If you were among the nearly 5 million viewers of ''The Family Guy,'' the ''Simpsons''-esque saga of the Griffin clan, you probably felt like a besieged minority -- especially when Fox kept yanking the show, finally canceling it in 2002. But a funny thing happened on the way to TV purgatory: ''Family Guy'' went from DOA to DVD.
''It exploded off the shelves,'' says Gary Newman, president of 20th Century Fox TV. ''There was a lot of pent-up demand.'' In fact, ''Family'' was 2003's top-selling TV-on-DVD set, with nearly 1 million units sold. As for dollars grossed, HBO's higher-priced ''Band of Brothers'' nabbed the top spot, generating a reported $109 million. (HBO has found DVD success across the board: Its original series ''Sex and the City'' and ''The Sopranos'' have earned around $200 million combined on DVD.) But it's not just boutique cable shows that are cashing in: ''Friends,'' despite all the reruns, is bringing in roughly $14 million for its fifth-season DVDs; and sales of Fox's short-lived ''Firefly'' have prompted creator Joss Whedon to mull a feature film.
Even if a TV show on DVD only finds a niche audience, it still makes for good business. ''These [sets range] from $30 to $80,'' notes Video Business magazine's Jennifer Netherby. ''They don't have to sell that many and they can make a lot of money.''
All this success reverberates back to the feeder media: movies and TV. The impact on the film industry is well documented -- DVD sales routinely outpace theatrical grosses. But we're just beginning to see what this trend could do for TV. Thanks to ''Family Guy'''s success on DVD, all-new episodes will likely be produced by year's end for the Cartoon Network.
''Family Guy'' creator Seth MacFarlane is happy with his show's return, even to a lower-profile channel: ''Networks don't cancel shows and pick them up again, no matter how big the fan push is. If that were the case, the original 'Star Trek' would have stayed on the air.'' Hey, it might not be too late -- we're guessing Shatner would be up for it. (With additional reporting by Lynette Rice)