UPDATE: TCM Returns to DISH Network After Month-Long Blackout

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 12.25.28 PMGreat news for classic film fans who subscribe to DISH Network: Turner Classic Movies is back. At least until March.

After a monthlong blackout that began on October 21, a joint announcement was made today that DISH and Turner have reached an agreement that will temporarily restore TCM, CNN, CNN en Espanol, HLN, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Boomerang to more than 14 million subscribers nationwide. With this new agreement, the threatened blackout of TNT and TBS will also be forestalled. DISH’s contract for carriage of TNT and TBS was set to expire on December 5.

According to a Turner statement, first quoted by The Wrap, “DISH Network and Turner Broadcasting announced today that they have mutually decided to restore service of CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, truTV, TCM, HLN, CNN en Espanol and Boomerang, and extend the carriage of TBS and TNT. Dish and Turner will not have any further comment.”

Variety is reporting that the agreement is only a short-term extension. The deal that was confirmed this morning will restore the Turner networks only through March, essentially giving both sides five more months to resolve their differences.

Both sides have dismantled their propaganda websites, as well, with the Dish Stand For You site and Turner’s Save My Shows page trumpeting the resolution of the dispute. Of course neither side mentions that the solution may only be temporary.

This article will be updated periodically as more information becomes available. 

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VIDEO: Robert Osborne Introduces MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET at Macy’s

postThere was a chill in the New York City air, but the hearts of classic film fans were toasty warm when Robert Osborne introduced an open-air screening of MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET outside Macy’s Herald Square tonight.

The beloved TCM host – the only white-haired man more popular than Santa himself – was joined by Amy Kule, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and a full house of fans seated in comfy couches before a giant LED screen. And yes, Virginia, the 1947 film was presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio, and nobody seemed confused by the black bars on the left and right of the screen.

Over the course of the day, TCM screened the Christmas classic seven times, with thousands of New Yorkers taking a break from their work day to enjoy an iconic movie and a free cookie, courtesy of Macy’s. (TCM Tour guide Sarah Lilley told me that she handed out 3,000 cookies to fans in five hours. Who knows how many pre-Holiday diets she single-handedly ruined.)

This was the second year TCM and Macy’s partnered for these screenings, and it looks like it won’t be the last.

“This has become our annual tradition,” Kule said to Osborne before tonight’s screening. “And I’m so pleased that you’re here.”

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Update: TCM Brings MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET to Macy’s 34th Street

TreeUpdated 11/21/14 w/ pictures and video from the screenings. 

“This is quite an opportunity!” Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) tells Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) when she offers him a job “playing” Santa in MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947).

The same might be said for Turner Classic Movies, which has announced a full day of screenings of the Christmas classic outside the iconic department store in which it’s set – Macy’s Herald Square in New York City. On Thursday, November 20th, TCM will present MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET seven times, with on-air host Robert Osborne introducing the 6:15 p.m. 6:00 p.m. screening live.  (No word yet on whether he’ll arrive by sleigh.)

MIRACLE ON 34th STREET will screen at 8:15 a.m, 10:00 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 3:15 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 8:00 p.m. in beautiful black-and-white on a large LED screen outside in Herald Square Plaza on Broadway between 34th and 35th streets. (This is the area in which Macy’s stages musical numbers for their annual Thanksgiving Day parade.) Limited seating will be available to the public, but fans are permitted to bring chairs of their own to insure seating (just not this one). Macy’s is accessible via the B/D/F/M/Q/R and PATH trains to 34th Street and 6th Avenue, or the 1/2/3/A/C/E, Amtrak, and New Jersey Transit to Penn Station at 34th and 7th Avenue.

In addition to Osborne’s appearance, the 6:15 p.m. 6:00 p.m. showing will kick off with “a special holiday greeting on behalf of TCM and Macy’s” and an appearance by Amy Kule, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (essentially the job Maureen O’Hara’s character had in the film). And all screenings are FREE.

So what exactly is the “opportunity” here for TCM?

77173-004-FAA96EFDThe network does not currently control broadcast rights to MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, so this day-long marathon is the only chance to connect the TCM brand with one of the best-known Holiday films of all time. For reasons that are beyond my comprehension, viewers who avoid older films like sour egg nog most of the year often rediscover a select few during the Christmas season. Films that benefit from this – IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) on NBC, WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) on AMC, A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) on TBS – tend to become viewing traditions for families, and can help to introduce new fans to the classics.

