In Susan King’s cover article for TV Times on July 29, (“Cable Channels: A Happy Ending for Film Lovers”) she asked the right question but came up with the wrong answer.
Where, she asked, can avid movie fans go in light of the refocused priorities of the Z Channel? Her answer: Bravo and the American Movie Channel. The correct answer is the free, over the air, available-to-all movie showcases presented by KCOP, KTLA and KTTV.
King’s thesis and many of the recent articles extolling the virtues of cable is a victory of hype over substance. This past May, in an average week, the three Los Angeles independents mentioned above generated 20 combined movie rating points in prime time. The combined audience reached by TNT, Disney, Cinemax, AMC and Bravo in Los Angeles during the same period was a 1.1 rating.
The fact that Mozart and Van Gogh died as paupers proved that critical mass acceptance is not what defines good art, but in TV-land viewership is what counts and usually, the bigger the better. If commercial television stations delivered audiences similar to the cable networks, they would go out of business for lack of support. Unlike commercial stations which rely on ad sales only for revenue, cable channels have the advantage of subscriber dollars as well as ad sales plus, in many cases, the financial interest of the cable operators themselves.
This is not to say that such services as Bravo or the American Movie Channel do not have a place. They do, but that is not where most people turn, and to think they do is elitist. Across the country, 70% of all television viewing in cable households is to commercial stations--either to local channels (i.e., Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13) or to independent super stations. In L.A. cable is less of a factor because of the strength of the four VHF independent stations. Over a normal one-week span, the combined viewership of Bravo and AMC does not reach 5% of the L.A. market!
Los Angeles is approximately 50% cabled. Why does King choose to spotlight a service that is available to only half the population and for the most part minimally viewed by the other half. Yes, there are good titles on cable, yes AMC has 3,000 titles and yes Cinemax shows 140 movies a month, but for those services, the viewer has to pay.
KCOP broadcasts 30 different movie showcases each week for free. We own “The Godfather,” “Casablanca,” “North by Northwest,” “On the Waterfront” and dozens of other classics. Our movies in prime time alone reach almost 400,000 viewers each week, while the five cable movie channels mentioned earlier are viewed by 55,000. Again, mass numbers don’t always signify quality, but they do validate our efforts in this case. One wonders why such low numbers are thought of as successful. In any other business they would be seen as a failure.
It would be nice if we could run more movies without commercials as we did on our July Fourth 22-hour movie marathon. Unfortunately for a free, over-the-air station, that is impossible. Take a look, however, at the way KCOP undercommercializes and edits movies as opposed to TNT, which chops films up to run break after break. When we need to expand a showcase to exhibit “Soldier of Orange” or “Henry V” or “The Last Emperor,” we do. When we need to run a classic over two nights to protect it, we do. And when we run films such as “Annie Hall,” “Vertigo” or “The Deer Hunter” not a scene is touched.
So when Susan King or anyone else asks where the discerning movie buff can turn for terrific movies day in and day out, KCOP should come out on top of the list.
See letters to Counterpunch, F4.