the air.

Situation comedies rarely inspire this type of continued ardent support, but even though the Mama's Family fan communities were not as massive as most current shows or as ardent as Star Trek fans or other well-documented fan groups, I'm still amazed that the show has held this type of interest.

I'll be fascinated to see how well sales go for the show. I don't expect it to be one of the major hits, but its success--and fan demand for the release--is indicative of the Long Tail theory...that there remains niche audiences for content like this that it becomes profitable to fill. And these Mama's Family fan sites remain up as continued content for the product, years after the show is over. They are currently following not only the DVD release of the show but also the move of the syndicated run from TBS to the new i Network.

How can companies that own content in the archives and fans who remain active in their proselytizing for their favorite shows long after they have quit producing continue to work together and form active and current relationships surrounding old content? These will be the types of questions that should be considered in the coming years, and the Mama's Family fan community is a fascinating place to look.

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