|ABOVE: Billy Dee Williams and James Caan in Brian's Song.|
Made-for-TV movies became such a phenomenon that even big Hollywood stars (admittedly, many of whom were getting too long in the tooth to receive lead roles on the big screen) would emigrate to the small screen for gainful employment. Many MOWs would feature popular TV stars, who were on hiatus from their series work. They were also ways for networks to test prospective series by producing feature-length TV pilots. Although today the "made-for-TV movie" exists still in films produced for HBO, Lifetime or other such cable networks, colloquially the term applies to the age in which the three major US networks would still produce features for the small screen. Somewhere in the 1990s, the popularity of the TV movie waned in favour of features being produced for cable instead, as such projects as And The Band Played On or Barbarians At The Gate became ratings darlings for HBO.
In the early half of the 1970s, TV-movies were often produced for 90-minute time slots, and if the movies were of a sensational nature (as was often the case), the film's actual running time (70 minutes and change) was an asset to the compact no-frills storytelling. It is no wonder then, that people fondly recall the suspense thrillers of that period, from Duel to Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
Over the years, TV movies would grow in length, and maturity. In some cases, the industry would be lauded for responsibly exploring such taboo topics as alcoholism, drug addiction and sexual assault (such as A Case of Rape, with Elizabeth Montgomery), that theatrical films often would not (as serious studies of these seldom garnered box office receipts). This tradition continued in the 1980s, as issues of AIDS, teenage suicide and nuclear war would leave us some of the best remembered films made for the small screen. And then in other cases, over-dramatic or ludicrous teleplays ushered in the derogatory term "disease of the week", to summarize the latest affliction befalling a character.
This blog will attempt to bring back the highlights (and lowlights) of the "made-for-TV movie era" (from the 60s to the 90s) one film at a time. Sadly, this will never be a comprehensive study as many MOWs have vanished into the vaults with little hope of resurrection. After playing twice on prime time, some would be revived on home video or as filler on the late late show, whereas many more would simply be relegated to our memories.
We hope you however enjoy this trip down memory lane as "TV Movies of the Week" documents a seldom-studied and often misunderstood piece of our pop culture.
|ABOVE: Darren McGavin is The Night Stalker.|