Home Entertainment Star Wars TV schedule makes it a vacation hit

Star Wars TV schedule makes it a vacation hit


Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney just lately renewed a singular deal that retains the franchise’s 11 motion pictures in heavy cable and broadcast rotation — particularly in the course of the holidays

An illustration of a TV with a Star Wars character.
(Illustration by Elena Lacey/The Washington Put up; iStock)

When Eddie Groves remembers the Christmas breaks of his childhood many years in the past, it contains blustery winter mornings, the home all cozy, and, nearly at all times, a Star Wars film airing on TV. The unique trilogy, he means, with Luke Skywalker and the Insurgent Alliance attempting to defeat Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire. He can nonetheless image, fairly vividly, the HBO intro video that guided him by way of a pretend animated metropolis earlier than arriving in a galaxy far, distant.

“The Empire Strikes Again” was one thing he’d watch quite a bit throughout these winters, mentioned Groves, 44, co-host of a Star Wars podcast known as “Echo Base.” When the film ended, he’d choose up his personal Kenner-brand Star Wars toys and rush outdoors into the chilly winter snow to reenact the film’s epic battle on the icy planet of Hoth. These repeat airings of Star Wars turned “an extension of my household,” he mentioned, particularly in the course of the holidays.

Graves’s expertise isn’t distinctive. Thousands and thousands of Star Wars followers get nostalgia pangs in the course of the vacation season, when they’re accustomed to seeing broadcasts of their beloved motion pictures — round Christmas, particularly, but additionally New Yr’s, Memorial Day weekend, Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. In many years of repeat broadcasts in unique cable TV licensing offers, a Star Wars marathon can pop up throughout any vacation weekend, all yr, and it might probably have the ability of the Demise Star’s tractor beam, drawing everybody in: Earlier than you recognize it, a lot of the day has elapsed, one Star Wars chapter after one other, shot by way of with Verizon, Burger King and Liberty Mutual advertisements.

At Christmas, the Star Wars trilogies and two spinoff movies (“Rogue One” and “Solo”), which nobody would placed on an official checklist of “Christmas” motion pictures, blare within the background, filling the area between soccer video games, entertaining the children in addition to the sentimental adults. Though it’s true that in 2023 anybody can stream a Star Wars film any previous time, with out advertisements.

“After I stumble onto watching Star Wars on TV, it’s often a whole shock,” mentioned Sean Roome, a 28-year-old Star Wars fan from Portland, Ore. “It’s one thing I didn’t know I needed however it’s at all times appreciated. … You may spend numerous hours in a galaxy far, distant. All in all, by no means a nasty method to spend a day without work.”

That’s why each Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery — two mega firms continuously battling for viewership, rankings and viewers share — just lately got here to an settlement akin to the Rise up and Empire’s Coruscant Accords: They each now have the rights to air Star Wars marathons on their respective cable networks, with a eager eye on ensuring they don’t infiltrate the opposite’s territory.

Disney, after all, owns Star Wars, which it purchased for billions of {dollars} from George Lucas in 2012. However Warner Bros. Discovery’s Turner and TNT cable networks have had the lock on a Star Wars TV license for a protracted, very long time.

When Disney-owned FX aired a Star Wars marathon over a weekend this fall, it indicated the start of a brand new association, one which’s nearly as difficult as a Skywalker household dinner. Fairly than hold Star Wars all to itself, Disney re-upped Warner’s proper to broadcast the all of the movies for the foreseeable future. Neither firm would disclose the length of the deal, which is a profitable association for 2 firms that might sometimes not do one another any favors, particularly in a combative streaming period.

Warner, which simply aired all three trilogies in the course of the opening days of December, doesn’t have any plans to run the movie sequence once more for the vacations. However FX, now owned by Disney, has a number of Star Wars marathons on faucet this month, together with a marathon on Dec. 23 and 24. Moreover, Disney-owned ABC just lately aired “The Empire Strikes Again” on a Sunday night time — a uncommon sighting of a “Star Wars” movie on broadcast TV.

Star Wars is a narrative ripe for the vacation season. At its core, the unique trilogy is a couple of younger boy attempting to save lots of the galaxy and begin his heroic journey. it somewhat deeper, you’ll see vivid worlds of snow, cute teddy bear armies, a toy retailer’s value of shiny starships. Add to {that a} bunch of household drama.

Lengthy related to summertime blockbusters on the film theaters, “It was made for the winter time,” Groves mentioned. For followers of a sure age, one thing particular by some means stays about Star Wars being on the tv.

