In 1984, a landmark case laid down a controversial law regarding technology and copyright infringement. Here's a look back at the "Betamax Case," including the role Mister Rogers played in the Supreme Court's decision.
For many years in the pre-DVD, pre-streaming era, the Betamax, Sony’s prototype videotape player-recorder, was a punch line. A piece of technology that was quickly superseded by the VCR VHS, it limped along in the shadows for two decades. And yet, it was the Betamax that gave name to a court case that has played a pivotal role in both technological progress and copyright law over the last thirty years.
Like many other cool electronic products, the Betamax came from Japan. In late 1975, it was introduced to the U.S. by Sony, who touted its ability to “time-shift” television programming. In an era when most viewers still had to get up off the couch to change channels manually, this innovation was as futuristic as it sounded. Record a TV show right off the air? Are you kidding?
If the public was wowed by the idea, the major entertainment corporations were not. Universal Studios and Walt Disney Productions filed a lawsuit in 1976 to halt the sale of the Betamax, claiming that film and TV producers would lose millions of dollars from unauthorized duplication and distribution of their copyrighted content.
When the case finally went to trial in 1979, the U. S. District court ruled in favor of Sony, stating that taping programs for entertainment or time-shifting was fair use, and did not infringe on copyright. Further, there was no proof that the practice did any economic harm to the television or motion picture industry.
But Universal, unhappy with the verdict, appealed in 1981, and the ruling was reversed. Keep in mind that up until the arrival of the Betamax, movie studios had received a cut of the box office or fee whenever one of their films was shown. Now suddenly here was a rapidly expanding scenario that undermined that structure. And in this scenario was the seed of so much that would follow over the next thirty years, right through today’s ongoing battles over P2P file sharing and illegal streaming sites.
Mister Rogers Goes to Washington
With large sums of money and copyright ownership at stake, the Betamax case arrived at the Supreme Court in 1983. By this point, nearly 50 percent of all homes in America had a VCR (VHS replaced Betamax, mainly because its tapes had longer recording capability) and sales of videocassettes were competing with theatrical box office. Universal Studios vs. Sony Corporation of America, nicknamed the “Betamax Case,” was argued for a year. It was a trial of extremes. On one hand, you had Jack Valenti, the head of the Motion Picture Association of America, yelling about the “savagery and ravages” of the VCR, and comparing its effect on his industry to that of the Boston Strangler on a woman home alone. On the other you had the testimony from TV’s genial kids’ show host Mr. Rogers. Defending the VCR, he said:
"I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the 'Neighborhood' off-the-air ... they then become much more active in the programming of their family’s television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been ‘You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions’ ... I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important."
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Sony and cited Rogers' comments: "He testified that he had absolutely no objection to home taping for noncommercial use and expressed the opinion that it is a real service to families to be able to record children's programs and to show them at appropriate times."
The decision set two major precedents. The first upheld the original decision — recording a broadcast program for later viewing, is fair use. The second was, and still is, controversial — that the manufacturer of a device or technology that can be used for copyright infringement but also has “substantial non-infringing uses,” can’t be held liable for copyright violations by those who use it. It’s kind of technology’s version of “don’t shoot the messenger.”
The same points of law would reemerge two decades later in cases against file-sharing sites Napster and Grokster (in the latter, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against them for trading copyrighted material). Of course, despite the popularity of legal movie and TV streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu, file sharing continues. Whether it can be, or should be, stopped is a subject for another day. But it’s worth remembering that all the manufacturers of technology capable of copyright infringing (from computers to iPhones to the TiVo DVR) continue to sell their wares without fear of lawsuits because of the once-laughed-at Betamax.
Barack Obama's first talk show appearance after leaving office was on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, David Letterman's six-part series on Netflix. Perhaps it's fitting, then, that one of the Obamas' first projects since moving out of the White House will be a storytelling partnership with Netflix.
On Monday, the streaming service announced that they've entered into a multi-year deal with Barack and Michelle Obama, who produce films and series under a company called Higher Ground Productions. So what can we expect from the former president and first lady? According to Netflix, they will be producing a "diverse mix of content," which could take the form of scripted and unscripted series, documentaries, and features.
