Cable networks believe in the power of music — or at least in the power of music stars to inspire compelling original films and miniseries based on their real-life stories.
BET, Lifetime and TV One will add to a growing list of made-for-cable movies depicting the lives of current and past pop-music icons.
And TV audiences are applauding these telefilms. For instance, Lifetime’s Jan. 23 original movie Toni Braxton: Unbreak My Heart, a biography of the popular R&B singer, drew 3.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
It was the most-watched original cable movie among adults 25-54 and women 18-49 since another Lifetime music biopic — Whitney, about the late superstar Whitney Houston — in January of 2015, Nielsen reported.
And female-targeted Lifetime said it will strike up the band again with a film based on the life of R&B singer Michel’le, who was discovered in the 1990s by members of rap group N.W.A.
Looks at musical lives aren’t new for cable networks. Documentary series, led by VH1’s iconic Behind the Music and continuing with current shows such as TV One’s Unsung, have offered a nonfiction look at popular hitmakers both past and present. Dramatizing these familiar stories in a two-hour, scripted format creates more viewer interest and appeal, network executives said.
“People like to know that the drama they’re seeing has some basis in the truth,” BET president of programming Stephen Hill said. “For viewers, it presents an accurate representation of a story, but from another point of view.”
Lifetime’s ratings success with music-themed movies follows HBO’s 2015 docufilm Bessie, which received critical acclaim for its portrayal of blues singer Bessie Smith. The movie took home four Emmy Awards this past September, including one for best television movie, and garnered Golden Globe, Critics’ Choice, Emmy and SAG awards nods for its lead actress, Queen Latifah.
BET this fall will highlight the career of 1980s R&B group New Edition in a three-part miniseries. Music is already part of the network’s DNA through major tentpole events such as the BET Awards and the Soul Train Music Awards, so New Edition: The Movie fits BET’s brand and appeals to its target African-American viewers, according to president and CEO Debra Lee.
TV One in June will premiere its first biopic, focusing on the life of R&B singer Miki Howard. It’s one of 26 original movies scheduled to air this year, according to network senior vice president of original programming D’Angela Proctor.
Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story will follow the popular singer’s rise from homeless teen-ager to R&B royalty.
TV One is also developing All This Love: The DeBarge Family Story, based on the career of R&B musical group DeBarge, and Ella & Marilyn, about the mostly unknown and unexpected friendship between legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald and actress Marilyn Monroe.
Proctor said the music-themed bio films are an extension of Unsung, which chronicles the careers of R&B singers and groups. The movies will give TV One another entry point into the popular music genre, she added.
Hoops-Fueled TBS Tops April
TBS finished the month of April as the most watched network in primetime, bolstered by its coverage of the NCAA Final Four, which secured four slots among the top 10 most-watched shows during the month. AMC’s The Walking Dead continued its rampage, though, holding on to No. 1.
Date Show Network Total Viewers
4/3 The Walking Dead AMC 19.3 million
4/4 NCAA Championship: Villanova-North Carolina TBS 14.0 million
4/2 NCAA Final Four: North Carolina-Syracuse TBS 10.2 million
4/10 Fear the Walking Dead AMC 9.4 million
4/2 Final Four Studio Show TBS 8.5 million
4/2 NCAA Final Four: Villanova-Oklahoma TBS 8.3 million
4/24 Game of Thrones HBO 7.9 million
4/17 Fear the Walking Dead AMC 7.7 million
4/3 Talking Dead AMC 7.6 million
4/5 The People v. O.J. Simpson FX 6.7 million
3/29 The People v. O.J Simpson FX 6.7 million
SOURCE : Nielsen. Ratings period: 3/28-4/24. Viewing Type: Live-plus-7-day blended with live-plus-3-day from 4/11-4/21 and live-plus-same day from 4/22 to 4/24.
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