The verdict is in on NBC’s longform strategy: It’s a good thing.
With the Peacock’s Martha Stewart biopic in the books as the top-rated telepic of the season among adults 18-49, the net’s decision two years ago to focus on just a handful of presold titles each year is starting to bear fruit.
Under longform/alternative topper Jeff Gaspin, NBC aired just six original movies this season — and all but one landed in the top 10 telepics among the net’s target aud of viewers under 50. Three of the top five pics came from NBC.
Titles have also been diverse, ranging from a campy behind-the-scenes expose (“Three’s Company Revisited”) to the resurrection of a beloved franchise (“It’s a Merry Muppet Christmas.”)
“The fact that we’ve had such success with a limited number of titles is a testament to the fact that our strategy has worked,” Gaspin said, also giving credit to longform veepees Stephen Bulka and Jennifer O’Connell.
Peacock’s success hasn’t prevented other nets from making movies make sense.
After a slow start, the “CBS Sunday Movie” has had a solid spring, with both “Hitler: The Rise of Evil” and “A Painted House” both in the top five among total viewers. And despite earlier buzz that the Eye would get out of the weekly movie biz, the franchise has been renewed for fall — with CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves noting the net still makes “a lot of money” on its movies.
ABC has had a rockier year in the telepic department, despite producing another batch of critically admired pics such as “The Music Man.” Instability in the Alphabet’s promo department as well as the net’s so-so Nielsens overall are largely blamed for preventing ABC’s pics from connecting with auds.
Because of ABC’s woes and the Eye’s strategy of aiming for a broader aud with telepics, landing so many pics in the top 10 among adults 18-49 was a bit easier for NBC than it might have been in years past.
Nonetheless, Peacock execs believe they made the right call by abandoning the movie-of-the-week business.
“We’re in the movie-of-the-sweeps business,” Gaspin said. “But just because you’re taking fewer shots doesn’t guarantee you’re going to have success.”
Indeed, even outsiders tip their hat to NBC’s success this season.
“They picked good titles, and they made them appointment television,” said one telepic development insider from a rival web. “But their movies also worked because they put the brilliant and unbridled marketing machine of NBC behind them. I don’t even watch NBC’s shows and I knew what they were airing.”
Gaspin believes the key, however, has been coming up with telepic concepts that can be summed up in a sentence.
“We always felt we wanted movies where you could get their point across in 10 seconds,” he said. “We wanted movies you didn’t have to explain to viewers; you just had to let them know they were on.”
Focusing on media-friendly topics that could break through the clutter of sweeps also helped.
“We had like 50 TV book covers for Martha Stewart,” Gaspin said. “We look for movies that can be top of mind for the press. Let them help (publicize the pics.)”
Having proven to themselves that telepics can still work, Peacock execs will no doubt be tempted to expand beyond this season’s slate of six pics. Gaspin said he’ll fight any attempts to crank up the output.
“This is the right amount,” he said. “Any more and you start becoming another commodity. We want to make movies people look forward to seeing.”
As previously reported, next season’s pic slate includes a biopic of ex-POW Jessica Lynch, a new take on National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” franchise and a killer-earthquake mini.
Gaspin is also confident he’ll produce another “Behind the Camera” telepic on a classic TV skein.