The popularity of Netflix and Video on Demand has changed people’s viewing habits, not always for the better. Sure, it’s convenient to be able to watch a film at a time that suits you, but there is something to be said for planning a special night of TV viewing with family and friends. WNET, New York’s public television station, has made great strides in bringing back the old fashioned Saturday night triple feature with their Reel 13 series.
The series, which has been on the air since January, 2008, features a trio of movies: a classic film, an independent film, and a short film made by a new and unknown filmmaker.
Colleen McHugh, the associate producer of the program, says several different films become available each month. Reel 13's programming depends upon what their licensing is and what their availability windows are.
Occasionally a rare film treasure will surface. When Ingrid Bergman's Goodbye Again, a film not available on DVD, was made available for broadcast, it caught McHugh’s eye. “It’s just something I had seen years ago on TV. I saw it was coming up and I said that’s something we should really show because it’s a difficult film for people to get a chance to see.”The Reel 13 website is a fine companion to the programming. I wondered if the show received many submissions for its request for short films. “Yes, definitely,” McHugh says. “The president of WNET is really interested in tying the broadcast to the website. So we try to put as much information on it as we can about the films we’re showing. People submit their short films through the website. We choose three films per week and viewers vote on those films. Then the winner is broadcast. That’s a direct connection between the viewers' input to do the programming themselves basically by voting online and then the winner is broadcast on Saturday night. It’s a pretty unique opportunity for short films to have major market airtime.”
The feedback for the show has been positive, but there are still viewers who want things their own way. McHugh explains. “Any time anyone comments on it they say, ‘Oh, I really love the classic film and I wish you would just show three of those.’ But then just as many people say, ‘I really love the independent films. I wish you could just show a bunch of those.’ I think it’s proof of the fact that there should be a variety of the three different kinds of films.”
The combination of the unique trio of films and the interactive portion of the show should make Reel 13 required viewing for anyone who considers themselves a film buff. If you aren’t able to watch the actual broadcast, you can still view and vote for the shorts on the Reel 13 website.
Reel 13 airs on Saturday nights at 9 PM on WNET.