Today we conclude our long-running series grading the major streaming services on how they handled classic TV in 2021. OK, OK, stop applauding! Let's hope 2021 brings lots of surprises for those of us who enjoy older stuff, especially from the BOTNS era of the 1970s and 1980s.
Shout! Factory TV: Hard to give this one a grade. The company is responsible for bringing a lot of rarities into the streamingverse, like The Tim Conway Show. Yet it's tempting to just wait for the same shows to go to platforms like Amazon Prime Video or Tubi, where they often show up later and are easier to watch and track. Shout! went months without adding much of anything TV-wise, but it doesn't drop a lot, either. Its content is great, but the app itself isn't impressive. That has been true since the beginning, though.
Most pleasant surprise: The onslaught of Johnny Carson shows (yes, edited for music, but still) on streaming services is due to Shout! getting the rights.
Biggest disappointment: A general lack of activity for much of 2020, when streaming content was desired more than ever. Also, does Shout! have streaming rights to some of the out-of-print stuff it released on DVD, like It's Garry Shandling's Show? How about super-expensive material like Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman?
Grade: B. I am factoring in the fact that it makes so much of its holdings so widely available. I hope Shout! kicks it up a notch in 2021, but how can I complain about a company that made Ace Crawford, Private Eye available this year? Many streaming services would not want to touch a short-lived flop like that.
CBS All Access: This one underwent massive changes in 2020 as its parent company expanded its offerings to include programs from BET, MTV, etc. But how much of it was classic TV? Not very much. I stopped even checking CBS All Access until suddenly it dumped The Love Boat on the service without fanfare.
Unfortunately it still has only a handful of episodes of Happy Days, to give an example. Many series are either MIA, period, or just missing a bunch of episodes. Other than Love Boat, CBS is focusing on adding movies, kids' shows, and other things while still giving its vast TV catalog short shrift.
Grade: D+: Love Boat elevates this in a year of inactivity, but I am optimistic that the upcoming rebrand to Paramount Plus will mean more is on the way. The sharing of many shows with Pluto may be a good sign: Give live-streaming to the free Pluto, save on demand for the paid Paramount Plus.
Roku Channel: This free service has a lot to offer, and remember, you can watch it online without a Roku. What it doesn't have is a watchlist function. It's clunky and hard to find material. However, it continues to surprise by licensing shows from a wide variety of sources.
Recent additions like The A-Team and Magnum P.I. are not rare, but it's cool to see Roku grabbing some NBCUniversal content and putting it on a free channel (part of the deal to get Peacock on Roku?) More surprising adds included Head of the Class from Warners and Hazel and Benson from Sony, none of which had been anywhere else. Plus Roku also dips into the world of black and white with shows like Tombstone Territory and is willing to put up short-lived rarities like Good Morning, World.
The biggest drawback is the lack of transparency about what is coming and going. The tenendency to get several seasons of a series and rotate them out instead of just putting the whole thing up is irritating. Still, while Roku Channel is unsophisticated as an actual streaming video service, it offers appealing content for classic TV fans every month. That lack of transparency and drawing from multiple sources makes this one of the most constantly surprising channels.
Grade: B+: Maybe Roku will get some of the unused Warner library as part of its deal with HBO MAX so we could see series like Alice, Night Court, Harry O, Eight Is Enough, Gilligan's Island...
Crackle: It's telling that when Mike and I consider shows to cover on the podcast, when we see one that's on Crackle, we try to figure out ways to watch the show without actually using Crackle. The Chicken Soup for the Soul people took over this one from Sony, but they didn't make it any less of a hassle to use.
However, they are licensing shows from places other than just Sony--shows like My Favorite Martian and Father Knows Best. they continue to draw on the likes of What's Happening!! from Sony, making this a fairly consistent proposition: You're gonna find something you want to watch on Crackle...and then try to figure out if anyone else has it. It has a similar issue to Roku Channel, too, in that it has individual seasons and not full series, then rotates seasons out without notice.
Grade: C+: It has some good stuff, and it is free, but, wow, that auto-play when you launch it has to go. Here's hoping they work on Crackle in 2021 and make it more user friendly so we can all enjoy our Starsky and Hutch reruns.