Most times when a cable or TV channel celebrates an anniversary, there's nothing to celebrate. Channels change, evolve, keep up with the ever important advertising dollars that force them to bend to the will of their demographics report. Sure, they'll have graphics to mark how many years they have been around, and it's all a large “pat ourselves on the back” moment. However, this year marks an anniversary that's actually worth celebrating. In a sea of endless reasons why there's no reason to keep cable TV in the year 2014, one channel stands alone, and that channel is the movie oasis known as Turner Classic Movies.
I'm sure it's not going to shock anyone that I'm seeing it fit to write about their 20th year of broadcasting—it's my go to channel. The channel my cable box is usually on when I start it up, and I drink my daily coffee out of one of three TCM coffee mugs. Yes, you could say I'm a fan. To my knowledge, TCM is most unique in that it's the only cable network to win a coveted Peabody Award for doing what seems impossible. The TCM of 2014 looks very much like the TCM of 1994. TCM has been committed to one mission from day one: great movies aired without commercials and 100% intact, no edits.
Much like a fine wine, TCM has only improved with age. What began with a “rogues gallery” of the best of the best—TCM's first film on air was Gone With The Wind—has now been expanded into one of the most wonderfully eclectic and non judgmental mix of movies anyone ever assembled anywhere. A night of films by famed Japanese film maker Akira Kurosawa, might be followed by a day long marathon of Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies. TCM has become more than just a TV channel showing movies, TCM has become the nation's repertory house. At the helm of all of this, each night at eight, is Robert Osborne.
Robert Osborne is more than just an on-air host, he is a part of the DNA of TCM. So much so that it'd be hard to imagine the channel without him. Osborne is always there at the start and end of each film, to add some context, trivia, or to casually share with us why we need to see it. In the years since launch, the face of TCM has grown to include Ben Mankiewicz as the afternoon daytime, and occasional nighttime host, numerous co-hosts for Saturday night's “The Essentials” programing block, custom month long hosts for the recent “Friday Night Spotlight” series, and a wide range of Guest Programmers that range from Kermit The Frog to Songstress Neko Case.
Along the way one might want to ask the question of how could a network based on classic film survive into the future? In an era where it seems older films are becoming less “marketable,” it's legitimate to wonder where TCM might fit in. It's funny, but along the way TCM quietly morphed from “Boy, they don't make them like they used to” to “These films are important, you should see them.” How? In the middle part of the last decade something started to become clear, TCM was finding it had developed a rabid fan base of 20somethings (raises hand). At their recent fifth annual Classic Film Festival (that I dream to attend next year), TCM revealed that 60% of their viewers are 18-49 years of age. Not to mention that it was reported almost half of the attendees at the film festival were people in their 20s and 30s.
If there's a secret to TCM's success, it's that it has something that not many other—if any—channels have, a sense of community. TCM fans are very active on social media, there's a hashtag on Twitter, #TCMparty, where people nightly watch along and comment with what is on the air. When TCM airs a film of a more recent age, you can see the comments fly on the internet, all ranging from pro to no. Last Fall TCM launched their wonderful new Watch TCM app, the app not only gives you a rundown of that week's line up, but also allows you to stream the channel on your smartphone or tablet (It's how I survived last Thanksgiving).
As we celebrate a 20th anniversary well worth celebrating, TCM is most definitely alive and well. A thriving place where at any time of the day or night, odds are good you're gonna find something you love. On those nights when my insomnia gets the best of me, it's what I watch. A night like that which is most memorable to me, was the night a sleepless and tired Andy turned on the channel in the middle of the 1947 “from the view point of the detective” film noir, Lady In The Lake. As my focus changed from my pillow to watch what was on my TV, my brain slowly began to think “Is that Audrey Meadows? It is. Why is she talking to me?” An odd little number of a film, but one worth seeing when it comes around again, and provided a very strange sensation in a sleep deprived me for about a minute and a half.
Here's to hoping we're in store for another 20 years of the same, a home for everything from Casablanca to Plan 9 From Outer Space. I know I'll be there, anxious to see what new film discovery might be around the corner, or just to fall in love with a movie I've seen before all over again. Happy 20th TCM, here's looking at you, kid.