The tradition of feature-length films produced specifically for television rather than theatrical release goes back a long way. At first reluctant to give up precious air time to something other than sponsor-supported programming, the broadcast networks decided by the 1960s that theatrical-style movies would draw enough viewers to make their production worthwhile. Beginning in the 60s and lasting well into the 80s, regular weekly slots such as the "ABC Movie of the Week" and "NBC Saturday Night at the Movies" were devoted to feature-length films.
Early made-for-TV movies were notorious for featuring low budgets, melodramatic plots and shaky acting, but some of the best TV movies have become classics on a par with theatrical films. "Brian's Song," a 1971 "ABC Movie of the Week" about terminally ill pro football player Brian Piccolo, is one of the most well-known sports films of all time. "The Day After," a 1983 ABC movie about the aftermath of a nuclear war, was one of the first and only films to frankly and graphically address the perils of the Cold War. Made-for-TV horror movies such as "Trilogy of Terror" and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" are among the most beloved of all cult horror films.
In recent years, the lavish resources given to films produced by cable networks such as HBO and Showtime have somewhat blurred the distinction between made-for-TV movies and theatrical films.