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The Lure of TV Theme Weeks

THE SWEEPS: Part of a series examining the TV industry's periodic ratings rituals.

February 22, 1988|PAT BROESKE

To lure viewers to five teen sex comedies, KTTV Channel 11 this week is promoting what it calls "Plain Brown Wrapper Week." The "fun" begins tonight with "My Tutor" in the 8 to 10 p.m. time slot.

The rest of the week's fare: "Paradise Motel" (this marks its "world television premiere," the station says), "Private Lessons," "Hot Moves" (another "premiere") and "Lunch Wagon" (yet another "premiere").

Hot stuff?

"Well, it's one way of drawing attention to these titles," quipped a staffer at the station.

Drawing attention is critical during sweeps periods, when stations try to maximize their ratings in hopes of boosting their ad rates during the months ahead. So all three of Los Angeles' movie-minded independent stations have embraced the notion of packaging their prime-time films in theme weeks with a vengeance.

Sometimes literally. Consider: KTLA Channel 5 once let loose "Eye for an Eye Week"--"where people didn't get mad--they got even," general manager Steve Bell said with a laugh.

Bell said KTLA, which calls itself "L.A.'s movie channel," first started "playing around with the concept" of theme weeks about 6 1/2 years ago.

"It's easier to get across the idea of one theme--rather than five individual movies," he explained. "It's definitely a lot easier for a viewer to remember a single theme."

So much so that KTLA, KTTV Channel 11 and KCOP Channel 13 use them throughout the year. (The fourth independent station, KHJ-TV Channel 9, doesn't participate in the theme-week warfare, since it only runs prime-time movies on weekends.)

"From a creative standpoint, a theme week works much better for radio spots and newspaper ads," said Rick Feldman, station manager at KCOP. "It's tougher to promote a week in which you've got one movie aimed at older people, another aimed at younger audiences. . . . So what you do is put together titles that have a similar appeal. You look for a catch."

Indeed, KTLA, KCOP and KTTV market their films with such flair that some viewers may not realize they're watching the same group of movies they saw the year before. And perhaps even the year before that. . . .

Consider KTLA's fresh concepts for packaging the not-so-fresh titles "The Longest Day," "Battle of the Bulge," "Guns of Navarone" and "Patton." They've played during sweeps--and non-sweeps--periods as "Blood and Guts Week," "War Is Hell Week," "World War II Week" and "America Wins the War Week."

"When we finally get to the point where we can't come up with anything new, we'll retire the concept," declared Bell.

With the sweeps months of February, May and November traditionally boasting an army of "tough guy" movies on the indies--the better to appeal to the male of the species (according to programmers, network shows are generally female-oriented, which means the tough guys are a form of counterprogramming)--extra creativity is needed to come up with new themes for the homages to Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, John Wayne, Steve McQueen and the rest of the macho crowd.

Among the monikers they've come up with in the past are "Meanest Hombres of the West Week," "The Duke Week," "Clint Week," "Mad Men Week," "Dirty Harry Week," "The Best of Bronson Week" and "Clash of the Tough Guys Week."

Sometimes the stations do a bit of s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g. Earlier this month, KTTV tied together a string of seemingly bland titles--all with male stars--as "The Week of Living Dangerously." Those "dangerous" guys: Michael Keaton in "Johnny Dangerously," Michael Caine in "Blame It on Rio" and even Michael J. Fox in the made-for-TV "Family Ties Vacation."

A lot of theme-week titles are more enticing than the actual movies being shown. How else to describe KTLA's "The Revenge of Mother Nature Week," which unleashed such horrors as giant frogs ("Today the pond! Tomorrow the world!" was the credo of the critters in the aptly titled "Frogs"), giant rats ("Food of the Gods") and slimy sandworms ("Squirm").

Sometimes the gimmick doesn't work. KCOP President Bill Frank and station manager Feldman confess they were less than thrilled by the ratings of "They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used to Week" in 1985--which included such classics as "Red River," "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" and "Mildred Pierce."

Offered Frank: "Maybe it's because they were all black and white." Added Feldman: "Maybe it's just that everyone has seen them--hundreds of times."

But if at first you don't succeed--re-theme.

KTLA's "Women in Trouble Week" in 1984--which included "Norma Rae," "Portrait of a Teenage Runaway" and "I Want to Keep My Baby"--offended some viewers and some female KTLA staffers. Aware that a revamping was in order, Bell noticed that in each film, "the women somehow triumphed."

So when the same package of films returned in 1985, it was as "Women Fight Back Week." (The slogan: "One woman proves, if you can't join 'em . . . beat 'em!") The result: "Not a single complaint. And pretty strong ratings," Bell boasted.

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