Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thursday Thirteen #71: Reasons Why I Love Turner Classic Movies

This month, Turner Classic Movies is celebrating its 15th anniversary. If I had to get rid of all my cable channels but one, TCM would be the keeper. I can get my news, sports, and many of the scripted series that I watch online. However, TCM is the only place on the dial that pays tribute to classic film dating back to the silent era all the way up to the 21st century. While many channels have lost their way in an effort to attract a younger demographic, TCM remembers what it was that made them popular in the first place. Although TCM has added newer films to its schedule in recent years, it hasn't kicked the older favorites to the curb in the process.

It's a pleasure any time I get the chance to pimp TCM. Because it's becoming increasingly rare that TV execs actually give a damn about their audience, I think it's important to make note when a channel gets it right. Below in no particular order are 13 reasons why I love Turner Classic Movies.

1. It airs movies uninterrupted and commercial free- One thing that turns me off is when channels butcher theatrical films by either tossing in commercial breaks haphazardly or compressing them so that they fit into a 2 hour time slot. TCM airs movies in their entirety. They also don't clutter up the closing credits of movies with the dreaded "split screen" process.

2. Shows films in letterbox format whenever possible. This means that when you watch a widescreen spectacle like Ben-Hur on TCM, you are seeing it the way the director intended. Below is a short explaining why the letterbox format is better than the pan and scan process:

3. Hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz- Although Robert and Ben have two different styles when it comes to hosting (Robert exudes old-Hollywood sophistication, while Ben has a devil-may-care approach), they share a common love of movies that comes through clearly during their on-screen introductions and closing discussions of the films they present.

4. Images in Film series- In the past, TCM has done month long film festivals spotlighting the changes in the way that certain groups have been portrayed in the movies. Previously, they've done retrospectives on the big screen portrayal of African Americans, Asians, and gay/lesbians. In May, TCM will continue this tradition with its Latino Images in Film Festival.

5. Summer Under the Stars- Every August, TCM suspends its regular schedule for a special "month of stars", featuring entire days devoted to a single star, offering movies and specials pertaining to the star of the day. It's an excellent way to enjoy movies by your favorite stars or to look at a performer in a whole new light. Last year, I took the opportunity to discover the work of silent film icon Charlie Chaplin.

6. TCM Underground- This weekly cult film showcase airs Friday nights at 2 am EST (unless pre-empted by special programming). Since debuting in 2006, TCM Underground has presented such cult classics as Ed Wood's Plan 9 From Outer Space, Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains starring Diane Lane and Laura Dern, the Monkees' only feature film Head, and Freaks.

7. Celebration of the obscure- Instead of always going for the obvious, TCM makes an effort to spotlight films and artists that many people may not know. Last year, the channel paid tribute to the work of African-American director Charles Burnett. On April 8th, TCM will honor the work of photographer turned director Morris Engel. I had never heard of Mr. Engel so I am looking forward to discovering his work.

8. 31 Days of Oscar- Every Academy Awards season, TCM sets aside its regular programming to spotlight movies that are either Oscar winners or nominees. Along with famous Oscar winners, TCM also features lesser known films that may have received only 1 nomination.

9. "What A Character" profiles- In between films, TCM occasionally profiles the careers of character actors. Although some of these performers never became household names, TCM recognizes that they were very important to a film's success. Some of the character actors that they've featured include S.Z. Sakall, Edna May Oliver, Conrad Veidt, and Marjorie Main.

10. TCM's Guest Programmer of the Month. Each month, TCM turns over its library to a famous person and lets them play programmer for the night. The star sits down with host Robert Osborne and discusses their film picks and why they chose them. It's cool to watch a celeb as their eyes light up while talking about which films have made an impression on them. Some of the celebs who've had the honor of being guest programmers on TCM are Sally Field, director John Landis, boxer Evander Holyfield, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, and Tracey Ullman. This month, TCM is taking a break from the famous by allowing 15 fan programmers the opportunity to share their film favorites. These special blocks will air from April 13-April 17 starting at 8 pm EST.