"One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience," Barack Obama said in a statement. "That's why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix. We hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world."
The former first lady added that Netflix was a "natural fit" for the kinds of stories they want to tell. According to The New York Times, Barack Obama said he does not intend to use the platform for political ends.
Last year, the Obamas signed a joint book deal with Penguin Random House worth $65 million. Michelle's memoir, Becoming, will be published on November 13, while details about Barack Obama's memoir are forthcoming.
While sequels can promise bigger and better things to come, sometimes they fall short ... really short. Here are 13 sequels to popular TV shows you probably forgot existed (if you ever even knew they existed at all).
1. THE BRADYS (1990)
After the success of The Brady Bunch during its five-year run on ABC during the early 1970s and in syndication throughout the 1980s, rival network CBS commissioned a sequel series after seeing positive ratings from A Very Brady Christmas, a 1988 made-for-TV reunion movie. Two years later, The Bradys debuted with its original cast, except Maureen McCormick, who declined to reprise the role of Marcia Brady. She was replaced with Leah Ayres. While the original Brady Bunch was a 30-minute comedy, The Bradys was a soapy, hour-long “dramedy,” with adult-themed storylines like Mike starting a career in politics, Marcia battling alcoholism, Bobby becoming paralyzed after a race car accident, and Peter dating an abusive woman. Yikes!
Considering The Bradys's harsher subject matter and themes, the new TV show only lasted for a few episodes in early 1990. CBS aired The Bradys on Friday nights against ABC’s TGIF juggernaut lineup of Perfect Strangers, Family Matters, and Full House. Including A Very Brady Christmas and The Bradys, there were whooping seven TV spinoffs and sequels for The Brady Bunch, including The Brady Kids, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, The Brady Girls Get Married, Day by Day: "A Very Brady Episode," and Kelly's Kids—which was a “backdoor” pilot that never became a new TV series.
2. THE NEW GIDGET (1986 - 1988)
After the high rating numbers for the 1985 made-for-TV movie Gidget's Summer Reunion, original series producer Harry Ackerman launched a sequel the following year called The New Gidget with actress Caryn Richman in the titular role instead of Sally Field. It still followed Frances Elizabeth “Gidget” Lawrence, who was now grown up and married to her longtime boyfriend Jeff “Moondoggie” Griffin. The pair lived in Santa Monica and still made it to the beach once and a while, despite their busy lives as a travel agent (her) and an architect (him). The New Gidget only lasted for two seasons, which is actually double the original 1960s series. However, the latter is far more popular because it was Sally Field's breakout role.
3. THE MUNSTERS TODAY (1987 – 1991)
After a made-for-TV reunion movie called The Munsters’ Revenge failed to get off the ground, producers Lloyd J. Schwartz and Bryan Joseph created The Munsters Today instead. The new TV show was in full color and took place in 1988, which was 22 years after the black-and-white original went off the air. However, CBS passed on the sequel, so it aired in first-run syndication. The Munsters original cast Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) and Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster) declined to appear on the new TV show, while Al Lewis was not happy he was not considered to reprise the role of Grandpa.
In 2012, NBC commissioned Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal) for a new TV reboot starring Jerry O'Connell as Herman Munster and Portia de Rossi as Lily Munster called Mockingbird Lane. The reboot was eventually canceled, but the broadcast network aired the failed TV pilot as a Halloween special later in the year. In 2017, it was reported that Seth Meyers was reportedly working on an all-new reboot of The Munsters for NBC.
4. THE NEW WKRP IN CINCINNATI (1991 - 1993)
In 1991, nine years after the original WKRP In Cincinnati left the airwaves on CBS, its sequel series called The New WKRP In Cincinnatidebuted in syndication. The new TV show brought back many of its original cast, such as Gordon Jump, Frank Bonner, and Richard Sanders, while other cast members dropped in for special guest appearances, like Loni Anderson and Tim Reid. However, with a mixed critical response and the numerous problems of first-run syndicated TV shows (including inconsistent time slots and air dates), The New WKRP In Cincinnati was canceled two years later.
