Sunday, April 14, 2019

The 25th Anniversary of Turner Classic Movies

It was 25 years ago today, on April 14 1994, that Turner Classic Movies was launched in a ceremony at Times Square in New York City. It was at this ceremony that Ted Turner, then head of Turner Broadcasting, flipped a switch and Turner Classic Movies (now commonly referred to by its initials, TCM) went live. Present at the ceremony were such classic movie stars as Arlene Dahl, Jane Powell, Celeste Holm, and Van Johnson, as well as the channel's host Robert Osborne.The first film it showed was the 1939 classic (and still highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation) Gone with the Wind. Since that time TCM has become the most successful classic film cable channel in the United States and perhaps even the world. I wrote a detailed history of Turner Classic Movies upon the occasion of its 20th anniversary (you can read it here).  The channel has certainly touched the lives of many, and it is how TCM has touched my life that I will be addressing in this blog post.

Contrary to what those fans who would prefer Turner Classic Movies only showed films made before 1960 might think, from the beginning it was planned for TCM to show films from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, something confirmed by both the channel's promotional materials prior to its launch and its schedules from its earliest days. This suited me just fine, as my loose definition of a "classic" has always been any film that has been around for at least thirty years and is regarded by many to be of high quality.

Here it must be kept in mind that prior to the launch of Turner Classic Movies there was already a cable channel devoted to classic films. The cable channel now known simply as AMC began its life as American Movie Classics. American Movie Classics focused primarily on movies from the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties. Regardless, I was still excited when I first heard about TCM. For one thing, Turner Classic Movies would have access to movies that AMC did not. In 1986 Ted Turner had acquired the pre-1986 MGM library and the Associated Artists Productions library (which included Warner Bros. films made before 1950), as well as the U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the RKO Pictures library. For another thing, TCM would show movies from the Sixties and Seventies, the former actually being my favourite decade for film. I was then predisposed to like TCM even before it even began airing.

Unfortunately I did not have access to TCM when it first launched. To watch Turner Classic Movies, I would have to visit my best friend Brian's house in a neighbouring town. Fortunately I visited Brian often, so that I would get to see movies on TCM even in its first year of existence. I wish I could remember what the first movie I ever watched on TCM was, but sadly I cannot. If I had known how important TCM would become in my life, I am sure that I would have made more of an effort to remember it! We finally got TCM about a year after its launch, so at last I was able to watch it at home. It quickly became my favourite channel. Never mind that it showed many of my favourite films, but I also enjoyed the intros and outros by Robert Osborne. I was already familiar with Mr. Osborne from his stint as a host on The Movie Channel, as well as his books on the Academy Awards.

As the Nineties progressed, TCM would only get better. It was in 1996 that the Turner Broadcasting System merged with Time Warner. This gave TCM access to even more movies, including the Warner Bros. library, and libraries that Time Warner had acquired, such as the Saul Zaentz and National General Pictures libraries. Over time Turner Classic Movies also added programming of interest to me, such as The Essentials, Private Screenings, and Silent Sunday. Still later they would add TCM Underground and Noir Alley.

I cannot say that Turner Classic Movies introduced me to most of the best known classics. Being of a certain age I had already seen Gone with the Wind (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), Casablanca (1942), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and many others prior to TCM's launch. That having been said, TCM introduced me to many of the lesser known classics, as well as many silent movies I had not yet seen. TCM would be where I would first see Pandora's Box (1929), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Out of the Past (1947), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and many others. While I had seen pre-code films and film noirs well before I started watching TCM, the channel would expand the number of pre-code films and film noirs I have seen by a good deal.

