Thursday, October 18, 2018

Stop Complaining About Turner Classic Movies

Yesterday Turner Classic Movies announced their 25th Anniversary Fan Contest on both Facebook and Twitter. In honour of their 25th anniversary in 2019, TCM is giving 25 fans the chance to introduce "a treasured film" with Ben Mankiewicz and dedicate it to a special person in their lives. Personally I think this is a very sweet gesture on the part of TCM towards its fans. More so than any other cable channel, TCM has always had a special connection with its fans and has always showed appreciation for those fans.

One can imagine my surprise,then,  when I looked at the comments on the Facebook regarding the 25th Anniversary Contest post and saw a number of people complaining about Turner Classic Movies. Here I must point out that I am accustomed to Twitter, where it seems to me the vast majority of people have only good things to say about TCM. Of course, in some ways this doesn't surprise me. Despite Twitter's reputation, I have always had much more in the way of bad experiences with other users on Facebook. It is why I am not active on many groups on Facebook and why I never post publicly. Regardless, as someone who loves TCM and has watched it from the very beginning, I thought I would address some of the complaints I saw on the post.

The first of these complaints I want to address were from people complaining that they don't want to see fans talking about their favourite films on TCM. Now I realise that everyone has their own tastes when it comes to what they want to see on TCM, but I have always enjoyed seeing other fans talk about their favourite films. Indeed, in April 2015 I had the honour of introducing A Hard Day's Night (1964) with Ben Mankiewicz as a Fan Favourite. I also had several friends who introduced films with Ben as Fan Favourites. I have also enjoyed watching the fan programmers from the various TCM Backlot contests. Many of the fans who have introduced films on TCM over the years actually have more knowledge of specific films than many of the better known experts, and I enjoy hearing how people discovered their favourite films. Here I must point out that I do sympathise with those who don't enjoy seeing fans introduce their favourite films. TCM has aired and probably will in the future air things that I don't particularly enjoy either. Personally, I would be happy if they never show another Barbara Streisand musical again (I love her as a dramatic actress, just not as a singer). That having been said, I really don't mind changing the channel if there is something on TCM I don't enjoy.

The second of these complaints were from people insisting that TCM go back to "the old format". Now maybe I am missing something, but I don't think TCM's format has changed since it debuted in 1994. It is true that for the first several years of its existence TCM had only one host, Robert Osborne. It was in 2003 that Ben Mankiewicz joined as a host. TCM has had guest programmers since 2005. Of course, since then Robert Osborne has died and TCM has added more hosts. Eddie Muller has hosted Noir Alley since 2017. Alicia Malone and Dave Karger were added as hosts earlier this year. Anyway, my point is that the format of TCM really hasn't changed. It is still a classic movie channel on which hosts introduce films. Now I realise that many people miss Robert Osborne. In fact, I can definitely say that the majority of TCM fans miss Robert Osborne. I myself miss seeing him introduce films on TCM terribly. Sadly, Robert died last year. No host on TCM is ever going to be able to replace Robert, let alone match him. While I can understand individuals having their own personal preferences regarding the hosts (personally I love them all), I don't think one can say the format of TCM has changed because Robert Osborne is no longer on the channel or because TCM now has four hosts instead of one.

The third of these complaints is one that has persisted over the years, probably since the day TCM launched in April 1994. Quite simply, there are people who complain that Turner Classic Movies should only show classics. There is a very small faction of TCM fans who honestly want the channel to only show films made before 1960. I have addressed this issue on this blog before. My own thought is that these fans are interpreting the word "classic" much too narrowly. They interpret the word as referring exclusively to a film that comes from the Golden Age of Hollywood. I won't go into many of the reasons that this definition is flawed, but I will point out that it does not fit the common usage of the word "classic". Most people, including many TCM fans, use the term "classic" of any film of a certain age that is regarded as being of high quality, whether it is from the Golden Age of Hollywood or not. In other words, Casablanca (1942) is a classic, but then so is Star Wars (1977).

