Turner Classic Movies spent eight years “trying to scream a little louder than the other guy in the classic movie genre,” said Tom Karsch, general manager of the cable channel.
Now that “the other guy” — AMC — has opted out of the arena, TCM is marking its 10th anniversary Wednesday as the go-to outlet for such films.
“Turner Classic Movies is a movie lover’s paradise, an unending film festival,” The New York Times has said.
Kevin Brownlow, an authority on the silent film era and director of TCM’s recent highly praised documentary “Cecil B. DeMille: American Epic,” said: “The value of the channel is to show the incredible past of the American cinema ... To be able to put on a television set and see superb quality prints of pictures going back 60, 70 years is a most amazing privilege.”
His one complaint: “I always think they could show a lot more silent films but that happens to be my passion in life.”
And the vociferous criticism about colorization of black-and-white films once associated with the Turner name — an abomination to purists — seems a long-ago memory.
Turner stations, including TNT and TBS, now keep the colorized versions on the shelf — even though founder Ted Turner told Karsch that he remains a fan.
“What I find interesting is the fact that Ted says he would still, given the choice, watch ‘Casablanca’ in color versus black and white. And I just looked at him,” Karsch said, laughing, “and said, ‘I just don’t get that.”’
A film lover's delightTCM owns some 3,500 old movies, a collection that includes the pre-1948 Warner Bros. library, pre-1986 MGM films and the complete RKO collection. Recently, it bought 89 Universal movies, including “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Out of Africa,” and 57 from Columbia, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “From Here to Eternity” among them.
Most other basic-cable networks show commercials, including the revamped American Movie Classics, which now seeks a broader audience.
But TCM remains commercial-free, relying on license fees from cable operators — estimated at $155.5 million this year, up from $138.4 million in 2003. TCM has some 68 million U.S. subscribers and expects to surpass 70 million in the next few months.
“The unique selling point that we have to the consumer is the fact that they can see these movies uncut and commercial-free,” Karsch said.
Atlanta-based TCM is part of Turner Broadcasting System Inc., owned by Time Warner — where, Karsch said, management knows it has plenty of other channels to sell advertising on.
And cable companies like it because they can offer “expanded-basic” service. The cable operators know they can add it when they increase rates and they like that it’s something that appeals to an older demographic, which is typically ignored.
“We totally embrace the older demographic but at the same time we also understand that there’s a need to create relevance with a younger group of viewers as well,” Karsch said.
They’re trying to do that by branching out into publishing, licensing and merchandising.
TCM also has added Ben Mankiewicz — the thirtysomething grandson of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz (“Citizen Kane”) and grandnephew of Oscar winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz (“All About Eve”) — as the weekend daytime host.
That way, TCM puts a face on these movies that “isn’t always a white-haired older man,” Karsch said, referring to prime-time host Robert Osborne.
Osborne has been lauded as “uncannily informed,” and Karsch pointedly added: “There’s nothing wrong with the white-haired older man. We LOVE the white-haired older man.”