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CABLE TV AS THE ENEMY (VINTAGE COLUMN)

Iconic moment from 'E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.'

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Back in the early 1980s, that upstart known as cable television was beginning to make serious inroads, encroaching on the territory of both network television and movie theaters. This Dec. 3, 1982 column, headlined ‘For Spielberg, no close encounters with the tube,” is about events that came under discussion at that year's NATO conference.

STEVEN SPEILBERG'S FILMS will no doubt show up on cable TV from time to time, but he won’t be making any films specifically for the small screen.

“I will not be making movies for cable. I‘ll be making motion pictures.”

Those were encouraging words for theater owners from all over the country gathered in Miami last month for the annual convention of the National Association of Theater Owners.

Spielberg was being honored by the association for his popular “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” which ran away with box office receipts for 1982. The producer-director (and sometimes writer) also told those at a NATO banquet that he would make films “for the entire family.”

It’s no secret that doomsdayers are ringing the death knell for movie theaters as we know them, so it was good news indeed to hear the top director in Hollywood pledge his support for theatrical film. There is no question that Spielberg has the golden touch, when it comes to filmmaking, with a string of box office and critical hits that would make any Hollywoodite envious: “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Poltergeist” – and, of course, the aforementioned “E.T.,” which may prove to be the biggest box office grosser of all time (assuming “Star Wars” is ready to retire).

ALSO BEING HONORED at the convention were Dudley Moore, Goldie Hawn and Richard

Pryor. And, as usual, Pryor got off the best line of the evening when he looked around the convention hall and noted, “This is the first time I realized there are no black people who own theaters.”

SPEAKING OF CABLE TV, Universal Pictures is going ahead with its previously announced

plans to screen “Pirates of Penzance” on a one-time only, pay-per-view basis come Feb. 18. That decision has theater operators up in arms since the film is supposed to open in movie houses the same day.

      Linda Ronstadt, 'The Pirates of Penzance'

According to Hollywood’s trade paper, Variety, Universal officials admit that part of the rationale is that the studio doesn’t have much faith in “Pirates” theatrical capabilities, but feels Linda Ronstadt, who stars in the film with the Broadway cast, might be a TV draw.

Theater owners, naturally, feel the TV showing will cut into their profits. Though there is no boycott against booking the film, Variety says most theater owners across the country are planning to ignore it.

The main concern is that if Universal’s experiment is successful, the “Pirates” pay-per-view showing would lead to more in the future, and as cable grows, so will it’s audience.

Currently, there aren’t a lot of pay-per-view outlets around the country at large. The film will probably not be seen on cable here in Utah, for example.

ANOTHER INTERESTING CABLE development is the resurrection of the original “Heaven’s

Gate,” the $44 million (including advertising costs) Western from Michael Cimino that is considered the biggest money-loser of all time. It became a megaflop when New York critics blasted the film on its November, 1980, premiere. That version ran 3 hours, 40 minutes. But no one else saw the original film, since MGM-UA pulled it the next day, had Cimino cut it down to 2 ½ hours and then released it that way the next April.

          Kris Kristofferson, 'Heaven's Gate'

That was a national release, and critics nationally did much the same thing the Eastern press had done. The doomed Western died a slow box office death shortly thereafter.

The film was subsequently re-edited to an even shorter running time, the title was changed to “The Johnson County Wars,” and it was farmed out to MGM-UA’s classics division for sporadic release.

Now, the Z Channel, a Los Angeles cable station is going to run the original 3-hour, 40-minute version, feeling it was better than critics indicated, and that the lengthier film is more understandable.

It’ll play over Christmas, the first time the public at large will have an opportunity to see that version, and MGM-UA admits that if it still flops, the public may never hear of “Heaven’s Gate” again.

There’s hope for even the most hopeless flop in videoland.