- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Droll ‘Office’ works

Perhaps NBC learned from its disastrous attempt to bring the British comedy “Coupling” stateside.

How else do you explain the network’s droll version of the BBC favorite “The Office,” debuting at 9:30 tonight?

The original limited series, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, became an international hit for satirizing the workplace with its deadly documentary-style assault.

That sobering style is retained in the Americanized “Office,” one of many reasons why fans of the original shouldn’t dread NBC’s version.

Another factor is former “Daily Show” standout Steve Carell, whose unctuous boss will summon knowing nods from viewers nationwide. His manager character, Michael Scott, is the epitome of a nightmare boss. He thinks he’s funnier, smarter and better looking than he actually is and lacks the ability to realize his shortcomings.

He proudly hefts a “world’s best boss” mug up for the camera to see, only to glibly admit that he bought it at Spencer Gifts.

Tonight’s installment mirrors the British show’s pilot about a possible downsizing movement, but future episodes will focus on American story lines.

“The Office” slips into its regular Tuesday slot, 9:30 p.m., next week.

Fueled by ‘Faith’

Best-selling author and poet Maya Angelou hosts an hourlong special on Country Music Television this weekend that’s devoted to songs meant to stir our hearts and souls.

“CMT 20 Greatest Songs of Faith,” airing Saturday at 8 p.m., counts down the inspirational songs and videos that have encouraged the artists and a host of celebrities. Among the notables sharing their testimonials and songs of faith are former President Jimmy Carter; country music stars Brad Paisley, Wynonna and Randy Travis; and former “Touched by an Angel” star Della Reese.

TV on DVD lure

Perhaps the lucrative TV on DVD business isn’t thriving enough, at least for some.

So the powers that be at 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment are releasing DVD “starter sets” aimed at enticing even more consumers to purchase series’ box sets, the Hollywood Reporter notes.

The company will be lining checkout counters nationwide with special DVD sets featuring two episodes of popular TV shows for less than $10. The package also will include $10 coupons redeemable toward the purchase of a complete season box set.

“We see this strategy as a way to expose more people to the experience of watching a television series on DVD, which is very different than watching television, even if you have a TiVo-type recording device,” says Peter Staddon, Fox’s executive vice president of marketing.

Fox’s initial offerings this week include two-episode starter sets of “24,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” The Pretender” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

TV-to-DVD multidisc box sets have been the fastest-growing phenomenon in the home video industry for the past two years, generating more than $1.7 billion in consumer sales in 2004 alone. Industry analysts and Hollywood studio chiefs predict that the genre will generate more than $4 billion this year.

Although that number is small compared with the estimated $26 billion in consumer spending generated from the rental and sale of home videos last year, the profit margins realized by home video suppliers and retailers from TV-to-DVD box sets are astronomical. Many of the shows in question have been sitting on shelves for years and don’t require much in the way of creative costs to bring them to market.

Fox consistently has led the way in this format, earning more than 70 percent of the market last year, according to a survey by the Hollywood Reporter. The average retail price of a TV-DVD set is about $50, with revenue distributed between suppliers and retailers, according to industry estimates.

National retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target are expected to support Fox’s starter-set foray, with online retailers such as Amazon.com and Netflix yet to commit, Mr. Staddon says.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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