I just finished watching Season One of The Adventures of Pete and Pete which arrived from Netflix a week or so ago. If you've never seen Pete and Pete, it's a show that aired on Nickelodeon in the early-to-mid 90s about two brothers named ... Pete. The show started out as some 60 second shorts, which were popular, so Nick said "here's more money, make some 30 minute specials," which were more popular, which lead to Nick saying "just make us lots of shows." And they did, and it rocked.
It rocked because it was this surrealist, absurdist kid's show, teaching a moral in each episode, but doing it in a style that was edgy for the time (and holds up surprisingly well 10 years later). Topping it off, the creators/writers (who've gone onto stuff like Newsradio, Shrek, King of the Hill, and Buffy) worked in as many pop culture references and jokes as they could. What other show would have Juliana Hatfield as a cafeteria worker, Steve Buscemi as a nerdy dad, and Iggy Pop with a recurring role as a dad who acts remarkably like Iggy Pop. It's the type of show where the family finds a car buried at the sand in the beach, uncovers it, and drives it home ... like it's completely normal.
Watching it now it reminds me a lot of Scrubs. So much so that I don't think it's possible to say that Scrubs wasn't at least partially influenced by Pete and Pete. Both shows about a nerdy character who narrates the show, with a dizzying array of transitions into fantasy/surreal situations, that play as if they're completely common place. Both shows featuring a soundtrack of the "indie" rock sound of the time, and playing basically with the single camera format.
All of this made me think about how cool it is that a show like this can survive and live on in DVD format. Poking around this weekend, I found that there's two really cool video podcasts on iTunes that send out an old cartoon that has entered the public domain a few times a week. The coolest one is ReFrederator. A few times a week you download a 5-10 minute cartoon of Bugs or Daffy or Mighty Mouse. It's insanely cool and a wonderful way to keep those old cartoons fresh. The same idea is done by Vintage Tooncast, though they seem to be focused more on showing things that you wouldn't see today (because of the racial and cultural sterotypes that were so pervasive). It's an ingenious use of syndication technology.
It also made me think about how cool it would be if networks did this with more content. Sure, the big networks are putting there shows on iTunes for 99 cents a pop. And Fox has talked about putting shows online with ads for free. All fantastic stuff. However, wouldn't it be great if networks (especially networks that own most of their own content) put up old shows on iTunes? NBC has done this with some stuff, but I'd love if Nickelodeon let me grab an episode of Welcome Freshmen or Disney let me grab an episode of Duck Tales at my leisure. Pay them $30 and get a weekly podcast of shows automagically downloaded to your computer until they ran out of shows. Or pay the 99 cents to get the ones you want.
Outside of content clearances and figuring out how royalties and whatnot are paid out, there's not a legitimate reason not to do this. Well, other than fracturing an already fragile television landscape. The first network to really embrace this is going to make lots of money (assuming they do it right).