Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Not Coming to Hulu: Last Week’s “Saturday Night Live” Highlight*

I didn’t see “Saturday Night Live” last week, but NewTeeVee informs me that there was one highlight: Former “Doogie Howser, M.D.” star Neil Patrick Harris and a cast of of dozens performing the theme song to “Doogie Howser, M.D.”

So why didn’t I embed a clip of the sketch from or Hulu, the joint venture between GE’s (GE) NBC and News Corp.’s (NWS) Fox? Because NBC didn’t have permission from whoever actually owns the rights to the theme song, NBC confirms. (News Corp is the owner of Dow Jones and this Web site.)

Bummer! Especially since the clip was one of the show’s “Digital Shorts,” which are designed to be viewed on the Web, à la “Lazy Sunday.”

You can still find versions of it on Google’s (GOOG) YouTube, though NBC’s lawyers are busy hunting them down–don’t be surprised if the following clip doesn’t work by the time you get to it:

If you can’t see it, don’t despair: These music clearance issues have tripped up “Saturday Night Live”/NBC before, and the clip in question–Andy Samberg and the dude from Maroon 5 doing “Iran So Far”–eventually made it back on the official Web.* (Another reason not to despair, at least in my humble opinion: The Doogie clip isn’t going to make you laugh outloud, anyway.)

The bigger point: Even when TV/Hollywood “get it,” they still can’t always serve up their best stuff to Web viewers because copyright laws and digital distribution still don’t synch up.

And much more often, the people who make TV shows and movies aren’t interested in serving that stuff up–legally, for free–anyway. Hulu was only able to show one full episode of “Mad Men,” AMC’s much discussed but little watched show about advertising. And it’s only going to be able to show “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” a cult sitcom from FX that owes some of its success to the video site, for a few more weeks.

So maybe that’s a cautionary tale for companies like Boxee that envision a future where you get all your TV shows and movies from the Web with the support of the TV networks and Hollywood. Or more likely, a cautionary tale for TV and Hollywood, which still aren’t ready to let their customers watch their stuff when and where they want to see it.

[UPDATE: As I’d hoped, NBC legal worked it out. See below]