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All About Movies

July 28, 1991|SUSAN KING

As its name indicates, The Movie Channel is devoted entirely to movies. That means no Madonna concerts, no boxing matches, no comedy specials, no documentaries and no anthology series, all of which permeate the schedules of The Movie Channel rivals HBO and Cinemax and TMC's sister channel Showtime.

The 12-year-old Movie Channel simply offers movies 24 hours a day. With just 3 million subscribers, Movie Channel is the smallest of all the pay services, but it may have the greatest sense of humor. It's all in an effort to set The Movie Channel apart from its competitors.

Take this past Mother's Day, for example. The Movie Channel saluted the bizarre side of motherhood with the "Mommie Weirdest Film Festival" featuring "My Mom's a Werewolf," "My Stepmother Is an Alien," "Psycho" and "Psycho IV." The festival was hosted by the Sly one's mother, Jacqueline Stallone.

Every Friday night, connoisseur of schlock Joe Bob Briggs hosts "Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater." Joe Bob devoted the entire month of June to the films of Linda Blair. "This year we were proud to have the world cable premiere of 'Frankenhooker,' " Joe Bob boasted. "I like to find obscure directors who have made their first horror movies like 'Dead Beat At Dawn,' the finest movie ever made in Dayton, Ohio."

Beginning Thursday, The Movie Channel is back with another attempt at attention-getting, the second annual "Movie Channel Challenge," featuring 421 movies over 31 days with nary a repeat in sight.

"I think what is interesting about The Movie Channel is that, like MTV, it has a very distinct beat," said Ann Plunkett, senior vice president of creative services. "It's all about movies, and that kind of purity allows you, in a strange way, a real freedom when it comes to what you program. Once you define yourself as being all movies you can pretty much go wild."

The Movie Channel was launched in December, 1979, as the first 24-hour-a-day national pay TV service. It originally aired about 40 movies a month and was, and still is, the only pay station to air R-rated fare during the daytime.

"The philosophy was a radio playlist where each film would play every day regardless of its content," Duda said. "It was aimed at shift workers who would come home at 2 a.m. and would have nothing to watch during the day."

With the growth of VCRs and videos, The Movie Channel began to rethink its programming about five years ago. The channel beefed up its playlist from 40 to more than 100 films a month, adding older films to the mix. It introduced VCR Theater--a VCR-compatible programming element offering a different movie every night.

"Almost all of our subscribers have VCRs," Duda said. "So why not turn that into a positive, (rather) than complaining that people are renting and don't need premium TV?"

Unlike Cinemax, The Movie Channel does not show colorized versions of classic films.

"The Movie Channel Challenge" begins Thursday at 6 a.m.

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