Giving short shrift to long-form genre

May 21, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Admitting that original movies and miniseries are a “thing of the past” for the broadcast networks, NBC and CBS scrapped two showcase evenings from their 2001-02 season schedules last week, largely ceding the long-form programming genre to the basic and pay cable networks.
That could also mean the Big 3 broadcast networks are willing to surrender millions in advertising dollars and sponsor-underwritten “event” movies and miniseries to the ad-supported cable networks.
“I don’t know if it means hundreds of millions [of dollars] will suddenly be moving over to the cable networks, but they would be smart to chase after those sponsorship dollars faster than I can say `Judy Garland,”’ joked Gary Lico, president and CEO of Connecticut-based consulting firm Cable Ready. “There are some major sponsors like Hallmark, General Motors, Chrysler, Mobil and Sears, which have historical relationships with the [broadcast] networks that date back to the 1950s, and most of them could be left out in the cold.”
NBC took the most dramatic step last week, eliminating its Sunday night movie showcase in favor of a pair of drama series and instead choosing to air long-form programming on an infrequent basis. NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said the once-typical output of 20 to 40 telefilms and minis “does not make economic sense” in today’s fragmenting TV universe.
NBC began to turn sour on fanciful event movies when Hallmark Entertainment’s “The 10th Kingdom” and the biblical “In the Beginning” turned out to be ratings duds this season. The first part of “In the Beginning” started out with a respectable 4.7 rating in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic but dropped almost 2 full rating points in its closing installment the next night.
“What has happened this season has just proved that made-for-TV movies and miniseries are a thing of the past,” Mr. Zucker said last week at a pre-upfront briefing. “With the growth of the cable universe, the basic and pay cable networks have placed a lot more of their resources into pumping out original long-form projects, but it has only served to further fractionalize the available audience.”
CBS seems to agree. The network jettisoned its Wednesday movie night for drama series, but kept its 9 p.m. Sunday movie franchise.
ABC-proving it can still score big numbers with such original telefilms as “Judy Garland: Me and My Shadow,” “Oprah Winfrey Presents: Amy & Isabelle” and “South Pacific”-is continuing to produce an active slate of whimsical musicals and biopics for its 7 p.m. Sunday “Wonderful World of Disney” showcase and its recurring Monday movie night. CBS’s and NBC’s withdrawal from the movie market could also mean that ABC could grab a larger share of the available broadcast advertising dollars.
Mr. Lico thinks ABC could also face a continuing onslaught of original long-form competition from basic cable networks such as Turner Network Television, A&E, Lifetime Television, Fox Family Channel and USA Network. In addition, subscriber-based pay cable networks HBO, Showtime and Encore will further carve up the viewership pie.
“I’m not sure if the Hallmark, General Motors or Chryslers of the sponsorship world will cozy up to basic cable networks, but if they see movies like Fox Family’s `Au Pair II’ continue to score broadcastlike [rating] numbers, who knows?” Mr. Lico said.