And what better way to initiate an old-movie-weirdo-in-training than by watching a great old movie with other fans (weird or otherwise)? Whether it’s at an historic theater in Hollywood as part of TCM’s annual Classic Film Festival, or outside Macy’s during the Holidays, this is one of the things TCM does best: creating live experiences that transcend the television.

“It’s our mission to share the greatest movies of all time with new audiences,” newly minted TCM general manager Jennifer Dorian said in a statement. “And this is a treat for the whole family.”

Best of all: the forecast calls for unseasonably mild temperatures on November 20. That truly is a Christmas miracle.

PicUPDATE 11/20/14

Here are my Instagram shots from the 1:30 p.m. screening:

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Watch my video of Robert Osborne’s introduction to the evening screening here.

 

 

 

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TCM Survives Turner Layoffs, Announces New G.M.

RobertAfter months of speculation in the wake of announced layoffs and buyouts, and a grassroots campaign in support of Turner Classic Movies and its staff, the impact cost-cutting initiatives at Turner Broadcasting will have on TCM is now clear.

First, the good news: TCM will continue to air classic films without commercial interruption, as the channel has done for the last two decades, to the delight of millions of viewers (including this one). And the popular “off-channel” experiences that allow TCM’s fiercely loyal fan base (again, looking in the mirror) to connect with the network in-person will continue.

“TCM is committed to maintaining the same high quality you’ve come to expect from us,” a Turner spokesperson told me. “That includes TCM’s extraordinary lineup of movies, which will continue to be presented uncut and commercial-free, as well as live events like the TCM Classic Film Festival and the TCM Cruise.”

Also, in the wake of an extensive management reorganization at Turner that culminated with the hiring of Kevin Reilly as the new head of TNT and TBS last week, I can report exclusively that TCM has a new general manager. 

Jennifer Dorian Portrait Senior Vice President, Strategy DevelopmentEffective immediately, Jennifer Dorian, previously the chief strategy officer for Turner Entertainment Networks, takes on the position of general manager of TCM, a role formerly filled by Jeff Gregor. Whereas Gregor managed the channel in addition to his responsibilities as chief marketing officer for sister networks TNT and TBS, Dorian will be dedicated solely to TCM, which will remain based in Atlanta.

In her previous role with the company, Dorian had been in charge of strategy development for TNT, TBS, truTV, and TCM. She joined Turner fifteen years ago after stints at Pizza Hut, Inc. and The Coca-Cola Company and led the rebranding of TNT in 2000 and TBS in 2004, as well as the relaunch of Court TV as truTV in 2007. But perhaps most notably to TCM fans, according to Deadline Hollywood, Turner management credits Dorian “with the exploration of brand extension into new areas – such as TCM’s Classic Film Festival.” The fact that the new TCM chief helped to establish a hugely popular venue for viewers to connect with the network face-to-face should be encouraging to loyalists.

Now the bad news: there will be fewer of those faces at the network to connect with.

twI’m told by a source that Turner has laid off approximately a dozen TCM employees as part of the company-wide Turner 2020 initiative, first revealed by CEO John Martin on June 2. While the loss of even one job at  is disheartening, it appears that TCM has been impacted the least of all the Turner networks in terms of headcount reductions.

On October 6, Turner announced they would eliminate 1,475 positions, including 975 in Atlanta, and those layoffs are already rolling out across the company. CNN has been hit with staff reductions in Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York and Los Angeles, with roughly 300 positions – 8 percent of the network’s total staff – expected to be eliminated. And Layoff Fever has also spread throughout parent company Time Warner, with HBO expected to eliminate 7% of its 2,400 employees and Warner Bros. already in the process of cutting 10% of its 9,000 person workforce.

So how did TCM emerge from a harrowing and tumultuous period largely intact, when other sister networks within the company did not? Part of that may have to do with the channel’s relatively small full time staff. But perhaps a larger component has to do with Turner’s acknowledgment that TCM is a core brand with a passionate viewership that is fiercely loyal to the channel and its staff.

“(O)ur parent company recognizes that TCM is a very valuable jewel in the portfolio,” Scott McGee, a senior writer/producer at the network, told Alicia Mayer and me on a recent episode of Hollywood Time Machine.

