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Saftler to push Movie Channel

Vet p'grammer to offer balance between titles, classic pix

NEW YORK — The Fox Cable Networks Group has decided to engineer a major push to get its underachieving Fox Movie Channel into more cable homes and onto more industry radar screens by promoting Chuck Saftler to general manager.

FMC draws on the massive library of movies from 20th Century Fox for its programming fare, adding some original programming related to news and info about the Fox theatricals.

“Twentieth has one of the richest, deepest movie inventories in the business,” said Saftler. In addition to running the movies unedited and uninterrupted by commercials, he said, “We plan to beef up our commitment to producing shows that deal with the history of the studio.”

The new emphasis is welcome to execs at FMC because over the last few years, Fox has focused more attention on higher-visibility cable networks like FX and National Geographic Channel, which are expensive to program and harvest a bigger percentage of their revenues from advertising than from cable-operator license fees.

But with one of its chief competitors, Chuck Dolan’s AMC, shifting its schedule to fresher titles at the expense of oldies from the ’30s through the ’50s, FMC is convinced that it can make some headway in digital cable.

“We offer a more even balance between contemporary titles and classic movies,” said Saftler, who has added the stewardship of FMC to his existing duties as senior VP of programming for FX.

The network’s zealous fan base has showed its colors in the last week when they bombarded FMC with 3,000 e-mails and close to 500 letters railing against the cancellation of a planned summerlong tribute to Charlie Chan that would’ve showed up to two dozen movies 20th produced in the ’30s and early ’40s featuring the Chinese-American sleuth.

“I was ecstatic over this response,” said Saftler, “because it proves that our audience really cares about old movies.”

The audience, however, is small. Fox says FMC is “available” to 25 million homes, but only an undisclosed percentage of those 25 million, the ones who pony up extra monthly for digital boxes, can actually receive the channel.

That number pales in comparison to AMC’s 83.6 million subscribers.

Saftler is a veteran programmer with Fox, having served as part of the original launch team that put both FX and FMC on the air in 1994.

Saftler succeeds Mark DeVitre as general manger of Fox Movie Channel.

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