Sheen to host weekly movie showcase

In the first phase of a major local programming initiative, Los Angeles pubcaster KCET is teaming up with Warner Bros. Entertainment to launch a weekly primetime movie showcase hosted by Martin Sheen.

“The KCET Saturday Movie” will air weekly at 10 p.m. and feature classic titles from Warners’ vaunted library. Pics will air with just one interruption,, during which Sheen will provide information and historical perspective on the pics. Because of the 10-p.m. timeslot — which falls within the FCC’s so-called “safe harbor” — the station won’t have to edit the movies for nudity, violence or curse words.

Pic package is the first part of “Celebrate the Southland — KCET at 10,” what the pubcaster is deeming “a major new initiative that will present extensive local programming at 10 p.m.”

Station didn’t release details of the project, but it’s understood the station is looking to bow original, locally produced programming that will air at 10 nightly. Programming is expected to include news and public affairs programs as well as scripted projects.

As for the “Saturday Movie,” series will bow May 5 with “East of Eden,” followed by “Amadeus” (May 12), “The Grifters” (May 19), “Chariots of Fire” (May 26), “Blade Runner” (June 2), “Body Heat” (June 9), “Cool Hand Luke” (June 16), “Coma” (June 23), and “Superman” (June 30). KCET has also snagged rights to air “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Strangers on a Train” and “Bonnie and Clyde.”

“This is not a get-rich-quick deal,” said Eric Frankel, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution, which engineered the negotiations., referring to the extremely modest license fees from KCET. “I look on it as good will, and building community relations.” It’s a coup for Frankel, though, because it fits his strategy of coming up with new ways to sell the studio’s movies in the wake of the abandonment of theatricals by the broadcast networks.

If the KCET Saturday movie attracts sizable audiences, Frankel said he’ll contact other PBS stations throughout the country, maybe even going after a commercial underwriter that would be willing to pony up better license fees.

KCET prexy-CEO Al Jerome called the deal “a groundbreaking partnership” that will let the pubcaster “reinvent the television movie experience.

“These are some of the greatest movies ever made, rarely in theaters or on TV,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to see them as they were meant to be originally shown.” Frankel said Warner Bros. will ship high-gloss prints of the movies, and KCET said it would show in letterbox. KCET will also show the movies simultaneously on KCET HD.

Warners has licensed each pic to KCET for a single broadcast. While there will be a brief intermission, the pics will air free of commercials.

KCET is also looking to launch a website dedicated to the “Saturday Movie” franchise that would feature trivia and archival material related to the pics (trailers, lobby cards, etc), as well as an online store where DVDs of the pics can be purchased.

It’s expected KCET will offer DVDs of the pics as promotional premiums in connection with its membership drives.

As for Sheen, thesp is no stranger to KCET. He was one of the ensemble of thesps in the KCET-BBC co-prod “The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century.” He also provided the voiceover the launch of the station’s “Infinitely More” branding campaign.

(John Dempsey in New York contributed to this report.)

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