With Dorian, a marketing guru described as “a big champion of the (TCM) brand,” at the helm, a newly autonomous Turner Classic Movies may be poised for growth in areas viewers can only imagine. And, as DISH network continues the inexplicable blackout of the channel that began on October 21, now may be the time for TCM to start thinking outside the (cable) box.

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Update: Dish CEO’s “Antagonistic” Comments Damage Negotiations with Turner

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 4.44.38 PMUpdated 11/6/14 

As the dispute between DISH Network and Turner Broadcasting enters its third week, relations between the two companies are starting to feel like a marriage gone sour.

On an earnings call with investors this morning, Turner CEO John Martin responded to DISH CEO Charlie Ergen’s comments about the satcaster’s blackout of eight Turner Broadcasting channels, calling his remarks “antagonistic and aggressive.”

The blackout of TCM, CNN, CNN en Espanol, HLN, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Boomerang began in the early morning hours of October 21, impacting more than 14 million DISH customers nationwide. Martin expressed confusion at the tone of the comments today, implying that the two sides had been far closer to an agreement than Ergen’s remarks suggested. 

Ergen“(W)hile there clearly were more deal points to get done, they were not of the type of nature that would result in networks going dark,” Variety quotes Martin as saying.

Martin’s conspicuous use of the past tense also extends to Dish’s announced “virtual cable” service, which will deliver a paired-down offering of channels to subscribers via the Internet for $20-$30 per month. The “over-the-top” (OTT) offering is designed for cord-cutters and so-called cord-nevers who “don’t live in the same place all the time,” such as college students and twenty-something Millennials. A deal had been place to include Turner networks on the service, but Martin said Turner’s involvement in that offering was now “unclear.”

“To us, it is unclear exactly what the dispute with Dish is,” the Hollywood Reporter quotes Martin as saying. “(W)e’re disappointed particularly, given the fact that Dish had previously agreed to our network’s rates and our carriage proposals weeks ago.”

unnamedSo if the blackout is not about Turner’s demand for higher subscription fees from DISH customers, as DISH has insisted from Day 1, then what complicated the negotiations, which collapsed on October 21?

One potential sticking point may be HBO’s standalone streaming service, set to launch in 2015, which was announced by Time Warner on October 15 – just days before the blackout began. Although details of the service have not yet been revealed, HBO CEO Richard Plepler said today that the network is looking to pull in as many as 5 million subscribers with the subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) version of HBO, which may (or may not) resemble the HBO GO streaming platform currently offered to customers with authenticated pay TV subscriptions.

Targeting an available customer base of 10 million broadband-only customers in the US who don’t subscribe to cable TV, Turner’s corporate cousin HBO may find itself in direct competition with DISH’s planned internet-only offering.

Whatever the reasons, like in all disintegrating marriages, it’s the kids (or in this case the viewers) who are suffering the most in this fight.

Update 11/6/14 

Turner has updated its Save My Shows website, referencing the the “aggressive nature of the comments” from Ergen and the fact that DISH had agreed to increased rates for the blacked-out channels “weeks ago.” DISH’s consumer Dish Stands For You continues to insist “Turner is making unreasonable financial demands.”

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DISH Threatens to Blackout TCM + Turner Networks “Forever”

ErgenLet’s say you were the chairman of the third largest multichannel video programming distributor in the United States, and your customers were entering the third week of a blackout of some of their favorite TV channels, due to an inscrutable squabble between corporate behemoths.

How would you discuss the situation in a public venue? Odds are your approach would be less tone deaf than that of DISH Network chairman Charlie Ergen.

“It’s almost been a non-event at this point,” Ergen told analysts and members of the media today, referring to the blackout of eight Turner networks, including TCM, that began on October 21. “Turner…is one of the easy ones to take down.”

And just in case you’re one of those bright-eyed optimists who thinks, “These companies will work it out. They always do,” Ergen added this little nugget:

“When we take something down we’re prepared to leave it down forever.”

dish_network_logoErgen is clearly attempting to negotiate in the media, perhaps in the wake of the blustery bombast from Turner CEO John Martin at Time Warner’s Investor Day presentation on October 15:

“We are getting the rate increases we’re seeking. By year end will have new deals with 8 of top 10 distributors,” Martin assured analysts. “We’re approaching these discussions from a position of strength.”

