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History of the TV Movie of the Week
with video from the collection of Jeff Vilencia

TV Movie of the WeekIt was a daring concept for an uncertain time; a weekly series of original movies produced especially for television. But this expensive gamble delivered top-ten ratings for several years beginning in 1969.

The films themselves varied wildly in quality, but the promos used to lure audiences to the couch stand today as state of the art examples of superlative advertising. In addition, the animated opening sequence to the ABC Movie of the Week was a magnificent graphic achievement and a precursor to modern computer animation techniques.

In the 1950s, anthology programs like Playhouse 90 and GE Theater began to lose popularity in favor of weekly series with regular characters and consistent storylines. This occurred just as theatrical movies were finally becoming available for television, drawing large audiences for all three networks starting in the early-sixties.

Ironically, it was NBC and Universal that pioneered the made-for-TV movie. Universal Studios had an entertainment factory going full trottle, but the market for small, inexpensive films was drying up by the mid-sixties. NBC and Universal reasoned they could produce original films for the same amount of money the studios were charging just for the broadcast rights to major motion pictures.

In October, 1964, the first full-length film produced especially for home delivery debuted - 'See How They Run' starring John Forsyth. Several more popular tele-films followed on NBC. The network also discovered they could use their big event two-hour TV movies as pilots for potential series. 'Fame Is The Name Of The Game' starring Tony Franciosa was the first such pilot to earn a regular series slot on the network (as The Name of The Game).

ABC Movie of the week Watching the success NBC was having with their TV-movie specials, ABC's Barry Diller realized the time was right to update the old anthology format, but with a twist. He scheduled a weekly series of original movies for fall, 1969 - with shorter running times (90 minutes) and strict budgetary restraints to make the productions commercially viable.

Because of the limited budgets (between $400,000 - $450,000 each) Universal declined to partner with ABC for Diller's folly. Lean and hungry independent producers like Aaron Spelling, Quinn-Martin and David Wolper eagerly jumped in, resulting in a more raw-edged product than the blanderized Universal telefilms. That freshness became a key component to the initial success of the overall project.

To open the Tuesday Movie Of The Week, an impressive theme was produced to pull the audience in and give the feeling of big time entertainment.

ABC Movie of the weekFilm historian Jeff Vilencia tells us: "That opening sequence is one of the very first examples of computer-style animation (it's actually shot with a device that utilizes a series of mirrors). That animation system (called slit-scan) is still in use, I saw a recent IMAX film that used it - it was very cool! It kinda looked like that old ABC Movie of the Week logo."

CBS used this method recently for their year 2000 prime-time logo 'bumpers.'

TV moviesWith the Tuesday Movie of the Week a solid ratings smash, the network added a Wednesday night version three years later. Like NBC, ABC also utilized the forum as an effective platform to audition possible TV series - The Young Lawyers and The Immortal were tested in 1969 and both were given a regular slot in fall, 1970.

In 1971-72, 18 of the 23 top-rated films broadcast on television were ABC MOTWs, thanks in no small part to the fast-paced, 30-second promotional teasers that forever redefined motion picture advertising.

Movie of the weekAfter Bewitched ended in 1972, Elizabeth Montgomery shed her wholesome, sitcom image and became the queen of the TV-movies, playing roles like (supposed) ax murderer Lizzie Borden, a rape victim and a battered wife that fights back.

ABC Movie of the weekTaking her lead, forgotten big screen stars and out-of-work TV actors found employment again as telefilm production kicked into high gear.

Familiar faces in unfamiliar circumstances (Harriet Nelson being killed in an interstate pile-up, for instance) proved a winning formula for Nielsen gold.

 


NEXT - PART TWO:

EXAMPLES OF THE ABC MOVIE
OF THE WEEK
-PROMOS AND MOVIES
IN THEIR ENTIRETY

PLUS: Harry Marks
takes us behind the scenes!

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"I was looking for the theme to the "ABC Movies' for a long time and stumbled across it within the past year.

"According to the liner notes in the Burt Bacharach box set released by Rhino recently, this is the melody to a song which Burt composed for his daughter and recorded in 1966. TV movie of the week

"The tune is called "Nikki", and was adapted by ABC for use as the Movie of the Week theme. The 1966 recording is on the Rhino box set. An almost identical version was recorded by Burt in 1971 and is on A&M album simply called "Burt Bacharach". I was able to order a Japanese release of this CD from amazon (A&M POCM 2013).

"Neither version is as lushly orchestrated as the version used on ABC. If anyone has any info about the availability of a recording of the actual ABC version I would appreciate hearing about it."

- dgallag100


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