The rights to air the Star Wars movies on tv have bounced round because the authentic movie’s cable rights first turned out there to tens of millions by way of pay-per-view gadgets in 1982 — two years earlier than CBS had the proper to broadcast it. For a very long time, commonplace follow inside the business gave HBO and different pay channels like Showtime the chance to current motion pictures after their theatrical run first earlier than they appeared on community tv.

CBS, NBC and Fox all had their photographs at airing varied Star Wars tasks thereafter, together with when CBS premiered the closely maligned “Star Wars Vacation Particular” in 1978. NBC aired “The Empire Strikes Again” in 1987 with a notable Darth Vader introduction video. Linear TV rights shuffled round with the prequels trilogy, which debuted within the early-aughts. “The Phantom Menace” and “Assault of the Clones” have been despatched immediately from the studio of Twentieth Century Fox to the Fox TV stations for his or her premieres.

Ultimately, the Turner networks received the chance to air the unique Star Wars movies on their channels. In 2016, Warner nabbed full cable rights to 10 of the “Star Wars” movies from Disney in 2016 in a seven-year deal value $250 million. This was the primary time that TBS and TNT had the proper to air the “Star Wars” motion pictures, although TBS particularly had a “few small home windows” to air the franchise’s first movie, “A New Hope” in 1999, in accordance with a Warner spokesperson. (The cable rights to 1977’s “A New Hope” have been primarily owned by Twentieth Century Fox, for which WBD paid individually so it may air the movie on TV.) The deal was for seven years, with an finish date in September 2023.

Warner, which mentioned it might not touch upon the phrases of its offers with Disney, was prepared to pay 9 figures for the franchise due to demand and nostalgia, particularly in 2016, when Disney had simply began releasing new Star Wars motion pictures (starting with “The Pressure Awakens” in 2015). The corporate determined to stack a marathon of movies collectively within the first week of December 2016 as a result of followers needed to see the older movies to arrange for “Rogue One,” which was being launched later than month, mentioned Michelle Durham, senior vice chairman of programming, planning and technique for Warner Bros. Discovery.

“We have been listening to from the viewers that that’s actually what they needed,” she mentioned. “These are very character-driven franchises that you simply need to spend your complete story arc with. And we needed to offer that basis for folks.”

Underneath the settlement with Disney, TNT and TBS now reserve the primary week of December for Star Wars yearly. It’s change into one thing of a vacation custom for the channels, just like how they air “A Christmas Story” for 24 hours straight starting on Christmas Eve. It helps, Durham mentioned, that Star Wars is a “perennial fan favourite” that generates “excessive numbers” and rankings for TNT and TBS.

“We at all times need to curate a spot the place persons are going to spend time and need to actually expertise tv with their complete household and with their associates,” she mentioned. “The films that we actually lean into are form of an intergenerational expertise and a spot that you could collect and have enjoyable.”

In 2019, after Disney purchased and took full management of 20th Century Studios and its FX channel and launched its personal streaming service known as Disney Plus, the subsequent purpose turned clear — get again the rights to air Star Wars on TV.

However the panorama was difficult. The cable rights to the newer Disney Star Wars movies had completely different finish dates in contrast with the unique six.

After some negotiations, Warner and Disney signed a brand new multiyear deal in October that permits each firms to maintain airing the movies on TV — Disney on FX, Freeform and ABC; Warner on TNT and TBS. Disney additionally makes use of the broadcasts to repeatedly remind viewers they will entry your complete Star Wars galaxy, commercial-free, on Disney Plus.

It’s unclear what’s going to occur when the present deal ends between Disney and Warner Bros. All of the movies are actually on the identical timeline, although, so when the present deal wraps up, the cable rights can be out there. Disney additionally has new Star Wars movies within the pipeline, which might in all probability have an effect on the size and value of any deal it makes for licensing rights.

For now, Disney will air Star Wars on FX in the course of the winter months as a result of it’s a “Christmas-adjacent” franchise, mentioned Dennis Goggin, director of program planning of Disney-owned Freeform and the “25 Days of Christmas” schedule. Star Wars doesn’t fairly match the heat and cuddly, cozy feeling of Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas slate, however it’s shut sufficient that Disney nonetheless feels the need to put it up for sale.

Based on Goggin, Disney programmers coordinate with third-party firms to determine their vacation TV schedules. Typically a number of stations have licensing rights to completely different tasks, like “Dwelling Alone.” Programmers will coordinate with each other by way of emails and telephone calls to verify motion pictures and marathons aren’t bumping up in opposition to each other.

“Our rule is at all times do no hurt,” Goggin mentioned.


This text initially attributed info to Michelle DiMartino, vice chairman of communications for Warner Bros. Discovery. It was truly Michelle Durham, senior vice chairman of programming. The story has been corrected.

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