The time has come to provide our faithful readers an update on the status of Matinee at the Bijou. Here is a complete behind-the-scenes report on our progress to date, and some timely words about the challenge that lies ahead.
Two years ago PBS gave the green light to the Matinee at the Bijou sequel series, with the beloved Debbie Reynolds as host, subject to the securing of sponsorship. Due to the history and success of the series, we expected that with a little hard work and patience, corporate sponsorship would follow. After all, during the 1980s, Matinee at the Bijou was one of the most popular programs on PBS and for five consecutive seasons often ranked among the top ten shows (even though it was a fringe time show) with a weekly audience often exceeding ten million viewers.
After many months of attempting to get the attention of obvious sponsor targets, and in most cases not getting any response at all, we came to the realization that we lacked the necessary expertise to attract a sponsor ourselves. We further learned that most corporations do not review unsolicited proposals, but instead send them on to a mega-agency that does this for them. So we contacted one of these agencies to inquire which of their clients might find interest in MATB. To our dismay, we learned that sponsorship proposals today are initially processed by computer. Specific data is fed into the computer and it does the analysis. The person we spoke to, in a kind-hearted attempt to spare us further wasted time, told us that if the project is for PBS, the computer automatically spits it out because: “If it’s a PBS show, further consideration is unwarranted, as PBS ratings and key demographics fall below required thresholds.”
We also learned that to succeed we needed to incorporate the emerging new Web 2.0 associations - now essential for TV series sponsorships. Web 2.0, as it relates to television shows, includes a blog or website, a presence on YouTube, and a variety of other social networking applications. So in November, 2006, we launched the Bijou Blog, and last year began our weekly series of Bijou Mini-Matinees on YouTube.
We further realized that we needed professional representation, so we approached the WGBH Sponsorship Group for help. We talked with Suzanne Zellner, only to learn that, ironically, the WGBH Sponsorship Group had temporarily ceased taking on new clients until they overhauled their operation and adjusted their contracts to incorporate all the new Web 2.0 language and codices. Suzanne complimented us on our MATB Web 2.0 development and graciously took the time to review our pitch package and provide some tips and suggestions.
Last fall we approached Adam Gronski at PBS affiliate WETA for advice. WETA is the venerable PBS station that brings us Washington Week and the Ken Burns’ documentaries, and has a separate sponsorship department much like WGBH. Adam was impressed with how we had integrated the MATB series content into the new Web 2.0 demands. He described MATB as having “all the arms and legs” and ripe for pitching to sponsors. Adam agreed to rep the series and he and his talented associates spent several months attempting to secure a sponsorship, but without success.
We learned from WETA that for MATB to achieve corporate sponsorship on PBS alone would require what is known as “common carriage.” Common carriage means that a show is on all (or nearly all) PBS stations on the same day and at the same time. We proposed to PBS the idea of airing MATB on Friday nights at 10:00 pm in common carriage, but were told that the competition was already too keen for what little PBS prime time was not already booked with established PBS shows.
Based on the foregoing experience and education, we believe we have figured out the key to successfully funding MATB. Our new approach follows the emerging pattern of establishing two separate broadcast (or webcast) homes for a single series. As an example, “Dexter,” the Showtime original series, recently established a separate broadcast home on commercial CBS. Showtime premieres each episode first, and a few months later the episodes begin showing on CBS – along with commercials. Accordingly, we are seeking a commercial network to become a “dual home” broadcast partner with public television stations in bringing back the MATB series.
Fortunately, there are now emerging a number of niche networks highly suited to MATB content. For example, Retirement Living TV is a new and dynamic commercial cable TV network catering specifically to the underserved senior demographic. We recently pitched them MATB, with very encouraging results. RLTV is soon to expand from a weekday-only to a 24/7 broadcast schedule, but it all won’t be in place until next year. We were encouraged to revisit discussions with RLTV in the fall if we have not found our home by that time.
Another growing niche network that is currently expanding its programming prowess is RFD-TV. RFD is filling the void left when the Nashville Network was replaced by Spike TV. RFD’s demographic appeal is to rural America. Once during the 1980s, The Nashville Network expressed interest in MATB, but we were already committed to PBS as the series home. Perhaps the second time around.
The new Smithsonian Channel accepts advertising and is programmed by Showtime, so the same “dual-home” combination fueled by commercial ads and underwriting spots would have potential here as well. America’s classic movie heritage is a key asset among America’s treasures. And after all, where else on television but on Turner Classic Movies or TV Land can you watch classic cartoons, shorts and serials? The Hallmark Channel owns the Laurel & Hardy shorts, but doesn’t show them. Even The Cartoon Network has pretty much abandoned the showing of classic pre-1960 cartoons.
The Bijou Team is currently preparing pitches to the various pay-cable movie networks, since they depend upon original programming to attract new subscribers, but until now have not tried showcasing a weekend daytime original series. Matinee at the Bijou, with the wonderful Debbie Reynolds hosting, would surely attract new subscribers to HBO, Showtime or Starz channels.
Then there are doors to knock on across the pond. The British love classic American movies and we are preparing a pitch to BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel Four. Web casting networks continue to emerge with unique new advertising models which we are also investigating.
In the days and weeks ahead, the Bijou Team will continue our quest for a commercial-based network as a second home along with public television. Adam Gronski of WETA will continue to represent the series.
Meanwhile, through the Bijou Blog we will continue to share what we learn along the way and introduce our readers to the passionate people we encounter who are also working effectively to preserve our classic movie heritage. And the weekly Bijou Mini-Matinees will continue to change on Wednesdays. We welcome comments and suggestions (or leads) from our readers. Please address your correspondence to executive producer Ron Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org.