New wrinkles for 'Raisin' on DVD

SPHE capitalizes on TV, Sundance exposure

It is a reflection of changing times that the May 6 DVD release of a telefilm, "A Raisin in the Sun," is being treated by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment as one of its big event titles of the year.

The marketing campaign plays up the fact that the Sony Pictures Television adaptation of the Tony-winning Broadway revival scored excellent ratings when it aired Feb. 25 on ABC. It's the highest-rated movie of the week among women this season and was the No. 1 program among all households the night it aired. "Raisin" also was the first broadcast network made-for-television movie to screen at the Sundance Film Festival.

Sony Pictures marketers also are making a big deal of the fact that "Raisin," which revolves around a family living and struggling on Chicago's South Side in the 1950s, is coming to DVD just two months after its TV debut.

That alone represents a dramatic turnaround of how things used to be in the days of VHS. Television exposure of any kind meant certain death on the home video market as far as retailers were concerned. They lobbied to keep feature films off the tube as long as they could. Any studio that released a film to pay-per-view within two months of its home video release could expect protest letters and calls for a boycott. And telefilms, which actually could be seen for free on television before they hit video, simply weren't bought at all.

These days, that mindset doesn't hold. Television exposure is seen as boon to DVD sales -- and as the soaring growth of the TV-DVD market indicates, made-for-TV programming is now considered a rightful art form with a built-in DVD audience.

"In recent years, we have found tremendous equity in releasing television event movies shortly after their TV airing," said Marc Rashba, vp marketing for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. "The networks help build awareness and impressions as they market movies and miniseries for tune-in, and our DVD releases become the beneficiary of that effort a few months later when we launch our campaign."

Moreover, Rashba said, the trend toward creating exclusive content specifically for a DVD release gives studios the opportunity to work with producers of the original TV program to develop an enhanced product with even more appeal to fans.

" 'A Raisin in the Sun' follows in the tradition of the recent success we enjoyed with 'Comanche Moon' and 'Broken Trail' by allowing us to work collaboratively with our Sony Pictures Television movie team from the start of production and continuing with added-value development all the way through the release of our DVD," he said.

Indeed, the "Raisin" DVD will feature an assortment of extras of the kind normally reserved for high-profile theatricals, including an audio commentary with director Kenny Leon and a documentary on the making of the film.

"Raisin" was the first play written by a black woman, Lorraine Hansberry, to be produced on Broadway. It opened in 1959 with a cast that included Sidney Poitier, Diana Sands, Ruby Dee and Louis Gossett Jr. A Columbia feature film with that cast followed in 1961.

The play was revived on Broadway in 2004 under Leon's direction. Both the play and telefilm feature a cast that includes Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad, four-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, Sanaa Lathan and John Stamos.