While it’s true that Turner’s cable network affiliate revenues are up 8.8% over 2013 to $4.2 billion (second only to Disney), Ergen is unimpressed, suggesting that the channels in this bundle – excluding TNT and TBS, which are part of a separate deal – are not priorities to his subscribers. 

“(Channels) like CNN are not quite the product that they used to be. You can imagine: CNN down on election night would have been a disaster 15 or 20 years ago. Now there are plenty of other places for people to get news,” he said. “We have other news and cartoon shows (referring to Cartoon Network and Boomerang). (Would subscribers) rather save the money? There’s a pretty good chance that they would.”

BobErgen’s “one channel is interchangeable with another” worldview was demonstrated within hours of the blackout when DISH began swapping out Turner networks for replacements with similar programming. TCM with replaced with FXM, formerly the Fox Movie Channel, an advertiser-supported network that programs recent film releases during half its programing day. Not long after I wrote an article condemning DISH for this bait-and-switch, the satcaster began simulcasting MGM HD in TCM’s stead. MGM, which also carries ads, may be a more appropriate substitute than FXM, but it still pales in comparison to TCM’s 24 hours per-day of commercial-free classics.

And Ergen is not stopping at CNN, CNN en Espanol, HLN, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Boomerang. He’s also extending his posturing to DISH’s carriage of TNT and TBS, which is up for renewal later this year.

“(I)f we’re not going to carry CNN or Cartoon Network then I’m not really excited when your contract’s up to carry TNT and TBS. So we have to be prepared that those channels will come down as well,” he said. “Those will be more painful.”

With an average subscriber fee of $1.33 (second only to ESPN), the loss of TNT alone from 14.1 million homes would have a impact on Turner’s bottom line, both in affiliate fees and ad revenue. When you add TBS and the other Turner networks, the stakes increase. To put the current dispute in perspective, all eight of the currently blacked-out channels on DISH (excluding TNT and TBS) cost subscribers on average $1.57 per month combined, which equates to only pennies per month, per subscriber for TCM. Think about that the next time you pay a gigantic cable bill strictly because you want to keep watching TCM.

Lost in the gamesmanship and focus on the bottom line is the importance TCM plays in the lives of many of its viewers – this one included. Ergen may dismiss it as “easy to take down” and replaceable with other channels, but reader feedback I’ve received tells a very different story. Here are a few excerpts of comments posted on Cinematically Insane over the last two weeks:

“I want TCM back! There is no TV without it.” – Ruthie

“I watch TCM every day…This has got to be solved YESTERDAY.” – Kathleen

“This is bull! I want TCM back. Only channel I watch and now it’s gone.” – Connie

“My husband loves TCM. Every night at 7pm he turns it on and usually will watch what is on… Please negotiate whatever is needed and bring it back.” – Jean

“TCM was the main reason I’ve stayed with Dish network… They need to settle this dispute.’’ – John

“I pay $86.27 a month just to WATCH TCM… I can watch it for hours and forget the nasty old world we have.” – Ricky B.

“Fix your problems we pay WAY TO MUCH FOR TV AND IT IS YOUR JOBS TO KEEP ALL THE PROGRAMMING THAT WE PAY FOR.” – Dan

“Please please please bring back TCM because it is the only channel I watch. What a great inconvenience & aggravation. With all the terrible world events happening TCM is a positive outlet.” – Lora

“TCM…is the ONLY channel I can leave on and not worry that my kids will walk by and see or hear something inappropriate…Have some moral and ethical decency and put TCM back on the air.” – Gina

“There is no channel that can replace TCM. The classic movies…(are) one of a kind and such good entertainment! Beats a lot of the trashy shows on the major networks any day. Wish DISH and Turner would hurry up and resolve their dispute and return TCM back where it belongs! I look forward to watching TCM every day and miss it so very much.” – Yvonne

“If Dish cannot / will not bring TCM etc. back PRONTO we will be gone for good!” – Mike and Tina

“I love TCM and watch it every day. Greed has taken over the entire world. Isn’t billions of dollars enough for all you people? Let the little man watch his programs. We are the ones that made you what you are.”– Albert

“I subscribe to Dish because of TCM and I have dropped other services because of issues like this. I have a terminal illness, just please let me go with my memories.” – name withheld

Based on Ergen’s comments today, a deal between DISH and Turner had better be imminent, or it may never happen.

