There probably hasn’t been a time in the last decade when flipping around the cable universe when you haven’t ended up running across “The Shawshank Redemption” somewhere on cable. With the Wall Street Journal recently showing us how profitable the film has been through its countless cable airings, it’s not surprising when you hear that it’s aired on 15 different cable networks in the last 17 years. In some cases, it’s been part of those movie “marathons” that channels like AMC egregiously used to do to fill time before having all the standout programming they have today.
Now other cable channels air marathons of certain movies that you’ve perhaps seen one too many times. “The Godfather”, and “Part II”, have probably aired an equal amount of times as “The Shawshank Redemption” has if you include the re-edited “Godfather Saga” that once aired on network TV in the 1970s and ’80s.
But TV has saved plenty of other films that didn’t do all that well in movie theaters. If “Redemption” is raking in the dough now with all its TV airings, you have to wonder how much money these films make from their repeated TV airings, and whether heirs get residuals for the older titles.
“It’s a Wonderful Life”
We all know how many times “It’s a Wonderful Life” used to air on cable to a point where you have to wonder how much it ultimately affected DVD sales in the process. Even now, most people may not find it a necessary purchase when it still airs twice on NBC around the holidays. While it’s never been reported who’s profiting off of it, we have to assume it’s Frank Capra’s heirs that receive a check every time it’s aired on NBC. Imagine what those checks probably were in the 1980s and ’90s when it aired literally 100 times on every cable network between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
Once the NBC contract lapses (hopefully never), it may end up in that zone again not unlike “The Shawshank Redemption.” Audiences probably wouldn’t stand for it, even if they still do for “Shawshank” and other, more modern films.
This Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell comedy from 1987 has become a ubiquitous favorite on cable in the last decade. That’s because it plays like a high-caliber TV movie and with a plot we’ve seen many times in lesser TV movies: Someone getting amnesia. There isn’t any doubt that Hawn and Russell had palpable chemistry on-screen while having (and still having) a relationship in real life. They probably could have done many more movies together, even if this story of a rich woman with amnesia (falling for a crass working-class guy) seemed the perfect vehicle for them.
You’ve likely seen the movie on various cable networks over the years, including AMC a number of times. While I’ve despised the Oregon stereotypes depicted in the film, I always get roped into watching if I haven’t seen it in a while. Nobody says a movie with contrived plot elements can’t still be a huge moneymaker on TV if it has excellent chemistry between the leads. For many, “Shawshank” had the same contrivances that were shoved aside for the basic story and chemistry of leads, Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins.
Variety recently reported that this was the most aired movie on basic cable in the last year. And that’s not surprising considering it has all the plot elements making it perfect for a movie on TV if you have nothing else to do. While it’s amazing that people are still willing to watch a movie with commercial breaks, my own recent viewing of “Mrs. Doubtfire” on TV for the first time in years found it still entertaining, despite commercials. With some cable channels having shorter commercial breaks than others, it may be becoming a comfortable format again for those who happen to run across “Mrs. Doubtfire” while channel surfing.
Some might say this was a deal to get it back in mind for Robin Williams’ intended upcoming sequel. Even if the sequel gets nixed, Williams has been getting checks for all “Doubtfire” cable airings. According to Variety, it aired 66 times in 2013 alone, and likely the same or more this year.
Airings of Other Classics
Those who’ve grown up with TV since the 1950s know that “The Wizard of Oz” may be the most played movie of all time on both commercial TV and cable. It’s still airing at least a dozen times a year on either Turner Classic Movies or even elsewhere. It seems, though, that movies from the 1990s are the ones getting the most play lately. Variety’s above list shows everything from “She’s All That” to “Sleepless in Seattle” getting dozens of plays on cable each ensuing year.
The most recent popular movie getting huge amounts of playtime is “Juno”, which shows that a younger generation is suddenly acquiring an unexpected taste for watching movies with commercials. In the age of Netflix, we have to assume most of those watches are done while doing something else productive and not gathering around the TV communion style.