5. NEW MONKEES (1987)
In 1986, The Monkees were at the top of pop culture (again) after MTV aired reruns of the classic 1966 TV show for a new audience. Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and Davy Jones reunited (minus Michael Nesmith) for a special 20th anniversary tour, while their albums were reissued and a new one was released. In fact, there was so much excitement over The Monkees's revival that Columbia Pictures Television announced a new sequel TV series with a nationwide talent search to find the New Monkees.
After auditioning thousands upon thousands of young hopefuls, Jared Chandler, Larry Saltis, Konstantinos "Dino" Kovas, and Marty Ross (who also played guitar for a power pop band called The Wigs) were selected to star, as well as release a new synth pop-driven, self-titled album to coincide with the premiere of New Monkees in syndication.
Much like the original, the new TV show followed the adventures of a struggling young band that lived together, but the difference being they lived in a giant mansion with a butler, many unexplored rooms—which was the source of said adventures—a diner with a sassy waitress, and a talking computer named Helen.
However, by the time the new TV show and album were released to the public in 1987, The Monkees had become passé again. New Monkees was canceled after just 13 episodes, despite a 22-episode series order. The new album also bombed and failed to garner a single hit.
6. SANFORD (1980 - 1981)
During the 1970s, Sanford and Son (a remake of the BBC’s Steptoe and Son) was a smash hit for NBC. Although the series was widely popular, it was canceled in 1977 after Redd Foxx left to star in The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour for rival network ABC (which was eventually canceled after only four months). Foxx later came back to NBC for the return of Sanford and Son in 1980.
However, Demond Wilson, who played Lamont Sanford, didn’t want to return, so NBC just centered the sequel series around Fred Sanford and his new business partner Cal Pettie (Dennis Burkley). It was simply called Sanford, while his son Lamont was written out of the show with the explanation that the character moved away to work on the Alaskan pipeline. Unfortunately, Sanford was not nearly as popular as the original Sanford and Son, so it was canceled after two seasons in 1981.
7. THE NEW LEAVE IT TO BEAVER (1986 - 1989)
After ABC canceled Leave It To Beaver in 1963, rival network CBS brought The Cleavers back in the 1983 made-for-TV reunion movie Still The Beaver. The movie had such positive reviews and ratings, the Disney Channel picked it up for a sequel series the following year, but ultimately, it was canceled in 1985. Cable network TBS later picked up the series and renamed it The New Leave It To Beaver in 1986. It ran for an additional three seasons before it was canceled for good in 1989.
The New Leave It To Beaver followed a middle-aged Wally (Tony Dow) and Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver (Jerry Mathers ) with their own families and children. After The Beaver divorced his wife, his widowed mother June (Barbara Billingsley) moved in with him to help raise his two sons. Fan favorite Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond) also returned with his sons, Freddie and Bomber, who were played by Osmond’s real-life sons, Eric and Christian, respectively. Fun fact: A young Giovanni Ribisi also appeared on The New Leave It To Beaver as the character Duffy Guthrie; he was credited as Vonni Ribisi at the time.
8. TEAM KNIGHT RIDER (1997 - 1998)
In 1997, NBC created Team Knight Rider as a sequel to the hit early 1980s TV show Knight Rider. Instead of a man and his high-tech car, it featured a team of five members with their very own high-tech vehicles called the Foundation for Law and Government (or F.L.A.G.). Although the original was a pop culture hit back in the early 1980s, Team Knight Rider failed to live up to expectations in the late 1990s. It was canceled after one season in first-run syndication in 1998.
9. MELROSE PLACE (2009)
In 2009, more than 15 years after the massive success of the original Melrose Place on Fox, The CW and producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer debuted a new TV show with the same title. The new primetime soap opera, much like the original, followed the lives of several 20-somethings living in a fictional apartment complex in West Hollywood with a cast that included then-pop star Ashlee Simpson-Wentz (now Ashlee Simpson-Ross).
