Monday, August 8, 2022

So Much Drama: Movie of the Week


Love me some Uptonking.  

In leaving a comment for the last post, Uptonking reminded me of the staple of ABC television in that started in 1969 and ran to 1975: The ABC Movie of the Week

ABC promised us, not movies that were years old on TV, like The War Wagon, or Love is Many Splendored Thing, but "World Premiere" movies were 90-120 minute movies (with commercials) with original scripts "made especially for TV."  Or so the announcer said with great gravitas.  (The hidden meaning was "movies" that break for commercials with mini cliffhangers, instead of mid-scene.)  In actuality, these were 72 to 100-minute or so one-off TV shows. 

To build excitement, Harry Betts got the rights to use Burt Bacharach's 1969 composition "Nikki", rearranged it, and when combined with state-of-the-art graphic animation, the tune became synonyms with MOVIE OF THE WEEK.


Some were very good, like Steven Speilberg's Duel, starring Dennis Weaver and the demonic truck intent on terrorizing him.  Others were just awful, like Gidget Gets Married (see below). 

None starred Steve McQueen, Barabara Streisand, Warren Beatty, or Elizabeth Taylor, but the actors were TV staples and some slightly faded stars.  Dennis Weaver, Patty Duke Astin, Henry Jones, Stella Stevens, and Joseph Cotton.   

Some of the movies were just that; movies that were ends unto themselves. 

Then there were movies made as TV pilots.  Take Gidget Grows Up, with Karen Valentine as Gidget who is a tour guide at the U.N., which did not get picked up.  Starsky and Hutch started out as a Movie of the Week.  So now you know who to blame for the second coming of the Torino that swept up car culture in 1975-1976, and David's Soul's "Don't Give Up on Us Baby".

Then there was Gidget Gets Married, which was a *movie*.  In this, the last of the Gidget flicks, Gidget marries Moondoggie and moves to a Stepford-like community, where employees of a company are residentially segregated and socially isolated in their position with in said company, I kid you not.  And it was Gidget who was sick and tired of the Man bossing everyone around and fighting for social justice. The result was something so bad that evidently, the young woman who was chosen to play Gidget walked away from acting. 

While the Movie of the Week tried to rotate its genres, with ratings slipping, and towards the end of the run it became top-heavy with films that had a message.  Comedies, which were seldom guffawed out loud funny became fewer, and dramas and thrillers increased.  And the ratings continued to slide down, down, down.

But it was the 1975 season, at the end of the run that gave viewers its two best camp classics:

  1. Episode 246 was a cringe-worthy social drama called "Someone I Touched" which starred Cloris Leachman as a wife in a loving marriage who contracts VD from her husband who liked to fiddle around.  If that wasn't bad enough, Leachman's character - who had desperately yearned for a baby - discovered that she was pregnant.  Also notable is Lena Peterson, who plays the mother of Glynnis O'Connor.  O'Connor sleeps with Cloris's husband and you know what happens.  He gives Glynnis a social disease. In a tearful scene tries to tell her mother that something terrible has happened.  The mother thinks she is pregnant and comforts her daughter saying that there were ways to deal with the situation.  But O'Connor pushes on with the truth: Syphilis!  And Lena Patterson then begins one of the longest slap fests on TV, punctuated by calling her daughter a tramp, while play smacking Glynnis into the next part of the movie. Patterson was a noted actress, and a Tony nominee, but the camera is so close to both actors that the violence isn't at once amplified and muted.   And oh, did I mention that Cloris sings the theme song?
  2. Episode 247 is the cult favorite, and I am warning you that you need to put aside reasonable disbelief when you watch it.  Trilogy of Terror, starring Karen Black, in three unrelated mini films inside of mini made-for-TV movies where she plays four different characters.  I would try and explain it all, but frankly, I don't have the strength.  Suffice it to say that Karen emotes.  A lot.  And you can get this one on YouTube for FREE.
Now, of course, cable vomits whole channels like this onto our laps, movies with mediocre plots. For many, only the titles are entertaining.  (A personal favorite was Tory Spelling in "Mother May I Sleep With Danger.") For others, there is a cathartic release for SOME PEOPLE (Yes, you, Dee Dee) for watching movies where the psycho boyfriend locks his girlfriend away in the poorhouse while seducing her loved starved mother, or the new nanny sets out to gaslight the mother of quadruplets so she can send the children to a Swiss boarding school and do craven things to the handsome husband. 

But back in the day, it was a weekly dose of fluff, with a thin plotline, and a great fanfare, starring people whose faces were familiar, and whose names you needed a TV guide to ID. That was Tuesday night living in America. 


  1. You are such a mine of magnificent trivia, Cookie! I never knew that Starsky and Hutch began life this way, nor that Duel and Trilogy of Terror (both fantabulosa in my book!) were actually made-for-TV.

    Now I need to find that clap-ridden trash with Cloris Leachman in it... Jx

    1. I remember when it was on, and my mother made sure that I didn't watch it.

  2. I still love Starsky and Hutch, and let us not forget that Brian's Song was a movie of the week original. That one still makes me cry. I stayed away from the soap opera stuff.