Thursday, December 29, 2011

ABC's The Movie of the Week

Made-for-TV movies eventually got a bad rap, which explains why they pretty much faded from network television in the 1990s. But I still fondly recall what I call the "Golden Age of the TV Movie": the early 1970s when ABC began broadcasting its Movie of the Week.

Every Tuesday night, ABC introduced a world premiere telefilm in a ninety-minute time slot (about 72 minutes without commercials). The success of the series can be attributed, in part, to the variety of its films: suspense (The Longest Night), horror (The Night Stalker), science fiction (Night Slaves), World War II action (Death Race), comedy (The Daughters of Joshua Cabe), Western (The Hanged Man), serious drama (That Certain Summer), film noir (Goodnight, My Love) and even kung fu (Men of the Dragon). Many of the telefilms were also pilots for TV series--some of which made it as regular series (The Six Million Dollar Man) and some that didn’t (The Monk with George Maharis as a private eye).

Dennis Weaver in Duel.
Several films earned critical plaudits, such as Brian's Song, Duel, That Certain Summer, Tribes, and The Point. Occasionally, one would be released theatrically in either in the U.S. or Europe--often with additional footage--after its TV broadcast. That was the case with Steven Spielberg's suspenseful chase drama Duel and The Sex Symbol with Connie Stevens playing an actress loosely inspired by Marilyn Monroe.

I'm always surprised by how many of the ABC Movie of Week telefilms are fondly remembered by fellow film buffs. For example, people may not remember the title of Trilogy of Terror--but mention the creepy TV movie with Karen Black about the killer doll and a lot of folks will know it.

The original Movie of the Week debuted on Tuesday night in 1969. It was so successful that ABC launched a Movie of the Weekend, which subsequently shifted to mid-week so there were Tuesday and Wednesday Movies of the Week installments. The final Movie of the Week was broadcast in 1976.

The catchy theme to the Movie of the Week opening was written by Burt Bacharach. Its actual title is "Nikki," named after Burt's daughter with Angie Dickinson. Click on the clip below to view the full opening for When Michael Calls, a thriller with Ben Gazzara, Elizabeth Ashley, and Michal Douglas. At the end of the clip is preview for the following week's movie, The Screaming Woman, starring Olivia de Havilland. Unfortunately, the video quality doesn't do justice to the bright, colorful graphics.

In terms of originality, the only network that competed with ABC was CBS, which launched CBS Tuesday Night Movie in 1972. It sent speeding helicopters (Birds of Prey), ancient evil Druids (The Horror at 37,000 Feet), and, most memorably, Gargoyles to battle its TV-movie rival at ABC.

Crosby as Dr. Cook.

Sadly, only a handful of these films are available on DVD (and even then, the prints are usually inferior in quality). I’d love to see TCM get the rights to the Movie of the Week. It’d be great to see Bing Crosby in Dr. Cook’s Garden again and see if the film as good as I remember.

Below is a sampling of the telefilms that played on The Movie of the Week (to include the Tuesday and Wednesay editions and The Movie of the Weekend on Saturday). Note that several movies featured performers from the classic film era:

Seven in Darkness (1969)

