Print editions being what they are, my cover story on Robert Osborne and Turner Classic Movies felt woefully short even given the fact my editor was kind enough to let me go over the traditional word count.
But there was practically another cover storyâs worth of information that could have been crammed into the piece, so hereâs a laundry list of some of the items:
âWhat would be really wonderful is if the 80th year is like the first year, and thereâs a banquet, no television and they just presented the awards,â Osborne said. âWouldnât that be a wonderful full circle?â (Shameless Oscar plug: CL film critics Felicia Feaster, Curt Holman and I will be live-blogging during the awards ceremonies this Sunday, Feb. 24, starting at 8 p.m. Please join in the fun.)
â¢ Original programming. While itâs still a little unclear how different TCMâs programming will be now that it's tucked more snugly inside the Turner umbrella, there are plenty of programming options to get excited about. I briefly mentioned two of them in the article: the continuation of the Race and Hollywood series, and the premiere of "Under the Influence with Elvis Mitchell." The latest in the "Race and Hollywood" series, which will air in June, will focus on Asian images in American film, with University of Delaware film scholar Peter X. Feng serving as the primary source. Feng, the author of Screening Asian Americans and Asian American Film and Video, will discuss films such as Shanghai Express, Mr. Moto, The Good Earth, Enter the Dragon and The Joy Luck Club.
Since leaving his gig at the New York Times, Mitchell has become a fixture on National Public Radio with his essential Hollywood program, âThe Treatment,â which originates from Santa Monicaâs KCRW and allows Mitchell to discuss a wide range of aspects of the film business with an equally wide range of figures. (Iâd love to get a crack at HIS Rolodex!) âUnder the Influenceâ is inspired by TCMâs original documentary, and host Mitchell will interview film figures about the movies that inspired them, in July. Quentin Tarantino is an early scheduled guest.
As for TCMâs famed themed approach to programming, look for the second installment of the "Forbidden Hollywood" series in March, including the documentary Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood. (The Warner Home Video collection comes out March 4.) Also keep an eye out for upcoming movies about railroads in April (think Murder on the Orient Express) and a celebration of Frank Sinatra movies in the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of his death, with his children Frank Jr., Tina and Nancy discussing his movies, in May. Look for a special festival of Abel Gance (Napoleon) movies in April.
â¢ The website. Clearly thereâs a push to maximize commerce traffic on TCMâs website, but what I really find fascinating is how the site is at its best in promoting a bona fide film culture online. There are the Featured Articles, Movie News and Book Corner, all of which keep movie fans updated on whatâs happening. But the serious film geeks flock to the blog, Movie Morlocks, and the message board that has fans discussing everything from TCM programming choices (I remember someone telling me execs troll the message board looking for ideas) to their favorite genre-based films. The most famous of the posters is Kim Punk Rock, who is such a fan that TCM sent weekend-afternoon host Ben Mankiewicz and a crew out to film her getting the networkâs logo tattooed on her arm. See the video here.
âItâs huge,â Richard Steiner, VP for new media/interactive at TCM, TNT and TBS, and confessed film geek, says of the site's importance to fans. âItâs something we talk about so much.â Steiner says there are plans to develop new features âto help fans talk to each other and get more involved in that discussion. We want to develop more social networking communities that can get classic film fans to connect with each other.
âIâve met them, and theyâre really just great, average folks," Steiner continues. "We always tried to pinpoint the commonalities that bring someone to how they fell in love with classic movies. There are all kinds of different people on our boards. Some [became fans] because their parents did, some did it by accident, some [started] in college, some because there was a repertory theater in their town.â (Kudos to âkjolseth,â by the way, for rightly posting last week on Movie Morlocks that it was the since-departed Roy Scheiderâs work in All That Jazz, and not Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer, that deserved the 1979 Oscar for Best Actor.)
â¢ âBrands without borders.â Itâs a bit of a catchphrase over at Turner, and if I didnât go into it in sufficient detail in the cover story, here are some more thoughts â¦
Really, itâs all about integrating the other Turner networks so they're working for each other and not for themselves -- and yet Turner execs suggested that right now thatâs a one-way street, with them hoping to use other networks such as TNT and TBS to help drive viewers over to the smaller-audience TCM.
âWe want our brands to transcend the linear network,â explains Molly Battin, senior VP for brand development and digital platforms, TBS, TNT and TCM. âWe want those brands to live on multiple platforms. Thatâs how the future is going. We have to build a brand strong enough to connect to our viewers anywhere and anytime. Weâre looking for new ways to reach our brand lovers.â This basically means Turner wants TCM to be THE place for classic-movie fans to come for content, discussion, viewing, you name it.
One of the ways not mentioned in the cover story was last summerâs New York project Celluloid Skyline, based on a book by James Sanders about the use of New York in classic movies. âWe were able to go into Grand Central Station showcasing backdrops of all these classic movies,â Battin says. âIt was a fixture there at the station. Thatâs a great example of a âplace-based opportunity.ââ
As I mentioned in the article, branding (one of the most important trends in recent corporate-culture history) is incredibly important at Turner, which received tons of industry credit for rebranding TNT as a drama network and TBS as a comedy network. Right now, you see it in little things like making sure to slap on the TCM.com web logo sporadically during movies (which some purists would suggest challenges the "commercial-free" aspect of a movie showing). Time will tell how other branding strategies pop up.
(Photo courtesy Turner Classic Movies)
â¢ What is a "classic"? This is something I would have loved to have gone into greater detail about in the cover story, because it's clearly a point of discussion among hardcore fans on the website's message board. The "31 Days of Oscar" programming, by presenting films by decade, obviously included lots of movies from the 1990s and 2000s, leading many to question if some of these movies have been around long enough to "qualify" as a classic. For example, is 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King -- which has played on the sister network, TNT -- already a classic? Is showing the movie on TCM a bit of overexposure? I'm not sure. You can argue both sides: Yes, it's duplicating something at the sacrifice of older, more worthy fare that already has achieved classic status, but it's also an opportunity to see a very long movie without commercial interruption and in letterbox format.
Here's Osborne's take on it, which didn't make the print version:
"Classic" is really something thatâs been around for awhile. Now, I think it means something thatâs kind of out there and has some value of some kind. I think there are movies we would never show here, but even some of those now have curiosity appeal. Whatâs more important is itâs a channel for everybody. Even if theyâre not your kind of movies, you have a chance to see them.
During "Summer Under the Stars" we had Roy Rogers movies, [including] some of them weâve never shown. Itâs interesting to see what might have appealed to you about them at that time. My theory is that almost any movie is interesting, bad or good. And thatâs my job as the host: to talk about some things to make the movie interesting that will make you stay and watch the movie. There may be something in it, maybe something that was happening in the actorâs life at the time, what was happening at the studio at the time. One of my favorite examples is Desire Me, which came out in 1947 with Greer Garson and Robert Mitchum, and it was one of the great disasters of her career, and her career had never really recovered from it. And sheâd been a great star up until then. And it was considered so bad that [director] George Cukor â¦ wouldât put his name on it. Itâs the only movie from a major studio with no director credit on it. And I love to show that movie and talk about it because if you talk about that movie and judge it from that standpoint and not, "This movie isnât that good," that it is interesting. And then I point out some of the good things about it: Itâs got great cinematography, itâs got a beatuful music score, itâs got Robert Mitchum at the beginning of this career. So if you know some bacground, even on a bad movie it can be an interesting movie to watch.
â¢ Correction: I inadvertently referred to Lucille Ball's husband, Desi Arnaz, by his character's name on "I Love Lucy." It's fixed in the online version. My apologies.