ABC decides family matters on Saturday

ABC, which has been playing around with a Saturday-night “family movie” since January, has cemented plans to continue the strategy with its 1994-95 fall sked.

The network confirmed its intent to order 12 to 20 original family-themed movies, to be mixed with appropriate theatricals and packaged under the tentative title of “The ABC Family Movie.”

ABC Entertainment prexy Ted Harbert said the company is negotiating with certain companies to supply the franchise. Sources say ABC will start by ordering blocks of titles — starting with four apiece from the Walt Disney Co., in-house production wing ABC Prods. and producer Robert Halmi, in association with Hallmark — to fill the 8-10 p.m. slot.

The goal is to effectively package the movie as “a dependable source of fun, family viewing,” Harbert said, hoping to recapture some of the audience that’s renting videos and watching four-network alternatives on Saturday.

“What I really am enamored with is (the prospect of creating) something with the appeal of ‘TGIF’ in movie form,” Harbert noted, referring to the broad appeal of the web’s Friday comedy block and the fact that non-network sources outpoint the Big Four in the Saturday Nielsens.

Harbert acknowledged that license fees will be lower than the average telefilm (sources say $ 2 million or less per title), mixed with firstrun and repeat theatricals acquired at a lower price. “For the first time in many, many years, this company may make some money on Saturday night.”

With the Saturday movie concept locked, ABC also confirmed that it’s weighing offering series again after the “Monday Night Football” season wraps in January, shelving the web’s Monday movie for the first time since spring 1990.

It’s been speculated that ABC will likely move the Monday newsmagazine “Day One” to 10 p.m. next January, creating a more compatible configuration with Wednesday through Friday shows “Turning Point,””PrimeTime Live” and “20/20.”

The Saturday made-fors should result in a push or slight increase in longform orders from ABC even if the Monday movie goes away, Harbert said. Trying series on Monday will create additional opportunities for those suppliers, particularly since the Alphabet web is perceived as having few available openings for new shows in the heart of its Tuesday to Friday lineup.

Saturday woes

The movie scheme follows considerable frustration for ABC with series Saturday, when its youth-oriented audience isn’t readily available. Movies have performed reasonably well there as a stopgap measure, particularly titles like “Problem Child 3” and last October’s made-for starring twins Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen. Another telefilm featuring the “Full House” moppets has been ordered for next season.

ABC isn’t currently using the “family movie” banner but will try to tap into that audience during the May sweeps, offering such features as “The Rocketeer” and “Gremlins 2.”

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