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COVER STORY

Film Appreciation : Basic and Pay Cable Channels Are Building Libraries of Classics For You To Check Out

July 29, 1990|SUSAN KING | Times Staff Writer

"Oh, boy," he said with a laugh. "Have you got about a half an hour? I would have to mention 'Gunga Din' because Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and I have had so many conversations about that. 'Hell's Angels' was exciting. It was the first time we had ever seen color footage of Jean Harlow. 'King Kong' is another favorite of mine." NOSTALGIA TELEVISION

The five-year-old network geared to older viewers has cut down the number of vintage films it airs, opting to go for quality instead of quantity.

Historically, 80% of the network's films were public-domain movies, which anyone may air without paying a fee because the creator no longer has exclusive rights.

"Usually public-domain movies are bad prints," said Nostalgia chief executive officer Michael E. Marcovsky.

Since Marcovsky came on board earlier this year, he's changed the name of the network from the Nostalgia Channel to Nostalgia Television and beefed up the schedule with lifestyle series and vintage TV series.

About 25% of the programming consists of movies. Nostalgia recently purchased more than 100 films from the eclectic Janus Collection, which includes such classics as "Black Narcissus," "The Lavender Hill Mob," "The Red Shoes" and "Great Expectations." TNT

Each month TNT airs 220 to 240 movies, primarily from its motherlode of MGM, "KO and pre-1948 Warner Brothers' libraries. With so many movies, the network has tried to schedule the films around a monthly theme.

"It gives us a way of hooking stuff," said Lisa Mateas, vice president of program acquisitions and scheduling. "With our 'All-American' salute this month we are doing musicals and American movies."

Musicals, Mateos said, are extremely popular. "You always get a lot of calls about musicals, like Judy Garland musicals. They are special and we try to treat them in a special way."

TNT's sister station, TBS, also airs vintage films every week. But TNT is Turner Broadcasting's film showcase station. It has premiered restored versions of several movies. Earlier this year it aired the complete version of the Astaire-Rogers "Top Hat," and unsurfaced "Dixiana," an obscure 1930 black-and-white and color musical that marked the film debut of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. On Aug. 5, TNT will air the 1945 romantic fantasy "The Enchanted Cottage," with 10 minutes restored. CINEMAX

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Cinemax, the sister station of HBO, airs about 140 movies a month. Getting the attention are recent hits, but there's also a fair share of classics, foreign, art house and documentary movies.

Cinemax packages its films into categories. This month, "From the Heart" featured such romantic films as "Cousins" and "A New Life."

"I think what Cinemax is about is volume," said Dave Baldwin, vice president of program operations. "I think more than anything else, Cinemax is a movie lover's service." THE DISNEY CHANNEL

The Disney Channel is a surprisingly good source for vintage films. The network airs more than 50 pictures a month-including such Disney fare as "Mary Poppins," "Cinderella" and "The Parent Trap."

Most prime-time and late-night features are geared for adult audiences. Disney's "Best of Hollywood" series, which airs Mondays at 9 p.m., has showcased the films of such stars as Burt Lancaster, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire and Elvis Presley.

Tuesday's "Mystery Night," at 9 p.m., airs classic suspense films. KCOP

Though cable is the primary outlet for classic movies, independent stations also air their share. They are criticized, however, because films often are sliced up to allow for commericals.

Los Angeles station KCOP counters that frequently by expanding its two-hour prime-time movie slot in order to air movies unedited. The station also takes pride that it airs fewer commercials than other stations during the movies. Though R-rated films are often edited for language or content, KCOP did air the unedited version of "The Deer Hunter" 10 years ago.

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