TV viewers are mad for marathons. Over the past decade, local audiences have been treated to all-day fests of "Star Trek," "Gilligan's Island," "Twlight Zone," "I Love Lucy," "The Honeymooners," "Perry Mason," "Dick Van Dyke Show" and even "Brideshead Revisited."
A year ago on July 4, KCOP struck gold with "The Very Independent Independence Day Movie Marathon": 22 hours of commercial-free, uncut films, ranging from John Wayne's "The Alamo" to the Oscar-winning "West Side Story" to the landmark "Bonnie & Clyde."
According to KCOP station manager Rick Feldman, the marathon was a success. KCOP scored a 4.3 rating and 11 share, up from 2.3/6 the year before. KTLA's traditional July 4 marathon of "Twlight Zone" episodes scored a 4.5/14.
"I can't tell you the cards and letters we get from people from San Diego to Ventura County," Feldman said. "They think it's the greatest thing to be able to do this. There are a lot of people who could watch a non-commercial movie on HBO, but HBO (reaches) only 25% of the (L.A.) market. This is accessible to everyone."
Feldman believes a lot of movie buffs tape the movies rather than watch one after the other. "I don't expect anyone to sit there for 22 hours," he said. "But you do get letters from people saying they spent seven or eight hours watching."
After last year's success, KCOP followed up with another 22-hour movie fest on New Year's Day and will present its second July 4 marathon beginning Thursday at midnight (see box).
With no commercials, KCOP loses money on the marathon, said program manager Carol Myers Martz said. "Hopefully, if our salespeople are as good as they should be, we should be able to make up the money," she said. "Certain times a year, it's more of an expense to us than others. The marathon on Jan. 1, post-Christmas, is a very soft time in the advertising place. It is not as much of a loss. But in July, I don't know what the figure is, but it's several hundred thousand of dollars in terms of exact cost."
But what the station loses in money it hopes to earn in goodwill, Feldman said.
"The truth of the matter is, that in any business you have to make business calculations about things that you have to do that are going to cost you money that ultimately will pay dividends," he said. "To me, losing the revenue that day is no different than spending money to buy radio spots. It just depends on how you choose to spend your money."
Feldman said the purpose of the marathon is not to battle cable for viewers. "Regardless if it's cable TV or taking the kids out or doing the laundry, everybody's life is so frenetic," he said. "It's really a battle to get people to sit there and do anything. It's not that we are losing our audience to people who are sitting around and watching cable--only half of the audience can get it. But we want periodically to do things that are going to hopefully create an atmosphere favorable to the station."
Martz chooses the movies for the marathon. "It's a lot of fun going through the inventory," she said. (KCOP owns the rights to approximately 1,200 titles.) "I look for a couple of different things: I look for things that are really long and because of our time restraints would either get edited or not run in time periods that are visible time periods. There are some movies that just feel right for that kind of an environment."
She sees the marathon as a payback to viewers who have to watch commercials and edited movies.
On one recent Sunday, more than 50 commercials aired during KCOP's screening of an edited version of the 1966 Western "Duel at Diablo." KCOP maintains it shows fewer commercials than do other local stations. (Both KTLA and KTTV deny this, claiming they air an average of 10 less commercials during their 8 p.m. movies than does KCOP.)
"It's too bad we have to edit movies," Martz said. "But we need to sell the time to make the money to have the movies. We get complaints quite frequently."
Feldman said: "It's a fact of life. This is a very savvy movie market. So we get cards and letters. But if you take a look at the way we edit a movie and the way KABC edits movies, we will take a long movie and run it in 2 1/2 hours or run it in two nights."
Feldman agrees that the editor's scissors have snipped too much. "We sometimes put in a cut that is inappropriate," he said, "and we do take more out of a movie than I think we should. But now we take a real look at the movie. If a movie is 95 minutes and the normal cut time is 91 minutes, we will take out four minutes of commercials and not touch the movie.
"Most of the time you can take five minutes out of the movie," Feldman said, "but we are not going to take out 35 minutes."
In the Critics' Corner
What does a film writer/critic think of KCOP's marathon?
We put that question to Andy Klein, who writes for American Film magazine and the Hollywood Reporter, and to Leonard Maltin, film critic for "Entertainment Tonight."