Turner Classic Movies would move from merely being a cable channel to a brand all its own. In doing so it also created an entire community of fans. It would be through this community that many TCM fans would find new friends, myself included. Initially this would be through my blogging. It is through this blog that I found such fellow TCM fans as Raquel of Out of the Past and KC of A Classic Movie Blog. Once I joined Twitter I would find even more fellow TCM fans. This would be particularly the case after TCMParty began in 2011. For those who don't know what TCMParty is, it is a collective live tweeting of movies aired on Turner Classic Movies using the hashtag #TCMParty. It would be through TCMParty that I would meet some of my closest friends. Indeed, it would be through TCMParty that I would meet my beloved Vanessa Marquez, who was both my best friend and the love of my life. Eventually on Twitter I would even connect to individuals who work for TCM and even a few of TCM's personalities. More than any other cable channel around, TCM maintains close ties with its fans.

So strong is TCM's connection with its fans that it has even featured fans introducing their favourite films with Ben Mankiewicz. This began with Fan Favourites in 2014. Essentially, through the wonders of video chat, fans would get to introduce a favourite film on TCM with Mr. Mankiewicz. I was lucky enough to be one of those fans. It was on April 11 2015 that I introduced A Hard Day's Night. It is still one of my most cherished memories.

Sadly, never having been to the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival or on one of the Turner Classic Movies cruises, I never had the opportunity to meet long-time host Robert Osborne. Nevertheless, like many TCM fans it felt almost as if I knew him. After all, I had seen him introduce films on Turner Classic Movies for literally years, all while in the comfort of my own home. In many ways he was the ideal host, and I think there can be no doubt that he was responsible for much of the channel's success. Robert Osborne died on March 6 2017 at the age of 84. There was perhaps no other person ever mourned so greatly by TCM fans, not even big-name classic movie stars. I cried as if Mr. Osborne had been someone I had known personally. In fact, there are only two celebrities I have mourned more than Robert Osborne: John Lennon and, for obvious reasons, my dearest Vanessa (not only the celebrity I have mourned the most, but the person I have mourned the most in my entire life). I was not alone in the extreme grief I felt at the passing of Robert Osborne, as it seems as if every TCM fan mourned his passing as if a beloved uncle or friend had died.

Of course, since Robert Osborne has died Turner Classic Movies has introduced new hosts in addition to Ben Mankiewicz. Tiffany Vasquez started hosting on Saturday afternoons in 2016, before Robert Osborne died. Sadly, Miss Vasquez would no longer be a host in 2018. I have to confess I have missed her, as I always did enjoy her introductions. Last year Dave Karger and Alicia Malone were added as hosts. Both Mr. Karger and Miss Malone are welcome additions to TCM as far as I am concerned. Not only are their introductions informative, as one would expect a TCM host's introductions to be, but they are also very open and friendly to TCM's fans.

My one regret in my many years as a TCM fan is that I have never gotten to attend the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. Many of my friends have over the years, so that it almost feels as if I have been there. I always look forward to the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival every year, as I enjoy watching the videos posted by TCM as well as the many photos and videos posted by my fellow TCM fans. I hope that I can make it to the festival one day.

Over the years Turner Classic Movies has literally changed my life. I found many of my closest friends through TCM's fan community. Indeed, if not for TCM I might never have found the most important person in my life. When she died last year, it was my friends in the TCM fan community who saw me through my darkest days. What is more I know I am not alone when it comes to Turner Classic Movies having been a life-changing experience. I know married couples who met through their mutual love of TCM. I know individuals who have found whole new careers through TCM. I even know a few people whose lives were even saved by TCM (here I am not exaggerating--in the simple act of airing classic movies TCM has given hope to those who are sick or feeling down). Long ago Turner Classic Movies went beyond being a mere cable channel. It went beyond being a mere brand. It has even gone beyond being a way of preserving classic films. Turner Classic Movies has become a means of bringing people together, of providing people a community of like-minded individuals, and even of giving people hope.


ajwrites57 said...

Great thoughts! God bless. Keep writing.

Unknown said...

Back then, most cable companies offered either TCM or AMC but not both. Trying to define classic is subjective but I always thought anything pre 1960 and in black and white was a prerequisite. Add that no nudity or foul language. Funny, the old movies where women kept their clothes on were much sexier and erotic and left to the imagination what modern fare throws in your face.