Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy 20th Anniversary to Turner Classic Movies

Leaflet for Turner Classic Movies, which was included with many classic
WB, MGM, & RKO features on DVD (via corporate sibling Warner Home Video).
At The Matinee salutes Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on the network’s twentieth anniversary! 

April 14, 1994: Ted Turner’s classic film network launched with a ceremony from New York City’s Times Square. It was significant, since it was the centennial celebration of the first public showing of a motion picture in the city.

Joining Turner on that day to launch TCM was host of the new network (and noted film historian)- Robert Osborne, along with iconic Hollywood personalities Jane Powell, Celeste Holm, Van Johnson, and then-president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences- Arthur Hiller.

The first film to be shown on TCM was the 1939 David O. Selznick masterpiece (adapted from Margaret Mitchell's epic novel)- Gone With The Wind, which is Ted Turner’s favorite movie. The bulk of the channel’s programming would come from Turner’s extensive classic film holdings: the pre-1986 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer library, the pre-1948 Warner Bros. holdings, and the RKO Radio Pictures library- which TCM’s competitor, American Movie Classics (AMC) still had broadcast rights to at the time.

It should also be noted that the entire Turner Entertainment holdings would come under the control of Warner Bros., when Turner merged his media holdings with Time Warner in 1996. This meant that Warners’ pre-48 films (including cartoons & short subjects) would be reunited with the studio, with the addition of the pre-1986 MGM films and the RKO features. Over the years (after the demise of AMC), TCM has shown classics from other major studios and archives, in addition to the classic MGM, Warner Bros., and RKO titles.

A “long wait” for TCM in the Frederick area: The cable provider in the area, Frederick Cablevision did not carry Turner Classic Movies when it launched in 1994 (just like many of the nation’s cable operators) - they carried AMC. If you have read the introductory statement in my first blog post back in January, then you may have noticed that I’ve had self-interest in classic cinema at an early age by watching films on public television, the “original” AMC (pre-2002), as well as reading Chronicle of the Cinema- a comprehensive resource on film.

September 30th, 2002: It was a disappointing day for us classic film buffs. The day that TCM’s competitor, American Movie Classics (AMC) decided to ditch its classic movie format for good. My family, friends, and I were disappointed to learn that AMC went into a “different direction”. My only source for classic movies after AMC’s demise (before the availability of TCM in the area) was WETA’s Saturday classic film showcase- which is still going strong.

During that time, many cable operators across the nation scrambled to get TCM on their systems. It was a long process in the Frederick area (unless one subscribed to satellite) - where our local cable company was acquired by Adelphia, which eventually entered into bankruptcy proceedings, meaning that no new channels were added to the lineup. In 2006, Adelphia would be swallowed up by the monstrosity known as “Comcast”. It took nearly eight years to get TCM onto the area’s “one and only” cable system.

First Glimpse of TCM (Before it would be available in Frederick): My first exposure to Turner Classic Movies happened in summer 2003, while the family was vacationing in Delaware (the Hotel’s cable system carried TCM). We all enjoyed the channel’s classic film offerings, along with some vintage Warner Bros. “Vitaphone” short subject features.

“ALWAYS UNCUT AND COMMERCIAL FREE”: That is a true statement, whereas many cable networks have lost their main programming mission over the years- TCM is still sticking to its core format. Throughout the years, Turner Classic Movies has shown the best from the “golden age” of Hollywood, along with rarely-seen features and short subjects, classic foreign films (under the title TCM Import), Silent Sunday Nights (a silent film showcase), the Young Film Composers Competition for silent films, and much more.

In addition to the great classics on TCM, several modern cult and contemporary films have been shown over the years. Several documentaries on film, filmmakers and personalities have been shown on the network, including Movies & Moguls: A History of Hollywood, Cass Sperling Warner’s The Brothers Warner, and a documentary series that was originally shown on sister network TNT- MGM: When The Lion Roars (hosted by Patrick Stewart).

And of course, the introductions and stories behind the films to many classics on TCM, presented each evening by Robert Osborne- and on weekend afternoons (and evenings) by Ben Mankiewicz.

There have been various “Guest Programmers” over the years, where personalities get to talk with Osborne about their favorite classic features for that night’s schedule. Some of the guests have been iconic comedian Bill Cosby, award-winning actress Cloris Leachman, iconic television personality Regis Philbin, filmmaker Spike Lee, USA Today columnist Whitney Matheson, animator Matt Groening, iconic talk show host Dick Cavett, late night talk show host Conan O’Brien (who hosts “Conan” on sister network TBS), animation historian Jerry Beck, veteran newsman Jim Lehrer, and iconic Muppet Kermit The Frog. There’s also the TCM Classic Film Festival (which just recently wrapped up at the TCL Chinese Theatre) and the TCM Classic Cruise.

The network has also been active in the field of film preservation, working with The Library of Congress, the UCLA Film & Television Archive, and other preservation organizations. They have also had nationwide revival screenings of classic films in theaters across the country- the one-day 70th screening of Casablanca (1942), and a newly restored version of Frankenstein (1931, in conjunction with Universal Pictures). Unfortunately, these classics weren't shown in the Frederick area, and as I've stated before- classic cinema is under-appreciated in Frederick.

The network has kept up with the ever-changing pace of digital technology, as subscribers to TCM can now watch two feeds of the network via the “Watch TCM” app (for smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers). Also included in this service are several classic features that are available on-demand.

At The Matinee (and the author, a “millennial” classic film buff) wishes Turner Classic Movies on its
twentieth anniversary. Here’s looking forward to many more years of great classic film through TCM.

TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: Turner Classic Movies is going to have a special, Twenty Classic Moments, which will feature the network’s best iconic moments. Hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, the special will air this evening at 7:00 PM EST. After that, TCM will air the film that started it all, the 1939 epic Gone With The Wind at 8:00 PM EST.

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