As Turner Layoffs Loom, One Fan Says #DontTouchTCM

postWhen Turner Broadcasting announced job cuts yesterday that would eliminate nearly 1,500 employees, many TCM fans began to worry about the fate of their favorite channel – and the loyal men and women “behind the curtain” who work to keep classic film relevant and accessible.

But one viewer decided to do something about it.

Elise Crane Derby, a Los Angeles based writer and media blogger, took to her blog to pen an open letter to Turner’s New York-based CEO John Martin, the man who will dictate the headcount reductions that are expected to take effect within the next few weeks. Reports have indicated that 975 Atlanta-based employees will be laid-off, more than 15 percent of Turner’s workforce in the city of their founding.

“TCM is a family to us and we can’t imagine a single person is expendable,” Derby wrote on The LA Rambler. “It is every one one of TCM’s employees who have earned its viewers fierce loyalty and created a channel that is unparalleled.”

elise head shot (1)And she’s not stopping there. Derby is encouraging other TCM fans to show their support for the channel and its staff members by posting letters on their own blogs and mailing them to Martin. Her grassroots social media campaign has been dubbed #DontTouchTCM and Derby hopes it will inspire other fans to remind management of the important role the channel plays in the lives of film lovers.

“TCM often isn’t even mentioned in articles about Turner, or the layoffs,” she told me via email. “I  know the channel is a small part of the company, but it plays a huge role in the lives of many people. I thought it was important to make sure the corporate executives understand that. And when I read about the job cuts I decided to tell them how I feel.”

But is it too late for fans to make an impact? Recent reports have indicated that the number of headcount reductions has already been determined, and the pink slips are one step away from printing. But like Jimmy Stewart’s crusading senator in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), Mrs. Derby is not going down without a fight.

“Until the first TCM staffer loses their job it’s not too late,” she told me. “Fans need to speak up and spread the word. If we can save one job, this will all be worth it. And if we can’t, at least the people who are leaving will know how we feel about them.”

For more information on the #DontTouchTCM campaign visit The LA Rambler.

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Posted in TCM, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Job Cuts Announced at TCM Parent Turner Broadcasting

CNNTurner Broadcasting, the parent of TCM, announced today that they’ll reduce their global workforce by roughly 10 percent through a combination of layoffs and buyouts. Roughly 1,475 positions – out of 14,000 worldwide – will be eliminated, with affected employees expected to be informed of their fates within the next two weeks.

The cuts are expected to hit hardest in Atlanta, the company’s base of operation since its founding by Ted Turner in 1970. Nearly half its employees – 6,500 of 14,000 – are based there, and approximately 975 of them can expect pink slips. CNN alone is expected to lose 300 staffers, with 170 layoffs and the balance accepting voluntary buyouts the company offered to employees 55 and older with ten years or more at Turner.

Although substantial, the cuts are not as far-reaching as had been feared. When confirmation of headcount reductions was first revealed in an August 19 company-wide memo by Turner’s New York-based CEO John Martin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimated that the final tally could be as much as 15-to-20-percent of the total company, with an aggregate loss of as many as 2,000 employees. The actual cuts will impact roughly 10 percent of the workforce, and more than 15 percent of Turner’s Atlanta-based employees.

First announced by Martin on June 2, the “Turner 2020” initiative seeks to reduce spending and maximize growth and profitability, leading up to the 50th anniversary of the company a little more than five years from now. In the shorter term, Time Warner appears to be getting its financial house in order in advance of a meeting next week with Wall Street analysts to convince them the company is on the right track, after the board rejected a takeover offer from Rupert Murdoch that would have valued Time Warner at $85 per share. Time Warner stock closed today at $73.82

twIn addition to headcount reductions, management changes have altered the face of the company in recent months. Martin, the former Chief Financial Officer of Turner parent Time Warner, took over as CEO earlier this year, replacing Atlanta-based Phil Kent (a 12-year veteran of the company). And just last week, former Time Warner SVP and controller Pascal Desroches was named Turner CFO. In April, Turner Entertainment Networks president Steve Koonin departed after 12 years with the company. And TNT, TBS and TCM programming president Michael Wright is also leaving after a decade; a search is currently underway for his replacement.

