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CBS dumps telepics on Saturdays

'Vinegar Hill,' 'Sybil' to air May 24, June 7

CBS is dumping two relatively high-profile, if long-completed, TV movies on Saturdays over the next three weeks. The move reflects how little use the network has for the genre since bailing on its Sunday-night movie franchise, as well as a scheduling vagary brought about in part by the writers strike.

The network will air “Vinegar Hill,” an Oprah Book Club selection featuring “Weeds” star Mary-Louise Parker and Tom Skerritt, and “Sybil,” a new adaptation of the 1976 Emmy winner, this time with Jessica Lange and Tammy Blanchard, on May 24 and June 7, respectively. Slotting them each on Saturday — already a low viewing night — in the depressed Memorial Day period amounts to bailing out on the projects.

Both were finished quite some time ago (“Vinegar Hill,” a dark family drama, lensed in 2005) but were caught in the executive changeover at CBS’ longform division and the subsequent decision to schedule series on Sunday nights. In addition, rights on the projects were getting close to expiring, so the network had to air them relatively soon.

Finally, insiders said that the writers strike caused the network to burn through more Saturday-night reruns of its crime procedurals during the spring. The movies will offer a respite to those programs, though that still doesn’t entirely explain why they’re not spelling shows on a night when HUT (homes using TV) levels are higher.

If there’s any upside for “Vinegar Hill,” the movie from von Zerneck-Sertner Films airs just before the current Emmy-eligibility period for this fall’s ceremony closes on May 31. “Sybil” — produced by the Wolper Organization and distributed by Warner Bros. — will have to wait until 2009.

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