11. It tries to get the younger generation interested in classic movies. In 2007, TCM launched "Funday Night at the Movies" and featured such family oriented classics as The Wizard of Oz, Sounder, and Singing In the Rain. The following year, the cable channel debuted a youth-oriented version of "The Essentials" (called "The Essentials Jr.") that included such movies as National Velvet, Captains Courageous, and Our Town. Both of these programs were excellent ways for adults to introduce their kids, nieces, nephews, etc. to older films.

12. One-reel wonders- In between airing feature films, TCM often shows "short subjects" (movies that are normally less than 30 minutes in length). Some of my favorites are the Joe McDoakes series starring George O'Hanlon (best known as the voice of George Jetson) and the "Crime Does Not Pay" films.

13. It airs modern classics- Although most of its schedule is devoted to movies made pre-1970, TCM recognizes that a film doesn't have to be old to be a classic. Some of the modern classics that TCM has aired include A Beautiful Mind, Philadelphia, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.

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Jen said...

Great list!! Have a great week!

Janet said...

LOTR, yeah :-) You know what else drives me crazy? Pop up ads for other shows in the lower left or ride hand side of the screen. HATE it, so distracting.

Adelle Laudan said...

I've never heard of this. Very interesting. Happy T13!

Lori said...

Great list. Happy TT:)

~~tonya~~ said...

What a great list!! My 15yr old daughter will watch movies on that channel. She loves old Hollywood.

SJ Reidhead said...

I like the "widescreen" versions. My big complaint is it seems TCM runs my favorite old movies so late - or early in the AM that I miss half of them!

The Pink Flamingo

janetfaye said...

I will have to start watching TCM, thanks!

Hootin' Anni said...

Great idea for a list. My 13 is posted. Have a terrific Thursday. I so agree with you. I'm a movie buff ----in fact, my list is all about movies also.

Debbie @Like a Rose said...

Great list!

Chameleone@CoffeeBreak said...

I love TCM for a lot of those same reasons, but I didn't know about Character Spotlight - I'll have to keep my eye out for it. Great TT!

peanut butter said...

i love tmc! my favorite movies that they play are the thin man series.

shopannies said...

Great list and information have a great weekend

Jay said...

I love everything about TCM. I think it's my favorite network. And Osborne and Mankiewicz have the best jobs in the world.

Nicholas said...

You know, I think we have had TCM in our cable package since 2002, but so far have never watched it. Your TT prompts me to give it a shot. Mind you, any channel that shows LOTR is something I would want to approach very warily!

The Bumbles said...

This channel is so awesome - I know I can always find a quality movie when I need one. They showed Night of the Living Dead recently and it kept me up way past bedtime - I love their diversity of selections!!!

Malcolm said...

Jen, Lori, Debbie, and ShopAnnies: Thanks for stopping by.

Janet: I was going to add pop up ads to this list, but forgot. Damn I hate those things! I don't need to be constantly reminded about what other show/movie is coming up.

Adelle: I see that TCM is offered in Canada. If you have cable/satellite service but not TCM, you can visit the link below and then click on "TCM Canada" from the sidebar menu for more info.

Tonya: I love to hear about young people like your daughter who are into the old movies. I was the same way when I was a kid.

SJ: Because TCM often shows good stuff while I'm at work, I'll sometimes record things (esp. if it's a movie that they don't air much). If it's a movie that does come on quite a bit, I know I'll eventually catch it at some point in time.

JanetFaye: I'm always glad to turn someone on to TCM... thanks for visiting.

Hootin Anni: Thanks... I'll stop by later today.

Chameleone: One of my favorite "What A Character" profiles is the one they did on Eve Arden. If she's in a movie, that's reason enough to give it a shot.

Peanut Butter: They occas. will show all or most of the "Thin Man" movies all in a row. I've only caught a couple of them so I'll have my DVD Recorder ready for the next time they air them.

Jay: I'd love to do what Robert and Ben do for a living. Speaking of Robert Osborne, I'm glad that TCM hasn't seen fit to fire him for demographic reasons. Although the day will eventually come, I can't imagine TCM without him.

Nicholas: Despite them showing LOTR: Return of the King, I am confident that you will really enjoy what TCM has to offer. Because you're from the UK, you may appreciate that they often show British movies from the "angry young man" genre, those produced by Ealing Studios and many others.

The Bumbles: Speaking of scary movies, I caught "Homicidal" on TCM last year. That was a good little flick.

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