While cast members from the original series—including Josie Bissett, Thomas Calabro, Laura Leighton, Daphne Zuniga, and Heather Locklear as Amanda Woodward—appeared as special guest stars, Melrose Place couldn’t find a devoted audience and it received a mixed critical response. It was canceled after one season.
10. WHAT’S HAPPENING NOW!! (1985 - 1988)
In 1985, six years after ABC canceled the original What’s Happening!! in 1979, screenwriter Eric Monte created a sequel series called What’s Happening Now!! The new TV show still followed Raj (Ernest Thomas), Dwayne (Haywood Nelson), and Rerun (Fred Berry) living in the neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles, but now the characters are in their mid-20s instead of teenagers. Both TV shows, which were based on Monte’s coming-of-age film Cooley High, lasted for just three seasons each. Both received higher ratings in syndication than their original runs. Fun fact: Martin Lawrence made his TV debut in What’s Happening Now!!; he played a recurring role during its final season in 1987-88.
11. DALLAS (2012)
While the original Dallas aired for 13 seasons on CBS from 1978 to 1991, its follow-up of the same name only lasted for three on TNT, from 2012 to 2014. Dallas followed the next generation of Ewing Oil’s family feud with many of the original cast members returning for another go-around. The original Dallas had a big influence on pop culture during the 1980s with its “Who shot J.R.?” cliffhanger and ad campaign that fueled its popularity for 13 seasons.
12. SAVED BY THE BELL: THE COLLEGE YEARS (1993 - 1994)
From the late 1980s through the 1990s, young Americans watched the many adventures of Zack Morris and his friends throughout junior high and high school. While Good Morning, Miss Bliss and Saved By The Bell were staples of Saturday morning programming, Saved By The Bell: The College Years premiered in primetime on NBC in 1993.
Instead of taking the original cast to college, the sequel only followed Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), and Screech (Dustin Diamond) as freshmen living in the dorms of the fictional California University. However, Tiffani Amber Thiessen reprised her role as Kelly Kapowski after the pilot received poor ratings. Executive producer Peter Engel regretted the decision not to involve the original cast.
“I should’ve taken all the six kids to college. I should’ve insisted we take them all and I didn’t. It was my decision and I made a mistake,” Engel admitted to The Wrap in 2016. “I was trying to make it different than Bell and I think we made it too different,” he concluded. “I think we lost some of our—what’s the word?—innocence.”
Saved By The Bell: The College Years was just too different for longtime fans and young viewers, while also too cheesy and cornball for mature audiences during primetime. It was canceled after only one season in 1994.
Meanwhile, Saved By The Bell: The College Years wasn't the only new TV show from Peter Engel in 1993. Saved by the Bell: The New Class debuted a few months later and was a hit on Saturday mornings for NBC; it lasted for a respectable seven seasons.
13. STAR TREK: PHASE II (1978)
While Star Trek: The Next Generation is the official sequel to the original series, Star Trek: Phase II was the first planned follow-up, which ultimately went unproduced and unaired. After a growing Star Trek cult following and the surprise success of Star Wars in 1977, Paramount Pictures wanted their own science fiction phenomenon on the big screen, so executives asked Gene Roddenberry to adapt Star Trek into a feature film. However, plans for a movie were later scrapped when executives believed interest couldn’t support two big sci-fi movies, so instead, Roddenberry started working on a new TV series for Paramount Television Services (PTVS was slated to be the “fourth” television network), which ordered a two-hour pilot and 13 episodes that would premiere in 1978.
Many of the original cast members from Star Trek agreed to return, including DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, and Walter Koenig, while Leonard Nimoy turned down the series altogether and William Shatner was just too darn expensive to cast at the time. New characters including a Vulcan named Xon and Captain Willard Decker were created to fill the void. But due to production problems, budget concerns, and the demise of PTVS, the Phase II project was canceled, as its story elements and characters evolved into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which was released in 1979. Luckily, Roddenberry eventually got his sequel TV series with The Next Generation in 1987. Check out test footage from Star Trek: Phase II above.