Movie of the week

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In the truest sense of the term, a movie of the week (sometimes shortened to MOW or MOTW) is any movie—be it made-for-television or theatrical—which airs weekly in a timeslot reserved by a network for that type of programming. However, as Hollywood industry jargon, it refers to almost any movie produced by a broadcast network (or some non-premium cable networks, particularly those which rely heavily on ad revenues) specifically for distribution and debut on television and on that network.

The term was coined by ABC, which debuted its ABC Movie of the Week in 1969 and dominated the genre throughout the 1970s. Several of ABC's MOW's of the era—including Steven Spielberg's feature debut Duel and the 1971 male-oriented tearjerker Brian's Song—became classics of the format and in general. By the middle of the 1970s, CBS and NBC jumped in with their own imitations—the latter with the NBC Mystery Movie, which would feature a rotating headliner each week, including Columbo and McCloud. By the end of the decade, the format continued to thrive, but it had also mutated into the heyday of the miniseries format in America, with such series as Rich Man, Poor Man, Roots, Shogun and Jesus of Nazareth nabbing high ratings, numerous awards and record-breaking ad revenues.

However, as the 1980s wore on and became the 1990s, and as PBS grabbed more critical attention with its American premieres of TV movies and miniseries from overseas (particularly the United Kingdom) and such cable networks as HBO, TNT and FX debuted and matured and began to produce their own original movies and miniseries, the format largely fell out of favor on broadcast channels. While there have certainly been successful and acclaimed MOW's and miniseries since the 1990s, in sharp contrast with the high prestige it once enjoyed, today, the term "MOW" is associated by many critics and insiders in Hollywood with melodramatic tones, simplistic themes and low production values. Many contemporary MOW's are either based on a true story or inspired by recent events, particularly those which relate to sensationalistic news stories or national disasters (such as the attacks of 9/11 or the devastation of Hurricane Katrina), sometimes released mere weeks to months after the events themselves occurred. These cheaply, quickly produced MOW's are also frequently cast with actors who were once popular but have not been as high-profile in more recent years.