Season filled with big perfs from pics, multi-nighters

Back with yet another haul of high-profile longforms, which this year includes “John Adams,” the seven-part, nine-hour, $100-million-plus Goliath that earned solid but not uniformly positive reviews, HBO will once again look to dominate Emmy’s miniseries and movie categories.

But regardless of how the Emmys shake out for many networks that are not HBO, at least ratings-wise, it was a fine year for longform.

In December, for example, the Sci Fi Channel got its best ratings ever from “The Wizard of Oz”-inspired miniseries “Tin Man,” starring Richard Dreyfuss, which achieved benchmarks in both total viewers (6.4 million bested “Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken”) and adults 18-49 (3.4 million beat out “Dune”).

In April, Lifetime bestseller adaptation “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter,” starring Dermot Mulroney, Emily Watson and Gretchen Mol, conjured up 5.8 million viewers, making it the network’s most-watched made-for since 1995.

In May, A&E took a mini adaptation/remake originally developed by Sci Fi, “The Andromeda Strain,” starring Benjamin Bratt, Eric McCormack and Andre Braugher, and parlayed the first half of it into more viewers 25-54 (2.7 million) than the network had ever drawn before. Not to be overlooked is cable’s biggest heavy-hitter of all time, Disney Channel’s “High School Musical 2,” which yielded 17.2 million viewers last August to make it the most-watched cable telecast on record.

Meanwhile, disproving the notion that cable has completely stolen the movie biz out from under the broadcast nets, there were some notable achievements by the webs this year, too. On CBS, “Lonesome Dove”-spawned three-parter “Comanche Moon” drew 15.75 million viewers out of the gate, the highest total for a movie on any broadcast web in two years.

And on ABC, Sean Combs’ TV acting debut in “A Raisin in the Sun” yielded 12.69 viewers, making it the top program among all households on the night it aired.

Particularly on the cable side of the biz, execs stress that ratings are only part of the overall longform value equation.

“We use specials to really introduce a broad audience to our brand,” says Nancy Dubuc, exec VP and g.m. of the History Channel, which saw nonfiction longform project “Life After People” pull in 5.4 million viewers in January, making it the channel’s highest-rated program ever.

“It’s really important that we can expand our viewership,” adds Tanya Lopez, Lifetime’s senior VP of original movies. “Not only do (movies) serve our loyal Lifetime viewers, they bring in new viewers and broaden our viewership demographically.”

To make “Memory Keeper’s Daughter,” Lifetime partnered with Jaffe-Braunstein Films and paid a high-five-figure fee to option Kim Edwards’ bestselling novel.

With high-visibility Lifetime originals typically priced at around $4.5 million to make, joining forces with Jaffe-Braunstein reduced the network’s risk.

In this case, Jaffe-Braunstein owns the film and assumes the burden of making up what’s not covered by Lifetime’s licensing fees through international sales, DVD release and domestic reruns.

While that license fee undoubtedly wasn’t inexpensive for Lifetime, and there’s no aftermarket gravy involved for the network, repeat airings make the business certainly worthwhile.

“We repeat these movies pretty heavy-duty when they first premiere,” Lopez notes. “If we premiere it on a Saturday, you’ll also see it Sunday and Monday. We’ll air it three times, rest it, then bring it back in June for Emmy consideration.”

“Original movies are expensive to produce in our terms, but as expensive as they are, they are important investments,” adds David Kenin, exec VP of programming for the Hallmark Channel and Crown Media Holdings. “If a single movie doesn’t work, it’s a big deal for us. We count on it working for years of runs.

“Running these movies over the years in multiple runs has been good,” Kenin adds. “A mystery movie will do just as well for us on the 11th or 12th run as it did in its initial run.”

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