Bonnie Hammer's Socially Concious Saturday Nights

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"The Color Purple" kicks off the series Nov. 17 with star Whoopi Goldberg.

USA Network is doing some good work on Saturday nights. In a broadening of its Characters Unite public-service initiative, the top-rated cable network is launching a quarterly Saturday film series Nov. 17 with a special airing of The Color Purple. The NBCUniversal-owned net will present the acclaimed 1985 movie with limited ads and an introduction by star Whoopi Goldberg. The telecast follows an April airing of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was introduced by President Obama. For NBCUniversal Cable entertainment chairman Bonnie Hammer, the project is deeply personal and dates back nearly two decades to when she created the socially conscious Erase the Hate campaign on USA. "I'm a big believer that we're not born knowing how to hate; we're taught to hate," she tells THR. Longer term, she's exploring the idea of launching a contest where college students submit films about diversity. That effort might expand across Hammer's cable portfolio, too, with the short films potentially coming through her studio, Universal Cable Productions, and other extensions (think PSAs) considered for Syfy and E! In addition to telecasts, Hammer hopes to arrange panels, classroom applications and discussions with talent, producers or directors to accompany the films. Hammer and her team picked Saturday nights -- when reruns or more current, commercial movies typically air -- for the series to reach families and avoid weeknight ratings pressure. But Mockingbird managed to garner a 20 percent uptick from the time period's more typical 2.3 million viewership, showing audience demand is there. Hammer has not yet licensed additional films to feature, but already she has taken a look at Gentleman's Agreement, Imitation of Life, Milk and Brokeback Mountain. Given the film series' socially positive nature, Hammer says she doesn't foresee encountering trouble licensing movies for a limited distribution window: "When you're doing something good, it's not as if people fight you about getting rights."