So many cable networks have scheduled Halloween programming stunts this year, it's frightening.
Networks of all genres-from kids-targeted services to movie channels-are on the pumpkin wagon this weekend and early next week, with programming tied to the spooky Oct. 31 holiday.
Some nets will air horror-film festivals. Fox Family Channel goes so far as to bow three original series-The Fearing Mind,Real Scary StoriesandThe Zack Files-during its 100-hour "13 Days of Halloween" event.
There are a variety of reasons why cable networks are jamming their schedules with Halloween fare.
"All the networks are looking to build a franchise," said Marc Juris, American Movie Classics' senior vice president of original programming. "Any holiday has built-in awareness that it's easy to attach yourself to.
"Holidays give you a little traction. We all do stunting because it does work and viewers expect it. They expect you to mark a holiday."
AMC's third annual "Monsterfest" this year involves five days of programming and 58 films. The schedule includes such Universal Studios horror titles from the 1930s asDracula, starring Bela Lugosi.
"Monsterfest 2000: The Classics Come Alive," which airs Oct. 27 to 31, will also include the original special
Bride of Monster Mania,which is hosted by horror queen Elvira, the so-called mistress of the dark.
AMC will make this year's Monsterfest a "multiplatform experience," Juris said. Through its Web site, AMC will offer a trivia sweepstakes and contest tied to its Halloween stunt. The network also hopes to "contemporize" Universal's classic films by providing in-depth online information, as well as interactive games and virtual-reality set tours of the Universal back lot.
Marketers report that Halloween is the third-most popular holiday among young children and "tweens," scoring right behind Christmas and Valentine's Day. As a result, it's an opportunity for cable networks to tie their Halloween stunts into promotional events with both local cable-system affiliates and national consumer-goods companies.
Fox Family, for example, is partnering with the Fruit Label Co. and Kraft Inc.'s Post Cereals unit.
About 25 million stickers promoting "13 Days of Halloween"-which runs Oct. 19 to Oct. 31-will be affixed to apples shipped out to grocery stores. Fox Family will also partner with Post Cereals, placing computer sound chips that generate scary noises into cereal boxes.
Fox Family will target its Halloween-themed programs to kids and tweens during the day and adults at night, said general manager Tracy Lawrence. In addition to the three new series, the network will air the five-night special eventScariest Places on Earth, from Oct. 23 to Oct. 27. Hosted by Linda Blair, the special will follow a real family as it spends 24 hours in a haunted castle.
The network has created stunts around two other holidays-Christmas and Father's Day-but Halloween is the biggest initiative of the three. "Halloween is a terrific time to do family programming, and our branded holidays are historically ratings' drivers for us," Lawrence said.
With those additional viewers expected to tune in, Halloween presents the perfect platform for the debut of new series with supernatural themes, according to Lawrence.
"The new shows really tie in well," she said.
Cartoon Network will link its annual "
Scooby-DooHalloween Marathon" to a Burger King Corp. promotion. The fast-food giant is giving away Scooby-Doo themed toys with its Big Kids Meals from Oct. 9 to Nov. 5.
Cartoon Network has aired Halloween stunts, typically centered aroundScooby-Doo: Where Are You?, since its 1992 launch, according to Dea Perez, vice president of programming. This year's efforts will run from Oct. 23 to Halloween itself, and Scooby will share the spotlight withCourage the Cowardly Dog.
"We want to give him more exposure," Perez said.
Cartoon will run a contest in which viewers can vote for "The Biggest Canine Coward," either Scooby-Doo or Courage. On Oct. 29, Cartoon will air a marathon of the winner's episodes. The day before, Oct. 28, Cartoon will run a Scooby-Doo movie marathon. And on Halloween night itself, Cartoon will premiere a new episode of
Since Scooby-Doo and friends solve mysteries and Courage battles "ghosts and ghouls," Halloween stunts featuring the characters are a natural for Cartoon, according to Perez. "And it's always a nice [ratings] spike for us."
USA Cable isn't being left out of the act this Halloween. USA Network and Sci Fi Channel for the first time will simulcast the wild Halloween Parade in New York's Greenwich Village. USA will also air the original movieDark Prince: The True Story of Dracula,on Oct. 31.
In addition to her duties as mistress of AMC's special, Elvira will also host Game Show Network's All Hallow's Eve presentation of
Game Show Saturday Nighton Oct. 28. In this "raise-the-dead" special edition, GSN will air six pilots of game shows that "got the ax" before making it to the air. Those pilots include 1977'sThe Riddlers,with a pre-Late ShowDavid Letterman as host.
Lifetime Television has brewed its own Halloween event, scheduling a "Horror Weekend" from Oct. 28 to 29. The lineup will feature fare such as the original movie
The Haunting of Lisawith Cheryl Ladd, the Stephen King miniseriesIt,and a number of suspense movies.
Sister services Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel and Discovery Kids Channel are putting their own twist on Halloween. Discovery Channel will air
Vampire HunterandOn the Inside: the Real Ghostbusters.
TLC from Oct. 27 to Oct. 29 will air a half-dozen Halloween and supernatural-themed shows. The lineup includes the debut ofSasquatch Odyssey: The Hunt for Bigfooton Oct. 28. The next evening, TLC will airHaunted History,as well asNight Visitors,
which chronicles legendary supernatural stories.
Discovery Kids, in turn, has its own "Creepy, Crawly Halloween" weekend from Oct. 28 to Oct. 29, which includesMega Movie Magic, a look at the world of horror films. Even BBC America will make hay out of the Halloween tradition. It will air an encore presentation of the four-part miniseries
Gormenghast,based on Mervyn Peake's trilogy, on Oct. 31.
AMC's sister network, Independent Film Channel, will wrap up its independent film horror festival, "Indie Screams," on Halloween. IFC kicked off that event Friday the Thirteenth, Oct. 13, with its original documentary
The American Nightmare.
AMC is banking that this year's Monsterfest will be as big as prior ones.
"We've had great success with it," Juris said. "Our ratings are strong during Halloween. Our affiliates respond really strongly to it. And it's a great chance to be inventive and different. It's fun."