The ABC Movie of the Week was a weekly television anthology series featuring made-for-TV movies, that aired on ABC in various permutations which aired from September 23, 1969 and May 14, 1975.
In the 1960s, movie studios viewed television as a second-rate medium but also as a threat to their theatrical revenue, so they charged high fees for the privilege to broadcast their films.
The networks experimented with having films made specifically for TV to lower expenses. NBC created the first weekly umbrella for such films with their World Premiere Movie in 1966, running in a two-hour time slot.
Until the late 1960s, ABC ran a distant third behind rivals CBS and NBC, leading to jokes about its acronym meaning "Almost Broadcasting Company" or coming in fourth among the three networks. Desperation and a looser corporate structure allowed ABC to consider plans that the other two networks would not.
Barry Diller (a then-junior executive at ABC and later a co-founder of the Fox network) is often cited as the creator of the Movie of the Week, but the concept was actually originated by producer Roy Huggins; Huggins reasoned that many older theatrical films ran shorter than 90 minutes so requiring a 120-minute time slot was unnecessary. His proposal was rejected by all three networks but became the subject of a cover story in "Variety" magazine.
ABC's interest was renewed, but they lacked confidence that Huggins could produce an entire season of telefilms by himself. As the "Variety" article had effectively placed the concept into the public domain, ABC continued to develop it without Huggins' permission or involvement.
They approached Universal, which demanded a larger budget than ABC wanted to spend, as well as the exclusive right to produce all future TV movies for ABC, conditions that pushed ABC to control production on their own, assigning them to various studios and production companies.
ABC consoled Huggins by allowing him to produce several films, including "The Young Country" (which was a precursor to the series, "Alias Smith and Jones").
The shorter format allowed a smaller budget than previous two-hour films ($350,000 per film compared with NBC's $400,000 World Premiere).
It featured the work of producers like Aaron Spelling and David Wolper (both of whom later developed hit series of their own), and was produced by different production companies such as Bing Crosby Productions, Spelling-Goldberg Productions, Thomas-Spelling Productions (partly owned by Danny Thomas) and the network's own ABC Circle Films.
The movie of the week provided ABC with a ratings hit and (along with "Monday Night Football") helped establish the network as a legitimate competitor to rivals CBS and NBC.
The films themselves varied in quality and were often escapist or sensationalistic in nature (suspense, horror and melodrama were staples), but some of them were critically well received.
ABC earned four Emmys, a Peabody Award and citations from the NAACP and American Cancer Society for an airing of "Brian's Song" in 1972.
The 1971-72 season of the series finished as the fifth highest rated series of the year.
The movie of the week originally aired on Tuesday nights at 8:30 pm Eastern/7:30 pm Central. Established series "The Mod Squad" acted as a lead-in from 7:30 to 8:30, bringing the younger demographic.
The shorter running time of the film freed the 10 p.m. time slot for a full 60-minute program, initially "Marcus Welby, M.D." during the first season. Starting earlier at 8:30 could also prevent viewers from switching to competing movies at 9:00.
Beginning with the 1971 season, ABC added a second movie of the week on Saturday night and adjusted the titles of the shows to the "Movie of the Week" and "Movie of the Weekend."
The following season, the Saturday installment was moved to Wednesday night, and the titles were adjusted to "Tuesday Movie of the Week" and "Wednesday Movie of the Week".
During the 1973-74 season, ABC added another movie on Saturday nights to their schedule, this time titled the "ABC Suspense Movie" and usually consisting of thriller, mystery and horror type films (some of which were reruns of movies which had originally aired as "Movies of the Week").
TV Series Pilots
The series was often used as a platform to show pilots for possible series for the network which allowed the network to air pilots that it had already commissioned and paid for, but had not ordered as regular series.
As well, pilots that had already been sold as ongoing series or were being tested such as Kung Fu, The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky and Hutch, Longstreet, Toma, Alias Smith and Jones and Get Christie Love! premiered here and returned on the regular schedule after minor to major alterations to premise and/or cast.
Other programs are sometimes mistakenly believed to have aired under the "Movie of the Week" banner.
"Marcus Welby, M.D." is believed to be a movie of the week, but it actually premiered after "Seven in Darkness" and was the lead-out for the Tuesday installment.
Still others like "Earth II" and Robert Conrad's version of "Nick Carter" did air during that era, but were actually on other nights under different banners: the ABC Sunday Night Movie in the case of "Nick Carter" and "Earth II."
The series proper ended in 1975 as ABC's ratings collapsed that season.
Analysts laid part of the blame on ABC's reliance on the "Movie of the Week" which had suffered from ratings fatigue as well as a perceived drop in quality in its final season.
After that, ABC's made-for-TV movies were either aired as stand-alone specials or shown in time slots that included both original and theatrical movie presentations, notably the "ABC Friday Night Movie" and the "ABC Sunday Night Movie".
The "Tuesday Movie of the Week" would later be incorporated as part of "ABC Late Night", a replacement of "ABC's Wide World of Entertainment" that ran from 1976 to 1982.
ABC continued to premiere new TV films on Sunday nights in prime time until 2005.