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30 Years of TCM

TCM celebrates 30 years of bringing classic cinema to viewers

On April 14, 1994, a cable channel premiered and began to change the way viewers watched classic films.

As Turner Classic Movies marks its 30th-anniversary milestone, events both on the air and in person at the 15th TCM Classic Film Festival — to be staged April 18-21 in Hollywood — will help celebrate the occasion. Weekly on TCM each Thursday, starting April 4, a series titled The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: 30 Years of TCM will see founding staff members introduce some of their own favourite films, starting with former TCM chief Brad Siegel and 1977’s Annie Hall.

As might be expected, April 14 will bring a particularly big tribute to the channel’s roots on TCM, incorporating introductions as they were done by original TCM host Robert Osborne. The day will start with some of Osborne’s favourite titles, including the 1950 drama The Breaking Point (a “Noir Alley” presentation) and the 1948 musical The Pirate.

Later, after such attractions as An American in Paris (1951), some guest-programmer stints and a “Private Screenings” special about Osborne, the first movie ever shown on TCM will be presented: the Oscar-winning 1939 epic Gone With the Wind, with a new introduction by the first person to become a full-time TCM host after Osborne, Ben Mankiewicz.

30 Years of TCM on TCM. Pictured: TCM host Ben Mankiewicz
TCM, Gracenote

“It’s quite a responsibility to work there, but also a joy,” Mankiewicz says. “I got there in 2003, and there aren’t a lot of jobs like this. It takes a while to introduce yourself comfortably to this audience that is resistant to changing something that is so important to them, something that connects them to people who came before them.

“[The viewers] came around to me, but I’m not Robert,” adds Mankiewicz. “No one else is Robert, and the biggest mistake I could have made would have been trying to imitate him. The only thing I can do effectively is to play myself, and this channel has let that happen.”

The past three decades have seen the TCM audience grow to the point where the channel stages not only its Classic Film Festival but its Classic Cruise (with another voyage slated for this October). Such annual franchises as “31 Days of Oscar” and “Summer Under the Stars,” plus the Mankiewicz-hosted podcast The Plot Thickens, also are major aspects of TCM being more than a TV channel to its loyalists — who now include filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson as advisers.

“This is a very proactive, involved, intensely dedicated fan base,” Mankiewicz affirms. “This feels not just like their favourite channel, it’s a part of their lives. And the way the artistic community has turned out for us is really a beautiful thing to see and be a part of and experience. They’ve committed to helping us long-term.”

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