6 TV Movie Facts (Including some dirt on Steven Spielberg)

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If you never get tired of watching Meredith Baxter burn her "husband's" clothes as Betty Broderick in A Woman Scorned, or if you had trouble sleeping after watching the nuclear holocaust portrayed in The Day After, then this week's TVHolic glimpse into classic "made for TV movies" should be right up your alley.

1. The Networks Couldn't Get Enough of "˜em

Picture 31.pngNBC pioneered the idea of made-for-TV movies with 1964's See How They Run, but ABC picked up that ball and ran with it. The network's "Tuesday Movie of the Week" quickly expanded to include the "Wednesday Movie of the Week." Eventually movies of the week were being produced at such a rate that the network aired them on any day there was a timeslot available. The made-for-TV genre was filmdom's version of summer stock; it gave both TV actors on hiatus from their regular series and B -list (and lower) movie stars an opportunity to keep their face in front of the public. It also allowed them to spread their acting "wings" and play characters contrary to their public image (Q.E.D. Archie Bunker's little goil Sally Struthers as a battered wife in Intimate Strangers, and Elizabeth Montgomery as axe-wielding Lizzie Borden.)

2. It's where Steven Spielberg Debuted

Long before anyone had heard of "road rage," Dennis Weaver experienced it on the small screen when he innocently passed a tanker truck that was spewing exhaust in front of him on a remote road. Apparently the trucker took this to be an insult to the size of his Peterbilt, and he proceeded to alternately tailgate, blast his horn at, and nudge Weaver's Plymouth Valiant in a bizarre cat-and-mouse game. Duel was directed by a 23-year-old guy named Steven Spielberg, his first feature-length film. The made-for-TV version was such a ratings success that several additional scenes were filmed after the fact to lengthen the film for theatrical release in Europe and Australia.

3. Linda Blair Gets Born Again

Linda Blair first gained fame as the pea soup-spewing Regan in The Exorcist, but for dedicated couch potatoes, she'll always be remembered for her many poignant appearances in made-for-TVers. Her pièce de résistance was 1974's Born Innocent, in which she portrayed an incorrigible runaway who ends up in the juvenile prison system. Harsh punishment for a non-violent crime, but the idea was to send a "scared straight" sort of message to teen girls on the edge. Unfortunately the message some miscreants got instead was "hey, let's re-enact the controversial shower scene on some random stranger!"

4. James Brolin Has Something of an acting Career?

Before he became Mr. Barbra Streisand, audiences first got to know Brolin as the motorcycle-riding renegade doctor on Marcus Welby, MD, but Jim eventually became a fixture in the made-for-TV film world. In 1972's A Short Walk to Daylight, he played a New York City cop who had to lead a subway car full of disparate strangers out of the crumbled underground tunnels after an earthquake. One year later he starred in Trapped, a classic man-against-beast film in which he plays a mugging victim left unconscious in a department store restroom. When he regains consciousness, the store is closed and is being patrolled by a pack of vicious Dobermans. Will he escape? Will he even survive? Of course he will, but the 90 minutes before he triumphed kept us on the edge of our collective seat.

5. Bad Ronald is full of Bad Ideas

Take one nerdy high school kid who is taunted by a little neighborhood girl. He shoves her in anger. Girl hits head on a cinder block and dies. Boy runs home to mother and tearfully describes the accident. Does Mom call the police? No, she has Son break out his carpentry tools and wall himself inside an inner room in their house. This was the premise for Bad Ronald, which starred Scott Jacoby, who TV fans may recognize as Dorothy's son on The Golden Girls.

6. Alice in Television Land

The 1971 book Go Ask Alice was purported to be the real diary of a shy teenaged girl in a new town who found popularity and an instant coterie of friends once she partook in the taboo world of drugs. The book was banned in many high school libraries, which only helped to increase its popularity and encourage Hollywood to come a-calling. The 1973 TV film starred Jamie Smith-Jackson as Alice and a hilariously bespectacled William Shatner as her clueless father. Despite the film and book's claim that the story was based on a real-life diary, many years later Mormon youth counselor Beatrice Sparks admitted that she was the book's author and that it was a work of fiction.

Let's see a show of hands "“ how many of you would tune in to TVLand if they started showing some classic Movies of the Week instead of reality programming? And please feel free to mention your favorite made-for-TVer; you'll probably jog many other reader's memories in the process.

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June 19, 2008 - 8:06am
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