Daughter of the Mind (1969) with Gene Tierney & Ray Milland
Gidget Grows Up (1969)
Honeymoon with a Stranger (1969)
The Over-the-Hill Gang (1969) with Walter Brennan & Andy Devine
The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969)
The Immortal (1969)
Wake Me When the War Is Over (1969)
Along Came a Spider (1970)
Carter's Army (1970)
Crowhaven Farm (1970)
How Awful about Allan (1970) with Anthony Perkins & Julie Harris
Night Slaves (1970)
The Over the Hill Gang Rides Again with Walter Brennan & Fred Astaire
Run, Simon, Run (1970)
The Love War (1970)
Tribes (1970)
Brian's Song (1971)
Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate (1971) with Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy, Sylvia Sidney
Dr. Cook's Garden (1971)
Duel (1971)
In Broad Daylight (1971)
In Search of America (1971)
Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring (1971)
The Birdmen (1971)
The Devil and Miss Sarah (1971)
The Feminist and the Fuzz (1971)
The Point! (1971)
The Reluctant Heroes (1971)
A Great American Tragedy (1972)
Goodnight, My Love (1972)
Moon of the Wolf (1972)
That Certain Summer (1972)
The Astronaut (1972)
The Daughters of Joshua Cabe (1972) with Buddy Ebsen & Sandra Dee
The Longest Night (1972)
Madame Sin (1972) with Bette Davis & Robert Wagner
The People (1972)
The Screaming Woman (1972) with Olivia de Havilland
Women in Chains (1972)
A Cold Night's Death (1973)
A Summer Without Boys (1973)
The Cat Creature
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Female Artillery (1973)
Go Ask Alice (1973)
Isn't It Shocking? (1973)
Satan's School for Girls (1973)
Shirts/Skins (1973)
The Girl Most Likely to... (1973)
The Girls of Huntington House (1973)
The Man Without a Country (1973) with Cliff Robertson
The Night Strangler (1973)
The Third Girl from the Left (1973)
Men of the Dragon (1974)
Get Christie Love! (1974)
Hit Lady (1974)
Houston, We've Got a Problem (1974)
Killdozer (1974)
Locusts (1974)
The Mark of Zorro (1974)
The Morning After (1974)
Thursday's Game (1974)
Winter Kill (1974)


  1. Rick, I didn't have TV when this series was on but did manage to catch a few of these. One I recall in particular is "The Failing of Raymond" with Jane Wyman as a teacher and Dean Stockwell as a psychotic former student (before he became typecast in such roles). Wasn't "The Cat Creature" shown on this series too? It was a semi-remake of "The Cat People" and even had Kent Smith in a cameo (Gale Sondergaard and John Carradine too). Checking both of these on IMDb, I noticed they had some impressive casts, although I didn't know who many of these actors were then. I saw the longer version of "Duel" a year or so ago and really liked it. You could tell that frequent "Twilight Zone" writer Richard Matheson wrote it.

  2. I can't believe more people didn't comment on this well written article, Rick. I don't have a lot to say since I'm not very familiar with what happened on network TV in the 70s, but you do a nice job of giving the background information. Perhaps you should do something on interesting miniseries from the 1980s--I remember most of those, like North and South and War and Rememberance. I'm sure there were more, but those are the ones I remember.

  3. R.D., yes, THE CAT CREATURE was indeed a Movie of the Week. It had an impressive pedigree (pun intended) with the screenplay being written by Robert Bloch (who wrote the novel PSYCHO) and the directing chores going to Curtis Harrington. The latter was one of those promising filmmakers who never achieved much success. However, he did direct the unusual NIGHT TIDE with Dennis Hopper as a sailor infatuated with a woman who claims to be a read mermaid. Some more CAT PEOPLE influence, perhaps?

    Kim, perhaps the Cafe will do a month on miniseries one day. The 1970s and 1980s were their heyday with ROOTS, SHOGUN, THE THORN BIRDS and others being produced.

  4. Oh, I forgot The Thorn Birds!!! Babs would be so mad!

  5. Art without a venue becomes madness and waste. ABC's Movie of the Week provided a platform for the release of creative inspiration from gifted artists and immediate and nostalgiac memories for its viewers. Once upon a time, Tuesaday night was a time of magic.

    1. Beautifully written comment! You certainly have a way with words.

  6. I remember one very good MTV movie about a high school senior who got in trouble for writing an anti-war editorial, the title of which was "Springtime in Saigon" or something to that effect. Wish I could remember the title of that one...

    Great blog - arrived here via Ed Gorman's blog post today.

  7. Excellent article. I absolutely loved The Reluctant Heroes as an 11 year old. I think I might be glad that it isn't available on DVD because I'm sure it wasn't as good as I remember.

  8. I'm still scarred by seeing "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" when I was 10 years old. I still rate it as the most terrifying movie I've ever seen (and that includes "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist.")