That the "classic" in Turner Classic Movies was never meant to apply only to films made before 1960 can be borne out by the fact that the channel was never meant to air only films made before 1960. I remember watching both Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on TCM within the first three years of the channel's existence. This is further borne out by promotional materials regarding TCM before it even launched. An article from The New York Times from April 11 1994 states, "AMC focuses almost exclusively on movies of the 1930's, 40's and 50's. But TCM plans to show films from the 60's, 70's and 80's as well." The TCM Launch Featurette that was included in the channel's Electronic Press Kit also makes reference to plans for TCM to show films from the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties.

Even given TCM was always meant to show films from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the fact is that the vast majority of movies shown on the channel come from the Thirties and Forties. Every month the esteemed Joel Williams issues a breakdown of how many films are being shown from each decade. This is from October 1 on his Twitter feed:

As you can see, the bulk of the movies being shown on TCM this month come from the Thirties and Forties. In fact, there are more films from these two decades than from the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies Eighties, Nineties, Naughts, and Teens combined. Given TCM already shows very little in the way of movies made after 1970, I really don't understand why people complain about it showing a lot of films made after 1970. The simple fact is that they don't.

Now I am not about to say that people don't have a right to complain. I know I have occasionally complained about programming on TCM in the past and I probably will in the future. And I have to say that those complaining are polite for the most part (which I rarely see in comments on Facebook posts on pages).  That having been said, when people are complaining on a post announcing a contest that most TCM fans will probably love, it makes me wonder if the complaints are not getting a bit out of hand. Part of the reason I very rarely complain about Turner Classic Movies is that I really think we should be thankful the channel exists at all. American Movie Classics abandoned showing classic movies long ago and now just goes by AMC. getTV also started out showing classic movies before shifting more towards classic television. After nearly 25 years TCM is still showing classic movies and there is no sign that they will ever stop. Honestly, I think we fans would be better off thinking about what we love about TCM than complaining when they do something we really don't like. I know that TCM is certainly grateful towards its fans and it would be nice for those fans to be grateful back.


Irish Jayhawk said...

Excellent points, Terry!

Caftan Woman said...

I year you. My twitter/facebook experience pretty much parallels yours.

For a brief time, I was on a TCM Facebook page. I don't recall its specifics, but I remember all the griping and whining. Gawww!

One person started a string of complaints about the "Underground" late Saturday programming. Apparently, they were awake and turned on the TV and didn't like what they saw. Well, that's the deal, folks! Another doesn't like Silent Sunday. And of course, that complaint about "new" movies.

For the love of Heaven! TCM airs 24/7. Are you watching the darn thing 24/7? Can anyone watch the darn thing 24/7?!

Oh, that old frustration is coming back. I lost it when I said bye-bye to that page. Now, look what you did. I'm complaining about A Shroud of Thoughts!

Stevezilla said...

It's a wonderful channel. Especially around this time of year when all the scary and monster movies are showcased.

Chris Sturhann said...

Great post. I fully agree. By the way, I talked to Joel about the stats he keeps, and he said that they have changed in the two or three years that he's been keeping them. Plus, if you look at the newer films, what are they showing? Two that come to mind, in the last month or so, one is Dawson City Frozen Time, a great documentary about a cache of silent films thought to be lost, found in the permafrost in small town in the Yukon. How is that not about classic film. The other is Hollywood Shuffle (1987) from the Black Experience on Film tribute. It's a great film and would make a great addition to the TCM Film Festival some year, while most of the principals are still with us. Also when we were watching it, one of the Twitter #TCMParty regulars said something online that made me think she hadn't seen it. I know that she's in her 30s, so I was surprised she hadn't seen it. Well she had, but she saw it as a kid and didn't really get what was going on. When TCM aired it, it was the first time she'd seen it as an adult.

By the way, I'll be sending in a Fan video. I guess if I get picked the haters can complain about me too.

Terence Towles Canote said...

Thanks for the comments, Chris! Another recent film that comes to my mind is another documentary--Harold and Lillian. I don't think anyone could deny that it isn't about classic film! I saw Hollywood Shuffle not long after it came out and love it to this day. I think films from the Eighties are old enough to be considered classics and, to top things off, Hollywood Shuffle deals with stereotypes that were all too common in classic films!

I will be sending in a fan video too. Given my film is from 1988 I suspect they will complain, although my reason for doing so might keep them from it. The person to whom I am dedicating it recently died and has a VERY personal connection to the film.