Sunday, April 14, 2024

Thirty Years with Turner Classic Movies

It was thirty years ago today, on April 14 1994, that Turner Classic Movies was launched in a ceremony at Times Square in New York City that included founder Ted Turner, original host Robert Osborne, and such classic film stars as Arlene Dahl, Jane Powell, Celeste Holm, and Van Johnson. The first film TCM ever showed was Gone with the Wind (1939). It would be an understatement to say that since then Turner Classic Movies has become an institution. It would be more accurate to say that it has become a national treasure, not only beloved by its fans, but by critics, film historians and movie makers alike. Indeed, Turner Classic Movies has had an enormous impact on my own life.

I am not sure when or how I first heard about Turner Classic Movies, but it was before it was launched. Unfortunately, I would not have access to TCM in its earliest days. I would have to visit my best friend Brian in another town to watch Turner Classic Movies. Fortunately, I got access to TCM within a year or two of its launch and it has remained a constant in my home ever since. I wish I could remember what the first movie I watched on Turner Classic Movies was, but I cannot. If I had known how important TCM would become in my life, I would have made a point to remember what film it was. Regardless, Turner Classic Movies quickly became my favourite channel. There had been American Movie Classics (AMC) and a few other classic movie channels before it, but TCM had access to the pre-1986 MGM library and the Associated Artists Productions library, the Warner Bros. films made before 1950, and the U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the RKO Pictures library. This meant they could show a wider variety of films than AMC or the other channels. Of course, they also had those wonderful intros and outros by Robert Osborne. TCM would get even better after the Turner Broadcasting System merged with Time Warner in 1996. Now they had access to the Warner Bros. library, and libraries that Time Warner had acquired, such as the Saul Zaentz and National General Pictures libraries.

As much as I love Turner Classic Movies and as huge an impact it has had on my life, I cannot say that it introduced me to classic movies. As a member of Generation X, I grew up at a time when local television stations, particularly the independents, still showed classic movies on a regular basis. By the time TCM had launched, I had already seen such classics as Casablanca (1942), Citizen Kane (1941), Singing' in the Rain (1952),  and many others, and even such foreign classics as Seven Samurai (1954) and Blood and Black Lace (1964). While I was already a classic movie fan when Turner Classic Movies launched, I would see many classics on the channel for the first time in my life. TCM introduced me to Pandora's Box (1929), Out of the Past (1947), The Loved One (1965), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), The Robe (1953), and many others. I had seen Pre-Code films before TCM had launched, but the channel would introduce me to many, many more.

Not only did TCM introduce me to movies I had never seen before, but it would be through the community of fans that Turner Classic Movies developed that would I meet many of my closest friends. It was initially through this very blog that I met many of my closest friends, bloggers who blogged about classic movies or, like me, nostalgia in general. I would find even more fellow TCM fans who would become friends after I joined Twitter in 2009. This was particularly true after TCMParty, the informal group of TCM fans who live tweet movies on the channel using that hashtag, started in 2011. It would be through TCMParty that I would meet my dearest friend and a woman I adore, Vanessa Marquez. I then owe Turner Classic Movies more than I could ever repay. Here I also have to point out that TCM is so close to their fans that I even have friends and acquaintances who work for the channel.

TCM has also afforded me opportunities I might not have had otherwise. In 2014 TCM began a series of segments called Fan Favourites, in which fans would get to introduce a favourite movie with Ben Mankiewicz through the miracle of video chat. It was on April 11 2015 that I got to introduce A Hard Day's Night on TCM with Mr. Mankiewicz. For a time Turner Classic Movies had an official fan club called TCM Backlot. Each year TCM Backlot members would submit pitches as to why Turner Classic Movies should hold an event in their home town. In 2019 St. Louis was selected, and Turner Classic Movies held a free screening of Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) at the Tivoli Theatre in St. Louis. The screening included a special introduction by Ben Mankiewicz before the movie, followed by a Q&A with Margaret O'Brien (who played Tootie in Meet Me in St. Louis). I was lucky enough to be one of the fans who was selected to attend the VIP Meet and Greet, in which one would get to meet Margaret O'Brien and Ben Mankiewicz in person. I then got to meet Margaret O'Brien (who was delighted when I brought up her guest appearance on Perry Mason), as well as Ben Mankiewicz (with whom I had talked on video chat, but this was my first time meeting him in person).

One thing I regret is that I have never gotten to attend the TCM Classic Film Festival. Sadly, the cost of air fare and lodging is simply more than I can afford. Many of my friends have attended the TCM Classic Film Festival, so that I can experience the festival vicariously through them. For that reason I always look forward to the TCM Classic Film Festival. I enjoy watching the many videos and photos from the festival, posted by both TCM and its fans. And I enjoy watching content from the festival on Turner Classic Movies itself.

It was last year that TCM fans were alarmed by layoffs at Turner Classic Movies, and for the first time ever many of us were concerned about the future of our favourite channel. The reaction of TCM fans was swift and immediate, with fans writing letters, writing emails, and posting to social media. Some who had been laid off, including senior vice president in charge of content and programming Charlie Tabesh and TCM Film Festival Director Genevieve McGillicuddy, would see their positions restored. The media credited much of this to such luminaries as directors Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Paul Thomas Anderson and actors Ryan Reynolds, Ellen Barkin, and Brian Cox, but I personally think it was the outcry on the part of the huge number of TCM fans. Quite simply, Turner Classic Movies has made a difference in our lives and we don't want to see it disappear.

For myself, there is perhaps no greater example of how important Turner Classic Movies is to me than my life following the death of my beloved Vanessa Marquez. It was my fellow TCM fans and TCM who helped me get through those dark months following her death. If not for the difference they made I am not sure that I would even still be here. I'm certainly not alone in feeling Turner Classic Movies saved my life. The channel has been a comfort to many others going through grief, illness, divorce, the loss of a job, or other hardships.

In the end, I can say that Turner Classic Movies changed my life. If not for TCM, I might never have met many of my closest friends, including the most important person in my life. I would never have gotten to introduce A Hard Day's Night on television and it is unlikely I would have ever met Margaret O'Brien. Turner Classic Movies went well beyond being a cable channel that shows classic movies long ago. It has even gone beyond being a brand. Turner Classic Movies has become a means of bringing people together, of providing a community for fans of classic movies. And, for many suffering hardships, it has even become a beacon of hope. The world would be much poorer without Turner Classic Movies.

1 comment:

Mike's Movie Room said...

This is a wonderful tribute to TCM. You speak for many people when you talk about what this channel has meant to you and added to your life. It's nice that you were able to make so many friends and even to appear on the channel itself. Like you, I grew up watching old movies on TV (Boomer here) and already had an appreciation for different kinds of films. But having TCM as a resource was terrific. Several years ago, I dropped most of the cable channels for financial reasons and just have basic service. The only channel I miss is TCM. Your article makes me think it's time to sign up for it once again.