How will these changes affect Turner Classic Movies? I asked Scott McGee, a senior writer/producer at TCM, that question when he was a guest on Hollywood Time Machine with Alicia Mayer last week.

“Everybody at TCM is very optimistic; our parent company recognizes that TCM is a very valuable jewel in the portfolio, if you will. So we’re all optimistic that things will stay relatively okay,” he said. “But to coin a phrase from William Goldman, nobody really knows anything.”

We do know one thing: the 2015 edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival will take place next March. What happens after that is anyone’s guess.

But the news wasn’t all bad today, at least if you’re a basketball fan. Turner agreed to contribute about $10 billion to a nine-year, $24 billion extension of its joint NBA rights deal with Disney’s ESPN. According to Deadline, “TNT will pick up 12 additional live regular season games each year, for a total of 64″ beginning with the 2016 season.

So there’s that.

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Hosts Ben Mankiewicz and Robert Osborne at the 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival.

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Classic Film Fan “Origin Stories” – Tonight on Hollywood Time Machine

MarxBeing a classic film fan can be a lonely experience.

When I discovered old movies in the late 1970s, like any kid with a new toy, I wanted to share it, talk about it on the playground, show off my skillz (we didn’t randomly add z’s to words back then, but you get my point). Sadly, none of the kids at St. Joseph’s School in Hewlett, New York cared about the films I was staying up all night to watch; they barely even knew they existed. And when I would launch into a bleary eyed review the next morning, they looked at me like I was a weirdo – which I was, proudly, and still am today.

Sometime in 1981, I coerced five friends into joining me for a Marx Brothers marathon sleepover party at my house.

“It’ll be great!” I promised. “We’ll stay up all night and eat popcorn and watch movies and nobody can tell us what to do!”

After my parents went to bed I put in my VHS tape of A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935), the one I had recorded on Channel 2’s Late Show with the commercials meticulously edited out via my VCR’s wired remote control. Despite my cheerleading (“here comes a funny part!”) and a bowl of air-popped, buttered popcorn, my friends were asleep before the film even ended. So I continued with my marathon all night, alone, while the sleeping-bagged, unconscious bodies of my “friends” littered the living room floor.

What’s your classic film origin story? How did you learn to see the magic that most other people can’t? I’d love to hear your story.

Breakfast-at-tiffany-s-breakfast-at-tiffanys-9813384-1992-2525Alicia Mayer and I will be taking your calls tonight on the Hollywood Time Machine, a live, on-line talk radio show devoted to all things classic. The show starts at 9 p.m. (ET) and also features some great guests: animation historian Tommy Stathes will talk about TCM’s night of rare, early animation this Monday; Profiles in History C.E.O. Joe Maddalena will discuss how his childhood love for old movies led him to found the world’s largest auctioneer of Hollywood memorabilia; and Tony Shepherd will remember his father, Richard Shepherd (1924-2014), producer of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961).

We’ll also discuss this week’s TCM Classic Film Festival announcement, and give away some prizes. And we’ll take calls at the end of the show, so have your (short) stories ready. I promise I won’t fall asleep.

You can listen to Hollywood Time Machine live on L.A. Talk Radio channel 2 starting at 9 p.m. (ET)

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Update: 2015 TCM Film Festival Dates Announced

TCM 2015 V2(UPDATES in italics. Last update 10/3/14)

Turner Classic Movies turns “legal” next spring. But, in the wake of recent headlines regarding buy-outs, layoffs, and management changes at Turner Broadcasting, some fans feared the channel might not reach its 21st birthday in the form in which it exists today, and that the future of the annual TCM Classic Film Festival might be in doubt.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not. At least for now.

Today, the network announced the dates for the 2015 edition of the TCMFF, the most anticipated weekend of the year for Old Movie Weirdos from around the world. From Thursday, March 26 through Sunday, March 29, thousands of fans – 26,000 attended last year – will gather in Hollywood’s historic venues for more than 100 screenings and special events spread across 80 sleepless hours. Passes go on sale in November. 

