What would you do if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me?
Joe Cocker’s raspy voice sings these first lines of the Beatles’ famous “With a Little Help From My Friends” over grainy 8 mm shots of a family enjoying life in 1960s suburban America. Such begins every episode of “The Wonder Years,” the sitcom that ran from the late 80s to the early 90s on ABC. Though the series placed in the Nielsen Top Thirty TV rankings for four of its six seasons (also winning Emmy and Peabody awards along the way), there has yet to be a DVD release of all the episodes.
In today’s market that’s been inundated with TV series releases, it may seem strange to not have “The Wonder Years” on the shelf at your local Best Buy. But the show’s absence isn’t due to lack of interest (Facebook shows tens of thousands of people that “Like” the Wonder Years, with close to 10,000 of them signing various online petitions to bring the show to DVD). No, the show hasn’t been released to DVD because of licensing problems with its music.
Throughout the entirety of the series, the show used popular songs from the late 60s and early 70s to soundtrack its stories in the life of protagonist Kevin Arnold. Music for the show was originally licensed just for the original airings, and then some additional time as the show went into syndication. But those licenses didn’t cover VHS or DVD release, and to secure those now would require renegotiating with not only the artists but the labels as well.
Since DVD releases would violate copyright law, the only way around these licensing problems would be to leave out or replace the original music in the series, which the shows creators refuse to do. And who can blame them? An episode of “The Wonder Years” beginning with anything but Cocker covering the Beatles just wouldn’t be an episode of “The Wonder Years.”