  9. Do you rember a tvm of the week were a girl was go up the stairs to her apartment a man was following her and killed her while her roommate was looking threw the peep hole crying and drunk and couldn't help her. I think it was in the 1970 movie. Thank you.

  10. Can you tell me the name of the movie where a old man and his Grandson are trying to escape the US to Canada so he could get some medicine?


  11. Hi 3 superb telemovies have been left out of your list : DO YOU TAKE THIS STRANGER ? Starring Gene Barry, Lloyd Bridges and Diane Baker. SILENT NIGHT LONELY NIGHT with Lloyd Bridges and Shirley Jones and 5 DESPERATE WOMEN with Stephanie Powers and Robert Conrad..

  12. Thank you so much for writing this terrific article Rick! I was born in 73' and absolutely love films from that era. I'm a sort of nostalgic kinda gal but am just now discovering these beautiful little gems. Thanks to your well written article I now have a terrific place to start my made for TV film journey. I'm starting with When Michael Calls right after this message! :)

  13. Some made-for-television films of the 1970s you omitted are: "The Devil's Daughter," "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (Dir. by Dan Curtis, with Jack Palance)," "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden," "Mr. & Mrs. Bo Jo Jones," "Sarah T. - Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic," "She Lives!," and "Summer of My German Soldier. I know at least a few of those ("Bo Jo Jones," "Devil's Daughter," and "She Lives!") were "ABC Movies of the Week."

    Thank you for providing the name of the catchy theme music for "ABC Movie of the Week." We'll assume there are no Hal David (or other composer's) lyrics to accompany that Burt Bacharach melody of "Nikki." Of course, just because viewers didn't hear theme music with vocals doesn't necessarily mean there were no lyrics. The theme of ABC's "Bewitched," for example, included lyrics by Howard Greenfield (ex-songwriting partner of Neil Sedaka) to accompany the Jack Keller tune.

  14. I assume by serious drama you titled "That Certain Smile" you meant "That Certain Summer," the first TV film to deal with the subject of homosexuality, which starred Hal Holbrook, Scott Jacoby, and Martin Sheen.

    1. Indeed, that is the film I meant. Thanks for catching a crucial typo that many readers missed. I have corrected it in to the post now.

  15. I'd also love to see these done for DVD. Maybe an entire box set of all.
    Why not start a campaign to get TCM to do so?! If it grows to a big enough number of people, they may take notice. Maybe start it on Facebook or I'd be 1st in line to sign!

  16. Hi ! I am searching for a made for TV movie from the seventies. It was set in a isolated research post, I *think* I remember snow and ice. Anyway, the staff start seeing trusted friends and cherished loved ones and family members there, some of whom are dead. It turns out, they are *not* mass hallucinations, but alien invaders who are using the research staff as test subjects,reading their minds and then taking on the appearance of those the humans trust the most. They will then will move on to take over Earth. I saw it as a teen and remember that it scared the snot out of me. Does this sound familiar?
    I would be very grateful for any help in finding the title : )

  17. What was the song Linda Ronsteadt sang for one of the movies of the, Movie of the Week series?

  18. I searched, but no luck. You might try here though;

  19. You can watch this on youtube posted by someone
    named curtis johnson who also has other great
    movies like Masterpiece of Murder with Bob Hope
    and a few others I had been looking for years.
    I love the old network movies of the week and
    it's ashame most aren't on dvd!

  20. Yeah ! I found the Chris Johnson videos on youtube and they look great ! Thank you : )

  21. dearrick29- Dr.Cook's Garden starring the one and only Bing Crosby is as good as you remember it- it's a shame that its never been released legally- but you can find bootleg copies of it from several dealers-for years it was only from a local network broadcast and was all but unwatchable-but it aired on the sci-Fi channel sometimes in the 80's-and some-one recorded it- so a vary good copy is available- just look for crosby dr.cook, garden dvd and you shold be able to find it- the lowest price for it is from a dealer $6.99 plus $3.75 shipping.
    Lonnie Reeves