The 2015 Festival’s theme is History According to Hollywood, promising to explore “how cinema has shaped how we view – and remember – history.” Selections are expected to focus on “works about the past that are a reflection of the period in which they were made,” and how Hollywood has reshaped facts to create tales that are “not always true to the historical record.” (Kind of an understatement, right?)

There’s no word yet on what films will be presented, but this year’s festival is unique in that it will take place two weeks earlier than last year – and more than a month earlier than the 2011 edition, which concluded on May 1.

tcmff_2For the sixth consecutive year, the historic Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd. will again serve as home base, with a packed schedule of daily happenings at the “Club TCM” event space in the Blossom Room, site of the first-ever Academy Awards in 1929. The Roosevelt’s lobby will also be home to a broadcast television studio, where attendees can watch on-air hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz interview celebrities, special guests, and fans. There’s also a pop-up boutique where you can score TCM gear, books, DVDs, and all manner of geeky classic film collectibles that will embarrass your significant other when guests come to visit. The Roosevelt also has two in-house restaurants (and multiple bars) that allow for fans to congregate and, if time allows, eat. (Man can not live for an entire weekend on popcorn alone, though I’ve been doing a pretty good job of it for five years now.)

robert-osborneOsborne and Mankiewicz will once again serve as emcees for the event, introducing screenings at the TCL (formerly Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre –rechristened in 2014 as one of the largest IMAX venues in the world – and the Egyptian Theater, as well as the nearby TCL Chinese 6 Theaters multiplex and other locations (Disney’s El Capitan also served as a venue the last two years). The guest list has not yet been revealed, but it will include performers from the selected films, family members of classic stars, authors, film historians, and contemporary personalities who share a love for Hollywood history.

So the good news is, there will be a TCMFF next year. Phew!

Now for the bad news: after no price increase in 2014, TCM has increased the price of passes at all levels by $50 for the 2015 event, and discontinued the Matinee Pass, which had offered a lower-cost option for daytime screenings only.

UPDATE 10/3/2014 – TCM responded to my request for comment regarding the changes:

“We have adjusted our 2015 pass prices and level offerings slightly in order to continue to offer the high level of festival experience our fans have come to expect,” a TCM spokesperson told me. “Taking into account feedback from passholders and wanting to provide the best possible experience for all attendees, we have made some modifications to our pass levels.”

The following is a summary of available passes and features:

The top tier Spotlight Pass promises “priority entry to all events,” as well as admission to the Vanity Fair-sponsored opening night party and daily meet-and-greet breakfasts with Osborne, Mankiewicz, and guests and a gift bag for $1,649.

The Essential Pass grants full access to all TCMFF events (excluding the opening night VF party), as well as a gift bag, for $749. The Classic Pass gives you everything except the as-yet-unannounced opening night red-carpet screening (and the gift bag) for $599. And TCM has also brought back the Deal of the Century, the $299 Palace Pass (introduced in 2013) for access to all movies at Grauman’s and the Egyptian from Friday through Sunday (sorry, no Club TCM events). Considering that most high-profile screenings happen at these two venues, it’s a great option for anyone on a budget (which is probably all of us).

Perhaps because of the excitement over last year’s 20th anniversary event, passes sold out unusually quickly in 2014. The Essential Pass sold out five hours after the announcement, and the Spotlight passes were all gone within a week – in both cases before the opening night red carpet screening of OKLAHOMA! (1955) was even announced. So, if walking the red carpet with classic film legends is important to you, you should probably get your passes as soon as they go on sale.

screen-shot-2013-09-27-at-7-08-36-pmIn previous years, TCM has also offered media credentials to active classic film bloggers. These press passes will get you into everything, with the exception of the opening night screening and after-party. There’s also typically a press conference on Thursday morning where bloggers get an opportunity to question Osborne, Mankiewicz, V.P. of Programming Charlie Tabesh, and Festival Managing Director Genevieve McGillicuddy. It’s an excellent opportunity to look behind the curtain, and a good indication of the network’s respect for its engaged and highly creative fan base. Social activities like tweet-ups began last year on Wednesday night, so account for that (if possible) when making longterm travel plans.

