In a surprising move, NBC's new scheduling topper Vince Manze is bringing back theatrical movies - a genre that largely has been written off by the broadcast networks and relegated to graveyard Saturdays - to three high-profile Sunday nights during the May sweep.
The move is part of the strategy of veteran NBC promotion executive Manze, who said this month when he was named president of program planning, scheduling and strategy that he would focus on building event programming.
Looking to do that, he saw that the network had runs on romantic comedy "Along Came Polly," action-adventure "National Treasure" (both broadcast TV premieres) and a final run of "Shrek" and decided to put them on.
"Sunday seemed like the best place - where we used to do events and miniseries," Manze said. "It seemed like a great thing to do and it accomplishes two things: building events and serving as counterprogramming to what the others are doing [on the night]."
In picking the movies, Manze said he went for titles he can easily promote. For instance, he selected "Polly" because of its cast - bankable feature comedy star Ben Stiller and such familiar faces to the NBC audience as "Friends" alum Jennifer Aniston, "Will & Grace's" Debra Messing and "Mad About You's" Hank Azaria.
Manze said ratings expectations for the movies are not huge, but he wants to try things with an eye for next season. Just like ABC struggled for years to jump-start its Monday lineup after "Monday Night Football" ended, NBC had difficulty getting traction on post-football Sunday night this season. Manze hopes that using event programming instead of trying to launch series in January and February might work better.