Dennis Weaver starred in the best known ABC Movie of the Week, Steven Spielberg's Duel, which premiered in Canada November 10, 1971, was telecast in the United States three days later and had a theatrical release in Europe in early 1973. It eventually had an American theatrical release April 22, 1983.
The ABC Movie of the Week was a weekly television anthology series, featuring made-for-TV movies, that aired on the ABC network in various permutations from 1969 to 1976, though ABC continued to premiere new TV films every Sunday prime time night until 2005.
From 1961, prime time screenings of films from major motion picture studios had been a ratings success for all three television networks eventually leading to a demand for more films for 90 minute or two hour time slots. The series was the brainchild of young executive Barry Diller, then head of prime time programming at ABC (and later a cofounder of the Fox network). Operating on a small budget ($400,000-$450,000 per film) but featuring the work of talented producers like Aaron Spelling and David Wolper (both of whom later developed hit series of their own), and different production companies such as Bing Crosby Productions and Aaron Spelling and Danny Thomas' production company, the Movie of the Week helped energize the made-for-TV movie format with fresh story concepts, veteran TV actors and potent production values. The attention-grabbing opening titles were designed and animated by Harry Marks using the same groundbreaking slit-scan process, or "stargate effect," that had been pioneered by Douglas Trumbull for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Movie of the Week provided ABC (long a distant third in the ratings) with a bona fide hit and, along with Monday Night Football, helped establish the network as a legitimate competitor to rivals CBS and NBC. The films themselves varied in quality and were often escapist or sensationalistic in nature (suspense, horror and melodrama were staples), but some were critically well received. For example, Duel (1971), based on a Richard Matheson short story from Playboy, was director Steven Spielberg's first feature film, catapulting his career and enabling him to move from television to theatrical films.
The Movie of the Week originally aired on Tuesday nights at 8:30 pm ET. Beginning with the 1971 season, ABC added a second Movie of the Week on Saturday night and adjusted the titles of the shows to the Movie of the Week and Movie of the Weekend. The following season, the Saturday installment was moved to Wednesday night, and the titles were adjusted to Tuesday Movie of the Week and Wednesday Movie of the Week. The opening for the Saturday Movie of the Weekend featured footage of a silhouetted "rotating cameraman" operating a 35 mmmovie camera (). This footage would later be incorporated into the opening of ABC's New York Citytelevision stationWABC-TV's various movie umbrellas beginning around 1972-1973, including and especially their weekday afternoon movie showcase The 4:30 Movie.
During the 1973-74 season, ABC added another movie on Saturday nights to their schedule, this time titled the ABC Suspense Movie, and usually consisting of thriller, mystery and horror type films (some of which were reruns of movies which had originally aired as Movies of the Week).
The Movie of the Week theme music was an orchestral version of "Nikki", a song composed by Burt Bacharach and named for his daughter. The theme was arranged and performed by Harry Betts.
The series proper ended in 1976. After that, ABC's made-for-TV movies were either aired as stand-alone specials or shown in series that included both original and theatrical movie presentations. The Tuesday Movie of the Week would later be incorporated as part of ABC Late Night, a replacement of ABC's Wide World of Entertainment that ran from 1976 to 1982; the late-night version would mainly feature repeats of movies, both made for television and traditional theatrical releases, that were previously seen on ABC and other networks. The series was documented by Michael Karol in his 2005 book, The ABC Movie of the Week Companion, which was updated in 2008 (ISBN 1-60528-023-2).