It's a war out there during sweeps months. Who better to fight it than tough guys?
Clint Eastwood. Charles Bronson. Chuck Norris. Bruce Lee. Steve McQueen. . . .
When the going gets tough, these guys can be counted on to do solid ratings battle for the local independent stations. After all, they've got to go against the networks' big artillery--most notably those glitzy, high-budget miniseries and star-laden TV movies.
How better to counterprogram against what is perceived--at least among the local independent programmers--to be the networks' "women's-oriented" programming? It's not for nothing that miniseries abound in dashing leading men, gorgeous leading women and lots of longing gazes and seductive camera work.
Come sweeps time, the mood tends to be macho in indie prime-time slots.
"There's absolutely no doubt about it. Action-adventure pictures--with male stars--play the best. And Eastwood and Bronson rule like Colossi," said Steve Bell, general manager at KTLA Channel 5.
"This is nothing new," added Don Tillman, program director at KTTV Channel 11. "In this market, male-oriented pictures have played well--or better than others--for a long, long time. I can't tell you why, exactly. But remember that this is the era of multi-television households. Men have a chance to make their own choices. What the networks are providing may not be what they want."
It was strategy that saw the Big Three indie movie channels--KTLA, KTTV and KCOP-TV Channel 13--all run Bronson films in their 8 to 10 p.m. time slots last week during Week One of sweeps. But officials at the stations say it was coincidence that they all chose to run their Bronsons during the same nights. (For a look at the outcome of the Battle of the Bronsons, see adjoining story.)
KHJ-TV Channel 9, another local VHF independent, doesn't join in the prime-time movie madness. The station runs movies only on weekends during prime time. On weeknights, it counterprograms the competition's movies by running news, games shows and talk shows.
Along with last week's Bronson shoot-out, this sweeps period will see Steve McQueen square off against Bruce Lee on Feb. 29 when KTLA airs "Bullitt," with its still-legendary San Francisco car chase, opposite KCOP's "Enter the Dragon," the still-unequalled epic of the martial arts genre.
Another specialty during the sweeps months of February, May and November--when ratings competition is at its most fierce--is the label "world television premiere" that stations dangle before viewers.
Never mind that most of the titles have already made the rounds on cable and videocassette. Never mind, also, that some of them are downright esoteric--at least as compared to tough-guy terrain. The selling point for the independents is that the films haven't played before on ABC, CBS or NBC, and they are marketed accordingly as "special events."
When KTLA ran "Amadeus" unedited during last November's sweeps, it tied for the biggest audience in town that night with KABC-TV Channel 7, which was running the network lineup of "Who's the Boss," "Growing Pains" and "Moonlighting."
Little wonder that KTLA kicked off this year's February sweeps with the "world television premiere" of "2010," the follow-up to "2001: A Space Odyssey." (The latter was strategically scheduled the night prior to "2010.") The film wound up besting Bronson titles on KCOP and KTTV last Wednesday.
KTLA is also boasting the "world television premiere" this month of "Mask" (airing Wednesday), "Ragtime" and "The Bride." KCOP, meanwhile, is touting first-time runs of such titles as "The NeverEnding Story," "Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins" and Germany's acclaimed "Das Boot" (the dubbed version will be shown for the obvious reason that subtitles aren't effective on the small screen).
The indies also dust off durable prestige titles for the sweeps--which they show (largely) with Tender Loving Care.
For instance, when KTTV shows the venerable musicals "South Pacific" and "Oklahoma," they'll have special time slots to accommodate their length. "Complete and uncut" is how KCOP is airing "The Bridge on the River Kwai," the enduring "Casablanca" and Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and "North by Northwest" this week.
But not all of the indies' prime-time sweeps titles are the classic kind. After all, during this particular sweeps period, ABC will be televising the Winter Olympics during the weeks of Feb. 15 and Feb. 22, and NBC will offer some mean counterprogramming during the second week with its four-part "Noble House" miniseries.
As such, those weeks will see KTLA showing a week of "Columbo" movies, followed by a week of specials, including two from "National Geographic." KCOP, meanwhile, will rerun the $24-million miniseries "Shaka Zulu," which garnered high ratings the first time it aired on KCOP in November, 1986. That will be followed by a string of titles with appeal for families and children, such as "The Sword and the Sorcerer" and "The NeverEnding Story."
As for KTTV--which only came aboard the 8 to 10 p.m. movie race a year ago--it will try some "world television premieres" of its own opposite the Olympics. Not prestigious titles, mind you, but you have to hand it to the KTTV programmers: In showcasing the "world television premieres" of the teen sex comedies "Paradise Motel" and "Hot Moves"--in what is being promoted as "Plain Brown Wrapper Week"--they're bound to get viewer attention. The rest of the "Plain Brown Wrapper" fare: "My Tutor," "Private Lessons" and "Lunch Wagon."
Oh, yes--the station is advising "viewer discretion."