Mr Flibble Talks To... Across The Pond
What goes on with Dwarf on DVD Stateside? The BBC's Paul Augustine and Laura Palmer know - and tell Mr Flibble.
5 December, 2003
BBC Americas
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

First of all, tell us a little about your careers. What your current positions at BBC Americas are, what that entails, and how you arrived there... and why you think that allows you an audience with a celebrity as big as Mr Flibble.

PA - Marketing Manager, Home Video, which means that I manage the design process for various BBC's North America DVD releases, working with the DVD production house and package designers to create the best possible product, as well as manage the marketing and promotion of these same DVDs in the US [Also] working with our advertising agencies and PR agency as well as our distribution partner, Warner Home Video, to get the word out in the best possible manner and to get the product onto the store shelves.

Before coming to the BBC, I worked for USA Home Entertainment, marketing sports videos for the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, and my first job in video was in program acquisitions and production for PolyGram Video.

LP - I joined BBC Video in the fall of 1996, when the department had a staff of only two. Having watched British TV imports since the sixties, I tend to manage the older series. I'm Project Manager for Doctor Who DVDs and such classic series as All Creatures Great and Small, The Forsyte Saga, Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. In addition, I'm also involved in selecting programs for future releases.

What are your favourite Brit TV shows, and what do you think makes Red Dwarf special?

PA - Of course my all time favourite British program is Red Dwarf. I love the quirky humour of the program and the characters - who hasn't met at least one or two Rimmers in their life?! I also love that despite the high production values and acting, the program isn't afraid to laugh at itself and the sci-fi genre. It takes real science but shows how that science can be funny, especially the notion of time travel. Science fiction often takes itself quite seriously, but Red Dwarf has fun with it. Other BBC favourites of mine are The Office, The Vicar of Dibley - [I] love Dawn French - and Only Fools and Horses.

LP - Besides Red Dwarf, I love classics going back as far as The Good Life [US title: Good Neighbors], Yes Minister/Prime Minister, Blackadder and A Bit of Fry and Laurie. My favourite current comedy is Deadringers. Beyond comedy, I have a great fondness for The Avengers, Secret Agent, The Prisoner and Doctor Who.

With such gushing praise, Mr Flibble couldn't help but be impressed. He also couldn't help talking about his recent audition for the new Dr Who... but at least nobody was listening. Andrew was asking Paul about the DIFFERENCES between the UK and USA DVD covers...

PA - We like to play up the characters on our covers as I believe our North American audiences really identify with them. We also like to get across the humour of the program in the cover to attract new viewers to the program who may not be familiar with it. It's a big country!

Why was it decided to release the series in pairs in February?

PA - Releasing the series in pairs gives our retailers more leverage to lower the price. These are expensive discs to produce, jam-packed with extras, and by releasing them two at a time, the stores can discount them more deeply than they would be able to otherwise. It also gains us more shelf space on those otherwise crowded retail shelves.

You also have to tweak the booklet text a little...

PA - Yes. In the 400 or so years that English has been spoken in North America, we like to think we've made the spelling of the English language more user-friendly. For instance, when a word ends with the sound of a z, we use a z, whereas you Brits stubbornly insist on keeping the historical s - realise vs. realize - and those pesky extra letters in the UK have been dropped for American English - programme vs. program; neighbour vs. neighbor). You should try it some time. Our way is easier.

Happily, the features line-up is identical to the UK and Oz lists - but I believe the Region 1 package also includes an extra little something...

PA - For each of the first two series on DVD, we created a unique 4-card Red Dwarf limited edition trading card set which was included in the first 30,000 DVDs sold, and we are happy to say that tradition will continue with series III and IV. Be sure to buy your DVDs early or the trading cards will be gone!

Mr Flibble says he's waiting for his complimentary copy. Have you been surprised by the SUCCESS of the DVDs out there?

PA - Can't discuss actual numbers, though I can say that Red Dwarf appeared in many top-ten best seller lists in its first weeks out, and we received an enormous amount of press coverage uniformly praising the high quality of the DVDs, the vast amount of extras and the unique menu design.

We've been very pleased with the success of the first two seasons on DVD, though I can't say completely surprised. Fans have been clamouring for their release on DVD for some time. There was even a notable example of a character on the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer complaining that Red Dwarf wasn't on DVD. And DVD is such a vastly superior format for episodic TV than VHS. Plus, there are so many extras on the DVDs - the 90 minutes of extras on the first two series has now been doubled to 180 minutes on series III and IV - that it isn't fair to compare the two formats.

Does anyone over the age of four even use their VHS player any more? Also, the VHS tapes in the US were 'souped-up' [remastered] from their original broadcast versions, with extra sound and effects. The DVDs contain the original broadcast versions, which are available for the first time in North America.

What are each of your favourite features on the new releases?

PA - Deleted scenes and smeg-outs are great, and the documentaries are very insightful. Also quite interesting to see the raw effects footage.

LP - The smeg-outs and deleted scenes are good fun.

What OTHER TITLES come out of BBC Worldwide America?

PA - Some of our other major titles are The Office, Coupling (the original UK version, not the US remake), The Singing Detective, Doctor Who, MI-5 (which was called Spooks in the UK), The Forsyte Saga, and the natural history series Walking with Dinosaurs and The Blue Planet.

Mr Flibble wanted to know what ever happened to the proposed Walking with Penguins project. Gimp. Can you explain the relationship with the companies you distribute through?

PA - The BBC has a distribution agreement with Warner Home Video whereby they sell and distribute our product into the marketplace while we do our own production and marketing. It works well for all of us because Warner has tremendous leverage with their extremely large market presence and we offer them a slate of extremely high quality product to offer to their consumers.

What titles change most between the UK and US?

PA - With the comedies, we really don't change anything. Our audience want these programs in their original format and that's what we give them. In the documentary field, we often will release the original UK version of a program whereas the US broadcast version will have been modified to fit the needs of its US television platform.

What's the perception of Dwarf in the States - and how do you think that bodes for the coming movie?

PA - Red Dwarf in the US is what we refer to as a cult phenomenon. Simply put, we have a smaller base of fans than, say, Star Wars, but our fans are extremely devoted. This should actually bode quite well for the coming movie as the core audience will likely increase with the enhanced visibility of the franchise.

Finally - what are your favourite Red Dwarf moments?

PA - I have a background in music and love 'Tongue Tied.' I think the number is a riot, especially the expanded version released on the Series II DVD, and I love the complete absurdity of it. I also love the moments when Red Dwarf plays with time and space as in Future Echoes and Dimension Jump.

LP - Just about every moment involving Kryten. Also, I was quite intrigued by Lister's manifestations of Confidence and Paranoia, the heroic and villainous Wax-Droids in Meltdown and the 'Rimmer Experience'.

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to Paul and Laura, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross.