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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Harvest 2015 --- Part Two

The Biggest Audiences Hammer Ever Had

When did a largest-ever viewership sit down to Hammer films? By available evidence, it looks to have been during the 1967-68 broadcast season, when networks premiered Evil of Frankenstein(1-2-68), Hammer's Phantom of the Opera (1-30-68, repeated 6-29-68), and Kiss of the Vampire, as retitled Kiss of Evil (12-19-67), these shown on NBC. Then there was Die! Die! My Darling on CBS (1-27-67, repeated 7-13-67) and The Nanny (also CBS: 10-31-68, repeated 8-28-69). Ratings and audience share aren't there for every title, but it would appear that The Nanny was the best crowd getter of the primetime lot. A number of Hammer films would show up later on the CBS Late Movie, a 70's showcase where most monster boomers saw these films for the first time. Quick poll: How many caught The Nanny, or any of these Hammers, in a theatre as opposed to television? I'll bet statistics would go ten to one in TV, or cassette/DVD, favor. For vast viewing majority, the tube was primary source for not just Hammer movies, but all movies.

Veteran producer Edward Small pointed up the disparity to Variety on 11-17-65: "Most "A" pictures, with few exceptions, play to 5,000,000 people domestically (in theatres) over a period of five years. On TV, they are seen by twenty million in one night." Broadcasting magazine would estimate audience mass in a 4-27-70 survey, to wit "186 million men, women, and children in this nation's 58.5 million television homes today." Competition for high-end theatrical movies for network broadcast was ferocious, prices through the 60's on the up ... and up. Genres were rated by Broadcasting according to viewer appeal, "Science-Fiction" lying at flat bottom. It was OK for late shows and fallow daytime, but a primetime audience resisted far-out content, at least for the 60's period under consideration.

Movies were sold to networks, for a most part, on same package basis as syndication; " ... to acquire the blockbusters from a major studio, it is also necessary to buy the studio's dogs," said The New York Times in a 1-7-68 overview titled "The Silver Screen Is A Goldmine." Of course, there were minimal standards. Some of merchandise was unacceptable on its face, "of non-network quality and many produced in Europe and other parts of the world." These went to so-called "first-run" syndication, and would include most of Hammer films. Fox and Columbia, however, was able to salt CBS packages with The Nanny and Die! Die! My Darling, respectively, these more palatable for being "suspense thrillers" as opposed to monster label hung on most Hammers, and they featured meaningful 60's names (Bette Davis, Stephanie "Girl From U.N.C.L.E." Powers). The mid-60's had seen prices climb to an average of $300,000 for a feature on network primetime. That figure would be bumped by a historic deal inked between NBC and Universal in October, 1965, "About sixty U pix for network telecasting at an approximate price of $500,000 per pic," as reported by Variety on 10-27-65. There would also be "freshly produced features for TV, at a minimum budget of $500,000 per pic," said the announcement. The combination of first-run theatricals and made-for-TV's would run on NBC beginning with the 1966-67 season and thereafter.

The goodies included That Touch of Mink, The Birds, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Charade. Then there were the "World Premieres," shabby as most were (Ed Small referred to them as "garbage"), though ratings were often a wow. What smelled were small change Universals that should have gone straight to TV in the first place, or theatrical flops that NBC had to take in order to snare the good ones. $500K was tag hung on each of the feature lot, thus checks writ for The Brass Bottle, a McHale's Navy feature, and the three Hammers, Phantom of the Opera, Evil of Frankenstein, and Kiss of Evil. Added headaches from the horrors was necessity to shoot footage to take place of stuff nixed by network standards, or padding to fill a two-hour time slot. Maybe "Vampire" in a title was onerous to affiliates or family viewing, thus Kiss of Evil as amended moniker to enhance confusion and mislead those (very) few of us who'd bought tickets for Kiss of the Vampire back in 1963 and looked forward to seeing it again (not here as it turned out, NBC's version a historic shambles).

Further stain upon Hammers was fact none of the NBC three had done much good in theatres, Phantom declared a letdown in 1962, while Kiss of the Vampire of following year took piddling $357K in domestic rentals, followed by Evil of Frankenstein in 1964 earning $567K. Double these figures and you'll have something near the domestic gross, giving Evil of Frankenstein, for instance, $1.134 million. Let's say everyone got in for fifty cents, a low number for 1964 admissions (average ticket price that year more like ninety-three cents). That would put 2,268,000 people in seats for Evil of Frankenstein in theatres. For its TV premiere on Tuesday, January 2, 1968, the film had an 18.8 rating and a 30.8 audience share. The 1967-68 season saw 56,670,000 US households with television sets. 18.8% of that number is 10,653,960, latter being percentage of households with a TV, in use or not. The audience share (30.8) was estimated percentage of television sets actually turned on and viewing Evil of Frankenstein during the 9-11 PM broadcast hours on 2-2-68. With at least two viewers to a household, Universal could claim, for later syndication promotion, that Evil of Frankenstein pulled minimum of twenty million watchers on 2-2-68 (same figure cited by Edward Small to represent typical viewership for a network movie at the time). NBC would have its smash run of The Birds on 1-6-68, four days after Evil of Frankenstein, and nab a 38.9 rating, this conferring bragging right to 47,700,000 tuned in for the Hitchcock thriller. There was argument as to accuracy of such grandiose figures, so much that trade advertising often ran small print disclaimer: Rating and Audience Information Are Estimates Only, Subject To The Limitations Of Source Materials and Methods (another way of saying that audience research was never anything but an educated guess).

Syndication Ad Slick Sent To Buyer TV Stations
The half million paid by NBC to MCA-Universal for the latter's three Hammer films was far from an end to revenue these chillers would generate. Universal owned the negatives, along with other Hammers, and TV was where they'd realize a largest return. A group of 40 Universals for "first-run telecasting" was sold in 1965 at "about $100,000 per title" (Variety) to five US stations owned and operated by NBC. Included in the lot was Brides of Dracula, which played several of the O&O's in 1966 primetime before it went into wider syndication in 4-67, the point at which all of U's Hammers, including off-network Evil/Kiss/Phantom, as well as Curse of the Werewolf, Night Creatures, Nightmare, and Paranoiac, were sold to local channels for broadcast dates beginning in fall 1968. As to price, Variety on 2-15-67 reported that "MCA expects to gross about $400,000 per title in domestic syndication." This was money to make the films' theatrical revenue look puny by comparison. Forget Kiss of the Vampire and $357K from 1963 dates --- now it was Kiss of Evil with tens of millions more watching (and seeing it for a first time in truncated form), $900,000 rolled up from television sales by the late 60's, with promise of more as Kiss and other Hammers were re-packaged and resold. Theatrical had been the shallowest of revenue streams. Universal realized from a first subcontract with Hammer that television would be the ultimate site of pay off, and point at which all this horror group would go into profit.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Never cared much for EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN. The make-up on the monster promised the classic Universal look on the posters but the monster came up short for me. Liked theatrical of KISS OF THE VAMPIRE when I finally got the dvd. Great piece. Thanks.

2:39 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

Judging from a quick look at Ed Small's filmography, he knew from garbage.

3:15 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

So by this time, were film budgets predicated on an eventual TV sale? And was that purely studio profit? If some portion went back to producers and creators, somebody with a box office hit might see his title splitting proceeds equally with a stack of flops.

An amusing analog might be the budget DVDs with 2, 3 or 4 studio catalog titles. While some are box sets repackaged or otherwise logical groupings, many seem to be one or two reasonable successes dragging some also rans.

5:08 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts reflects on horror films going downhill during the late 60's (Part One):

Hello John,

I can answer and qualify to your question as to who saw most
of their Hammer Horror viewings in a theater rather than TV, thanks to my
beloved Wallace and Ladmo Saturday matinees that ran most of the Hammer and AIP
movies to us kids, along with the Three Stooges, Don Knotts, Jerry Lewis and
Robert Youngson features, as well as other considered kiddie fare of the 1960’s.
The Hammers were especially memorable because sometimes they got censored G or
M/GP/PG versions, and sometimes, and even better, they were not (I still have
great recall of an unexpurgated print of FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED being
unspooled before a delighted and probably somewhat traumatized audience of
mostly male kids, the high-pitched sound of several hundred pre-pubescent voices
shouting “EWWWWWWWWWWW!” at occasional intervals is something that imprints
permanently on one’s long term memory).

I will also attest to your
previous Part One article’s theory as to the decline of Horror Films by the late
60’s and the Beginning of the MPAA ratings, it never bothered me so much with
the Hammer Films, but I have never been the worshipper at that shrine that so
many other Monster Kids were, even at their best I always found them humorless,
mean-spirited and exploitative, good British actors wasted in warmed over
retreads that Universal did way better and more humanely in black and white,
blood, breasts and gore just not enough replacement for lackluster scripts, they
just got more and more exploitative, violent and forgettable, with the
occasional interesting offshoot like VAMPIRE CIRCUS (1972) or CAPTAIN KRONOS
VAMPIRE HUNTER (1974) or the occasional actually good one like THE DEVIL RIDES
OUT (1968).

8:08 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Richard M. Roberts:

What was sad was what happened to AIP, as they tried to ape
Hammer in an attempt at hipness and British co-production, with either nasty
depressive pictures like WITCHFINDER GENERAL/THE CONQUEROR WORM (1968), messes
(1970), or the later attempts to make Ray Milland a horror star (FROGS anybody?
THE THING WITH TWO HEADS?) or the attempts to make new 70’s horror icons
(BLACULA, COUNT YORGA?). At least Vincent Price got to go out on a campy high
note with the Dr Phibes pictures, but AIP ran out of steam at just about the
same time Hammer did, and perhaps Boris Karloff’s retirement message in TARGETS
did ring true, that today’s headlines were more horrible than anything the old
Gentleman Monsters could conjure up, and the audiences just didn’t want to be
frightened by the good old frights anymore. When the horror films revived again
with HALLOWEEN it was the violent slasher crap that took the lead, and as
audiences sadly got inured to that heightened level of violence, they just kept
upping it and upping it. I gave up on that nonsense quickly along with most
modern moviemaking as it got worse and worse, horror movies now are just loud,
stupid, mean-spirited and bloody, along with much of the audience.

I liked
hearing you mention the CBS LATE NIGHT MOVIE, that was indeed an interesting
mélange of moviemaking on tap that came on the scene about the time Johnny
Carson started going on auto-pilot and made for good late-evening viewing while
waiting for Tom Snyder to come on over at NBC. Not only the Hammers and AIP’s,
but good old stuff too, a lot of the Selznick films, MGM’s, Jerry Lewis both
with and without Dean, some other British things, A NIGHT IN CASABLANCA with the
Marx Brothers once ran, and indeed the US Television premiere of MONTY PYTHON
AND THE HOLY GRAIL also aired there, albeit with much bleeping and snipping.
That was always worth looking into back in the days before I gave up on
television as well.


8:09 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I will enthusiastically answer your question, reliving the milestone memory of sitting in a grindhouse on my thirteenth birthday delightedly watching, with childhood buddy Dave Mueller, EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN double billed with the black white thriller NIGHTMARE. We lived in a theaterless suburb, and working out the logistics of bartering for rides just to where we could catch city buses was a kind of rite of passage thing. At the time I was totally taken by Cushing and Kiwi Kingston's shoe-box-head monster and harbored a huge crush on Katy Wild. My pal greatly preferred the bloody carving knife antics in the second feature. Time, alas, has proven Dave the more astute critic, but I still have a deep nostalgic tug at just the mention of EOF. First of many Hammers I saw on the big screen in the sixties, although all of the others you mention I'm sure I first encountered on their network premiers. In addition to the first run vampires, mummies, zombies, cave girls, gorgons and mad monks there were regular re-releases like CURSE OF F, HORROR OF D and THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH.

I was already a sophisticated teenager by time I saw the three mucked-up Hammers NBC ran. One of my most cherished childhood recollections is my giddy anticipation of just watching the original credits of EVIL, superimposed over Cushing busily carving up the chest of a corpse ('Oh, boy! This is gonna be great!') Whole sequence totally censored on the network run. I knew right then these things were meant to be seen in musty half filled grindhouses and not-quite-dim-enough drive-ins. Still enjoy the DVDs and Warner Instant streams, but mostly for nostalgia not the chills.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

My personal response to your "Quick Poll". I saw THE NANNY and EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN in their original theatrical releases. I saw KISS OF THE VAMPIRE in a theatrical sub-run.

DIE, DIE, MY DARLING I caught on its first network showing, but PHANTOM OF THE OPERA had to wait for syndication. I saw it on the local 4 pm movie.

Of course, I'm pretty old.

10:55 AM  

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