The Masked Scheduler is looking back at the scheduling and business decisions that built the Must-See TV lineup on NBC. You can go here to read previous installments.
With “Dateline” filling up from three to five hours of our Must-See TV schedule, we looked to our movie group, led by Lindy DeKoven, to provide us with four hours of movies and miniseries each week. We augmented that with theatricals, which the late John Agoglia (our head of business affairs) and I would buy.
Back then you could still get a rating for a theatrical, and we would generally buy packages from a studio. There would be one or two “A” blockbusters, and the art was to cherry-pick the “B” movies to fill out the package. I probably enjoyed acquiring and scheduling theatricals more than anything else, and I’ll try to talk about that at some later point, but I wanted to give you some idea about how we came up with our movie schedule each season.
Sometime at the beginning of the new season, I would sit down with Lindy and go over the number of made-for-TV movies and miniseries she and her group would need to deliver for the following season. We were always a year ahead. We needed to be because the movie group would start ordering movies for the next season by October. Miniseries would often be ordered even earlier. After figuring out how many theatricals we were going to schedule, we would determine how many made-fors I needed from Lindy.
I would assume a miniseries each sweeps period and decide which theatricals were sweeps-worthy. Lindy then knew the number of sweeps-level movies she needed and how many other movies would fill out the year. In order to guarantee some level of success with these “B” made-fors we would develop some franchises, especially in the mystery area. We would do a couple of Perry Masons and also featured Louis Gossett Jr. in a series. We also had a franchise called “Moment of Truth” movies that adhered to a formula of a TV actress who had been out of the spotlight for a while and a young actress who played her daughter and was in jeopardy. These movies clicked with the viewer, and I even put one or two in a sweep.
We relied a lot on research to select and schedule the movies. Made-fors were generally very female skewing, and we did an analysis of the core group of viewers (women 35-54) and which movies appealed to the fringes (55+ and 18-34). Our goal was to attract the younger end of the movie audience, and we found a sleazy formula that featured a stable of young TV actresses. These movies became known as the Lifetime movies, since Lifetime wound up buying them all and adding to the sleaze over the years.
Among my favorites were:
“She Fought Alone” — Tiffani Thiessen
“She Said No” — Candace Cameron
“The Babysitter’s Seduction” — Keri Russell
“On the Edge of Innocence” — Kellie Martin (Lindy’s favorite actress to wit)
“Death of a Cheerleader” — Kellie Martin and Tori Spelling, and speaking of Tori, maybe our most infamous title:
“Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?”
We would appeal to the “older” part of the movie audience with one of our strongest franchises: Danielle Steel. Those movies were gold, and as I recalled for you, helped bring down a Jennifer Aniston series on CBS and keep her on “Friends.”
Next time we’ll continue to go through the movie strategy, and I promise to finally tell the tale of “The Beast” and my Jeer in TV Guide.