Why We Need Turner Classic Movies
TCM, along with piles of old records that were much cheaper back then, has helped provide a time-travel portal to other worlds so magically different from my own.
I hope nothing happens to Turner Classic Movies. Executive changes at the cable network had me and others worrying that Warner Bros. Discovery was ready to shut it down. It might seem merely a quaint outpost for old-school fans like myself, but there is great relevance to this Atlanta-based institution for quality movie lovers.
I’ve been a fan for many years, long before my passion for the network more accurately reflected fans’ typical demographic. As the great Van Dyke Parks once put it, I rarely lived in my own time, and TCM, along with piles of old records that were much cheaper back then, has helped provide a time-travel portal to other worlds so magically different from my own.
At first I was just an occasional watcher, but something changed and TCM started getting better. Instead of (mainly) just one host, the late great Robert Osborne, the hosts expanded in number allowing a broader brush of tastes and styles to help the programming evolve. Now I was seeing movies on TCM as wild and rare as anything you might find at Atlanta’s VideoDrome, Augusta’s Psychotronic (a magazine from the ’80s that helped spark my movie obsession) or Graveface Museum in Savannah.
I could access some of these lost treasures through digital resources, but it’s nice sometimes to let someone else do the curating. Much as I love listening to music and watching movies, finding the good stuff can feel like work! And I prefer people to algorithms when it comes to programming cultural adventures.
And so just like in a thrift or antiques store where you find a pile of books, movies or music that someone has already accumulated and changed their mind about, before they are put back where they were supposed to go, you are grateful to be able to pick from their picks. They have gone through the stacks already, have picked the best stuff and have saved you the effort.
Excellent programming has always been available through the Turner legacy, one way or another. As a kid I grew up watching Space Giants, still arguably the strangest Japanese live-action manga ever, and lots of “psychotronic” movies on the Superstation, as we called Turner Broadcasting System back then. I won’t get into the long history of this incredible part of the cable network story, but suffice to say that, in my mind, it has filtered down – mostly – into TCM, my go-to station.
You can’t ask for better programming. There was a time when I thought, well, they’re going to run out of movies at some point, because I had generally considered classic movies like I do silver- or golden-age comics or even classical music – limited to a certain time frame, in a way. But the classical genre still exists, and classic movies are still being made.
And it is still the most reliable place to watch Top Hat or Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
But it is in fact more than an institution; it’s a broadcast museum of sorts that has escalated the process of bringing the big screen to the – well, not-so-small screen anymore I suppose, but you get the idea. Yes, there is still paid cable and streaming, which give you access to the newer movies you missed at the cinema. Specialty cable channels still occasionally play older and even classic movies, and old tv shows.
TCM, however, is the greatest, the final bastion of movie channels that have provided great late-night viewing for decades. Let’s face it, new movies are great, but old movies are for me the ultimate antidote to the Godzilla-like hype campaigns that accompany each new film. There aren’t that many places to find the old ones anymore, although the re-emergence of old town cinemas like Atlanta’s Lefont Tara is encouraging.
Numerous celebrities have emerged to protest recent budget cuts at TCM, making similar points – that this is a public good, that no one else does as good a job contextualizing the movies with interviews and intros and post-movie commentary and educating people about films not just through broadcasts but through documentaries, a cruise, wines and the annual TCM festival.
But I will contextualize it a bit more and say, as the CNN Center empties out in downtown Atlanta, that this is one of the last great flagship brands of the whole Turner empire standing, and since it’s based out of the capital, a certain amount of local pride is at stake. On behalf of the state of Georgia and city of Atlanta, I hope the executives involved will yield to the recent celebrity pressure to preserve TCM.