Applications for credentials are typically due a month before the event, with notification of acceptance a week later. If you’re planning on applying, but aren’t sure you’ll be approved, I recommend you buy a cheap pass in November (like the Palace Pass), apply for credentials, and then get a refund if you’re approved. (Technically, you will be past the deadline for refunds, but TCM has waived this deadline for bloggers in the past.)

If you’re planning to apply, you can review the 2014 accreditation application to make sure that your site content is consistent with the requirements. And, if you don’t have a blog but have been thinking of starting one, what are you waiting for? But remember: not everybody who applies gets approved. I know of a few very worthy candidates who were passed over last year, for reasons that are beyond me.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 5.25.08 PMLastly, lodging: the Roosevelt Hotel offers discount rates for TCMFF attendees, but those rooms will likely be gone by the time you read this. Passholders also get a discount at the nearby W Hotel Hollywood. The Loews Hotel, across the street in the Hollywood and Highland Center, has been a lodging partner in recent years, but does not appear to be included on this year’s list (a quick check of their website shows only very pricey rooms available).

Other, lower-cost local options include the nearby Liberty Hotel ($124-$134) and the Hollywood Celebrity Hotel ($139-$179), right behind the Chinese Theater. Additional lodging options include the Hilton Garden Inn ($239 for cheapest room) and Best Western Hollywood Plaza Inn ($159) on N. Highland Ave., Saharan Motor Motel ($99+) and Days Inn ($119) on Sunset Blvd. I haven’t stayed at any of these places, so do your due diligence before your make your rezzie.

Note: The Roosevelt, Loews, W Hotel, Celebrity, and Liberty were are all sold out by early January for last year’s event. So even if you’re unsure of attendance, or which pass you will buy, make a reservation right now.

If you read me here, or follow me on Twitter, you know how I feel about the TCM Classic Film Festival. Even if you’re lucky enough to live in a city with an active repertory film scene, as I do, it’s still no match for the shared experience of the TCMFF. If all goes according to plan, 2015 will be my sixth year attending. I sure hope it won’t be my last.

For more information, visit the TCMFF website. And watch the first promo here

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Posted in TCM, TCM Classic Film Festival, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Netflix Classic Film Comings + Goings – October, 2014

netflixLast month, when I wrote about Netflix “pulling” classic films from its streaming service, a few readers pointed out that programming decisions are often predicated on licensing agreements with rights holders, and that the “pulling” can sometimes be attributed to studios choosing to grant exclusivity to another licensee (like a cable network) for a finite period of time.

That’s a great point, and it’s an important reminder that we can’t necessarily blame Netflix when high profile classics disappear temporarily from Instant Watch. (And, for the sake of this conversation, we’re considering pre-2000 releases to be “classic.” We can argue about that topic in another post.)

StarTrekIVTheVoyageHome2Often, the period of time that a popular classic is gone from Netflix Instant is mercifully short. The ROCKY, KARATE KID, and original STAR TREK films tend to ricochet back and forth in a whiplash-inducing manner; for example, STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) was pulled on September 1 and it’s already back on the service.

But what about the older, more obscure classics that vanish from Netflix and don’t return quickly (or ever), only to be “replaced” by better known, more recent titles? Did some cable network really pay extra for exclusive rights to air CONVOY (1976) when it left Netflix last month? Not likely.

Perhaps more likely: you didn’t watch CONVOY, and that may be why its gone.

“We can’t license everything, and also maintain our low prices, so we look for those titles that deliver the biggest viewership, relative to the licensing costs,” Jenny McCabe, Netflix’s Director of Global Media Relations, said in a video posted to YouTube last June. “This also means that we’ll forego, or choose not to renew, some titles that aren’t watched enough relative to their costs.”

So now it’s confession time. While I often lament the lack of a robust collection of classic films on Netflix Instant, I almost never watch the ones that are actually still there because it never even occurs to me. I have so many other specialty options to feed my old movie fix: TCM’s live broadcasts, the Watch TCM streaming app, Warner Archive Instant on Roku, Hulu’s Criterion channel, a wall filled with unwatched physical media, and live theatrical screenings in New York City.

