For the past few years, cable channel Freeform has embarked on an October programming block called “31 Nights of Halloween”. Every night in October, Freeform delivers family friendly thrills and chills, mostly from the good folks at Disney, who have owned the channel since 2016.
The block began in 1998 when the channel was known as Fox Family, later ABC Family. In 2011, a single showing of Disney’s Hocus Pocus pulled in such high ratings (for a 20-year-old movie airing on cable), that the next year the channel programmed it nearly a dozen times. In the years since, the sustained popularity of Hocus Pocus emboldened the network to build an entire month of programming around that one film. Starting with a paltry 13 Nights of Halloween, the channel expanded to 31 Nights in 2018.
And that’s where we come in! Every year Freeform releases their October schedule, and every year I enjoy looking at the list and seeing what’s changed. How many more times did Addams Family get shown last year than this year, for example. Tastes come and go, corporate mandates shift to and fro, but one thing has always remained constant: Freeform is more than happy to make you watch Hocus Pocus until your eyes bleed.
This year, I decided to draw up a chart to show this change in action. Looking back at the last four years of Freeform’s Halloween schedule, which are the last four that have been a full 31 days, I counted up every time a given film or special appears on the schedule. I tried to include as much as I could. A few non-Halloween films didn’t make the cut (mostly Disney animated films, which Freeform shows all the time anyway), but I’d consider this fairly comprehensive.
Here’s this year’s schedule for reference. And here’s the full chart:
- Only six films have appeared all four years: The Addams Family, Hocus Pocus, Monsters Inc., Nightmare Before Christmas, Toy Story of TERROR!, and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
- Hocus Pocus is most often saved for primetime, this year only airing twice in the afternoon out of fourteen airings.
- Calling this year’s airing of the Jaws films “The Freeform Premiere of The Jaws Trilogy” sounds nice, but the reality is that Jaws 3 airs at midnight on October 7th. Jaws and Jaws 2 air back to back at midnight on October 11th. (Also there are four Jaws films, and if there’s any Jaws we should ignore, it’s Jaws 3.)
- We get four showings of Hotel Transylvania 2 & 3 this year, but the original is strangely AWOL.
- From 2019 onward, The Addams Family and Addams Family Values have only ever aired back-to-back. As God intended.
THE BURTON DIMENSION
Tim Burton is far and away the most well-represented filmmaker here, with a grand total of seven films featured across all four years (eight if you count Nightmare Before Christmas)*. What’s peculiar is that Nightmare Before Christmas, a film that easily straddles the line between Halloween and Christmas, has been steadily disappearing from the schedule from 2018 to 2020, in both the 31 Nights of Halloween block AND the 25 Days of Christmas block. Chalk it up to fatigue, I suppose. It was the hottest cult Halloween film for years, but as you can see, it has handily been supplanted by Hocus Pocus as the reigning Halloween champ.
Elsewhere, though, in the entire four-year history of 31 Nights, Burton’s Edward Scissorhands has only aired twice: On October 3rd, 2019, twelve hours apart.
Beetlejuice only made an appearance in 2020, but when he did he really made an impact, landing twelve slots on the schedule that year. This is likely because Beetlejuice is owned by Warner Bros, and Disney’s not gonna shell out the dough for a WB film unless they absolutely have to. In 2020, apparently they had to.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street saw a swift decline from 2018 to 2020, going from six showings, to one, to none at all. (Dark Shadows suffered a similar fate.) That could be due to Freeform shifting away from the older teen demographic and more toward kids and families. Or it may simply be because people realized Sweeney Todd isn’t all that fun.
This year sees the addition of two new Burton films to the schedule: The 2012 animated version of Frankenweenie, and his 2016 adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Only time will tell whether these find an audience the way Nightmare Before Christmas has.
DISNEY OWNS EVERYTHING NOW
When Disney bought out Fox in 2019, it was a seismic shift in the realm of which media conglomerate owns what properties. Case in point: The two live-action Scooby-Doo films, once staples of the 31 Nights programming block at twelve airings each, suddenly vanished in 2020. Just like with that Beetle guy, WB isn’t going to let Disney have the Mystery Machine unless they pay through the nose for it.
Another staple of Halloween TV is The Simpsons’ annual “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. For the last three years, Freeform has featured “Treehouse” marathons at least ten times a year. But along with The Simpsons, this year also sees Family Guy enter the fray with four blocks of Halloween episodes of its own.
And speaking of things definitely for kids, Freeform is also ‘premiering’ Alien and Aliens. Because when I think family friendly Halloween movies, I think of two hard-R alien mutilation flicks. It’ll be interesting to see how Freeform plans to edit around lines like “Assholes and elbows! I can’t wait for Die Hard to appear on this year’s 25 Days of Christmas block.
What do you think of 31 Nights of Halloween? Any trends you find curious? Let us know in the comments!
*Because if I don’t acknowledge it was directed by Henry Selick, I’ll get a dozen comments trying to correct me. I know. You know. We all know.