On March 5, 1956, King Kong began a week-long run in the living rooms of New York when RKO’s original 1933 movie was broadcast to the city by WOR-TV Channel 9 as a feature of its “Million Dollar Movies” series, famous for showing the same movie 16 times in a single week, twice every weekday evening and adding a third, matinee showing on the weekends.
It was the first time Kong had appeared on the small screen and he was an instant hit. WOR transformed this early success to create a classic annual series for Thanksgiving Week, showing King Kong movies on Thanksgiving Day followed by Godzilla movies on Friday. King Kong and Godzilla were natural movie stars, and remain so to this day. Witness Warner Bros.’ upcoming release of Godzilla Vs. Kong opening on March 25th in theatres and on HBO Max streaming. In the early days of TV, movie studios were reluctant to support the hot new medium of TV by licensing them the rights to air their films.
In time, Hollywood came to see TV for its potential as a new source of revenue from licensing. What’s more, the popularity Kong enjoyed during his TV run prompted RKO to re-release the original film to theatres later that year. TV’s rise in the mid-century increased consumer appetites for entertainment across all channels, expanding the opportunity for content creators and distributors. This chapter in movie history resonates with changes underway today, which are forcing studios to adapt to the rise of streaming as it brings premium, original movies directly into the homes of consumers.