I’ve never said to myself, “I want to watch a classic film tonight” and switched over to Netflix Instant. So maybe I’m asking Netflix to be something it never was supposed to be in the first place – and something I never expected it to be: a classic film clearing house that serves as a replacement for my DVD and Blu-ray shelf.

“We remain focussed on our goal of being an expert programmer, offering a mix that delights our members, rather than trying to be a broad distributor,” McCabe says in the video. “We also use our in-depth knowledge about what our members love to watch to decide what (will be) available on Netflix.”

Then she adds what should be a call to action for me, and all classic film fans – especially if you believe that exposure on popular, mainstream platforms is key to new viewers discovering classic film: “If you keep watching, we’ll keep adding more of what you love.”

So start watching, or keep watching. Netflix’s Classic Films category has 500 films to keep you busy.

In the meantime, here are the Classic Film Comings and Goings for October. The news isn’t good, which is probably my fault:

September 30 pre-2000 GOINGs – 47

AQ1940s – 1
A Night in Casablanca (1946) – Sept 20

1950s – 3
The African Queen (1951)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Mädchen in Uniform (1958)

1960s – 2
The Sand Pebbles (1966)
Barefoot in the Park (1967)

1970s – 5 
The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant (1971)
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Death Wish (1974)
Sugar Hill (1974)
Breaking Away (1979)

1980s – 15
Hopscotch (1980) – Sept 20
Heavy Metal (1981)
The Keep (1983)
Uncommon Valor (1983)
Best Defense (1984)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Dreamscape (1984) – Sept 20
American Ninja (1985)
The Delta Force (1986)
China Girl (1987)
Fatal Attraction (1987)
Three Men and a Baby (1987) – Sept 22
Eight Men Out (1988)
Ghostbusters 2 (1989)
Major League (1989)

1990s – 21 
Ghost (1990)
King of New York (1990)
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
A League of Their Own (1992)
Patriot Games (1992)
Body of Evidence (1993)
The Young Americans (1993)
The Dark Half (1993)
Blue Chips (1994)
Legends of the Fall (1994)
Crimson Tide (1995)
Dead Man Walking (1995)
The Babysitter (1995)
Night of the Running Man (1995)
Blood and Wine (1996)
Primal Fear
 (1996)
Meet Wally Sparks (1997)
Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)
The Thomas Crowne Affair (1999)
The War Zone (1999)

October 1 pre-2000 COMINGs – 16 

Shane1950s – 2
Shane (1953)
Paths of Glory (1957)

1970s – 3
Hit! (1973)
Shivers (1975)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

1980s – 5
Annie (1982)
Rain Man (1988) – Oct. 28
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
The Phantom of the Opera (1989)
Three Fugitives (1989)

1990s – 6
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Tombstone (1993)
My Father the Hero (1994)
Annie: A Royal Adventure (1995)
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Galaxy Quest (1999)

Primary source: What’s On Netflix Now

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Take a Trip in the Hollywood Time Machine

Time MachineCancel your Saturday night plans, because I’ll be guest co-hosting the inaugural episode of Hollywood Time Machine with Alicia Mayer live tonight at 9 p.m. (ET) on L.A. Talk Radio.

Guests include Victoria Wilson, author of A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True 1907-1940, Steve Anderson from the Humphrey Bogart Estate, TCM Party founder Paula Guthat, Susan King from the Los Angeles Times Classic Hollywood Facebook Community, and Cassandra Majors from the Classic TV Lovers Haven group on Facebook.

Your host is Alicia Mayer, film historian, book editor, and grandniece of MGM co-founder Louis B. Mayer. She also sings, dances, and does a delightful mime act, which you probably won’t be able to fully appreciate on radio.