“(T)here comes a point in time – certainly during this month,” he said. “(that) if we don’t have a deal we just make a long-term decision to go a different direction.

Update 11/5/14: Read the Turner CEO’s response to Ergen here – plus a theory on what really may be causing this blackout 

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4 World Premiere Restorations Announced for 2015 TCM Film Fest

tcm-2015-v2Turner Classic Movies announced today that passes for the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival  will go on sale to the public on Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 12 p.m. (ET). A limited number of passes for event will also be available to Citi cardmembers via an exclusive online only presale beginning at 10 a.m. (ET) on Tuesday, November 11 and concluding at 10 a.m. (ET) on Thursday, Nov. 13.

The network also announced the first batch of films for the sixth annual classic film conclave, scheduled for March 26 – 29 in Hollywood. All four are world premiere restorations, an increasingly important marketing hook for anything involving classic film.

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Buster Keaton’s STEAMBOAT BILL JR. (1928) will screen at TCMFF in a new restoration presented in collaboration with Cohen Film Collection. Keaton’s beloved comedy about the son of a paddleboat captain who falls in love with the competitor’s daughter will be presented with a live orchestral accompaniment of a new score by silent film composer Carl Davis, with Davis conducting.

STEAMBOAT BILL JR. contains both my favorite extended sequence of visual comedy and my favorite sight gag in all of silent film: the hurricane that blows William Canfield Jr. (Keaton) through the town on his bed, and the two-story house that crashes down on top of him.

This screening continues TCM’s practice of presenting new silent film restorations with live musical accompaniment, a tradition that began at the first TCMFF in 2010 with Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS (1928) accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra (which is still my greatest-ever TCMFF experience). At the fifth annual Festival this past spring, Davis conducted the world premiere live performance of his new original score for Harold Lloyd’s WHY WORRY (1923) with an orchestra at the historic Egyptian Theater. He also appeared in a Q&A at the Club TCM event space earlier in the day.

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TCM will celebrate the 55th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s SPARTACUS (1960) with a new restoration presented in collaboration with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. This will be a repeat performance for the sword and sandal epic, which was previously presented at the 2011 TCMFF in an unforgettable screening at Grauman’s Chinese Theater with the Kirk Douglas in attendance.

“We love you Kirk,’ I said to the then-94-year-old legend as he made his way off stage after a Q&A with Robert Osborne.

“I love you too,” he replied with a big smile.

No word yet on whether Douglas will be in attendance. He turns 98 on December 13 and made an appearance just two weeks ago to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Culver City theater that bears his name.

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William Dieterle’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939) will screen in a new restoration presented in association with Warner Bros. Classics. The lavish RKO adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel stars Charles Laughton as Quasimodo, with Maureen O’Hara as Esmeralda. The legendary actress, still with us at age 94, was one of the most highly anticipated guests at the Festival earlier this year, introducing a screening of John Ford’s HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941). She also participated in a taped Q&A with Robert Osborne at the Roosevelt Hotel, highlights of which were broadcast on TCM during O’Hara’s “Star of the Month” salute in July.

Like with Kirk Douglas, TCM has not yet indicated if Maureen O’Hara will be in attendance for this screening.

dvd_apolloThe head scratcher in this announcement – at least for me –  is Ron Howard’s APOLLO 13 (1995) with Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, and Ed Harris. TCM actually leads their press release announcing their screening of the “world premiere restoration, presented in collaboration with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment” which is odd, considering that many attendees may wonder why a film that is only 20 years old needs to be restored.

Others may question why TCMFF is presenting such a “recent” film, though it’s not the first time they’ve dipped their toes into mid-1990s “classics.” Stephen Herek’s MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS (1995) screened at the Festival earlier this year, with star Richard Dreyfuss in attendance, and Dreyfuss also was a guest on the recently completed TCM Classic Cruise.

The advantage to presenting more recent films at these events is, of course, that more of the cast and crew is available to appear at the screening. If TCM can score Ron Howard and one or more of the principal cast members, it will be interesting to see how many of the Old Movie Weirdos choose to attend a more contemporary classic at TCMFF. If they can’t, or don’t, then what’s the point? Give us another classic Noir or Pre-Code.

To read my guide to the 2015 TCMFF click here. To visit the TCMFF website click here

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