And the best part of Hollywood Time Machine is, you don’t need a time machine to listen to it, nor do you need to be in Hollywood (in any era). The show broadcasts live on the Internet, and you can also listen via L.A. Talk Radio’s app. And if you’re not available to listen while it happens, each episode will be archived for streaming (unless I say something stupid, which will result in the master tapes being retroactively burned in the 1967 MGM vault fire.)

You can also connect with the show on the website and Facebook, and follow Alicia on Twitter and at her website, Hollywood Essays.

I’m excited to help launch the Hollywood Time Machine, and I hope you’ll join us.

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Posted in Classic Film, Classic TV | Tagged | 3 Comments

Remembering Richard Kiel (1939-2014) in EEGAH (1962)

Richard Kiel as JawsRichard Kiel was unforgettable as the steel-toothed villain Jaws in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and MOONRAKER (1979). But 15 years before he put the bite on James Bond, Kiel chomped on the scenery in a delightfully terrible drive-in classic.

In EEGAH (1962), the 7 foot, 3 inch-tall Detroit native plays a pre-historic giant who simultaneously threatens a California town and put the moves on a hot chick. The low-budget horror/sci-fi/musical epic stars pompadoured Elvis wannabe Arch Hall Jr. (WILD GUITAR, THE SADIST) as the crooning, dune-buggy-driving hero Tom Nelson, with Marilyn Manning as Roxy, the object of Tom’s – and the title character’s – affections. But the real creative genius behind EEGAH was Arch Hall Sr., who wrote, produced, directed (using the pseudonym Nicholas Merriwether), and acts in the film (using another pseudonym, William Watters), playing Roxy’s inappropriately pimp-ish father. Hall Sr. also wrote two catchy pop ballads for his 19-year-old son to warble in the film: “Vicky” and “Valerie” (not to be confused with “Vallerie,” the Monkees hit that made it to #3 on the Billboard charts six years later).

If Arch Hall Sr. didn’t get Father of the Year Award for 1962, I hope he at least demanded a re-count.

postEEGAH was Kiel’s first major film role after a few years of TV work, most notably the To Serve Man episode of The Twilight Zone, which aired just a few weeks before the movie’s release. Kiel makes the most of a part that might have otherwise been given to an anonymous stuntman, as Eegah grunts his name Groot-style, wields a giant wooden club, and engages in lengthy “conversations” with the calcified corpses of his relatives. Despite his character’s aggressive method of courting his new crush, Kiel deftly manages to keep the audience on his side, and the scene in which he knocks Hall Jr. cold with a right cross undoubtedly elicited cheers at drive-ins across America (assuming the kids were actually watching the movie, which they probably weren’t).

Hall Jr. has to speak actual, scripted dialogue and he, unfortunately, does not fare as well. Despite the good intentions of his dad, the 19-year-old has zero charisma, wandering through most of his scenes like he’s looking for the men’s room. Manning (who was apparently Hall Sr.’s secretary) isn’t much better, but at least she’s given interesting things to do. Hall Sr.’s story (with a script by Bob Wehling) takes Roxy in hilariously unexpected directions, including a scene in which she seductively shaves off the title character’s beard, propositions him in order to save her father, and looks wistfully back at him as she is driven off to safety(?).

And if you had any doubt that EEGAH was aping KING KONG, you need only wait for the scene in which the title character sniffs Roxy’s scarf while whimpering for his lost love. It’s a magic moment, just one of many in this unforgettable movie.

EEGAH first came to my attention in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way), Harry and Michael Medved’s seminal 1978 book. Like many other films in that book (and its follow-up, The Golden Turkey Awards), EEGAH is enjoyably awful, and never stops surprising. I wish I could say that for the tragically predictable action blockbusters of today.

In honor of Kiel, who died on September 10 at the age of 74, the nostalgia-themed Retro TV will broadcast the 1993 Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of EEGAH on Saturday at 8 p.m. (ET) Retro is available in more than 61 million U.S. homes, in most cases as a free, over-the-air, digital broadcast sub-channel. You can see if you get the channel here. The non-MST3K version of the film is available to stream at Amazon Instant.

Rest in peace, Richard Kiel. And wherever you are, make sure you watch out for snakes.

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Posted in Classic Film, Retro TV, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments