East Coast classic film fans rejoice! After four years of star-studded festivals in Hollywood and two (soon to be three) cinematic voyages on the high seas, Turner Classic Movies is finally bringing film fans together in New York City.
On August 22, the network will launch the TCM Classic Film Tour, a three-hour bus tour visiting memorable movie locations in the Big Apple. And while it may not be as glamorous as the channel’s other in-person brand experiences, the TCM Tour offers fans something the TCM Cruise and TCM Classic Film Festival do not: an opportunity to stand in the exact spots where some of the most iconic images in motion picture history were created.
Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday beginning at 11:30 a.m., movie buffs will be able to cower in the shadow of the building where ROSEMARY’S BABY was conceived, hum “Moon River” in front of Holly Golightly’s brownstone, recreate Marilyn Monroe’s dress-blowing scene from THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (skirt not included), see where “beauty killed the beast” in KING KONG, and stand in the spot where Woody Allen waxed poetic to Diane Keaton about MANHATTAN.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s also clearly the best place to launch this initiative, which I first reported on back in May. No other city has been the setting for so many great films, and nowhere else can you visit so many important locations in such close proximity. The tour will hit 60 different sites specifically scouted by the network to “create a curated TCM experience for film fans,” and will include a mix of “on-the-bus viewings” and stops to get off and explore, with ample opportunities to take pictures. There’s also a chance to enjoy a quick nosh (on your own dime) at Upper West Side landmark Zabar’s (also featured in MANHATTAN and countless other films and TV shows). Guests will board the bus at 51st Street and Broadway near Times Square, head north on the West Side, then cross town to Central Park and the East Side, ending up at Grand Central Terminal, which pretty much looks the same as it did when Hitchcock filmed scenes for NORTH BY NORTHWEST there with Cary Grant more than half a century ago (sans the Apple Store).
With an open-ended, thrice weekly schedule, this is perhaps TCM’s most ambitious brand extension to date. But the network isn’t going it alone. TCM is partnering with On Location Tours, a New York-based company that also runs popular sightseeing jaunts focusing on Sex and the City, Gossip Girl, and the celebrity website TMZ. The latter tour promises a look at “the hotel where Charlie Sheen trashed his room on a drug-fueled binge with a hooker,” so make sure not to mix up your consonants when ordering tickets.
While TCM is not managing the day-to-day operation of the tour, they are vetting and training the guides, whom the network promises will be “experienced and knowledgable.” Sadly, Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz won’t be among them, but Osborne will be featured in an introductory video that will play on the vehicle’s built-in monitors. Those screens will also feature movie clips and interviews with stars “that will bring context” to the locations being explored. There are no specific plans for live appearances by celebrity guests or film historians, but a TCM spokesperson said “It is certainly something we are thinking about.”
The bus, which was revealed earlier this week on On Location’s Facebook page, is actually a luxury, state-of-the-art motor coach, emblazoned with an eye-catching TCM logo and an image of King Kong atop the Empire State Building. It seats 53 people and includes a restroom, wheelchair accessibility, and a guaranteed attendee sing-along of “The Man on the Flying Trapeze” (I made up that last part but, if you get the reference, this is obviously the right tour for you.) Seriously, a key component in live, TCM-sponsored events is the opportunity to interact with other people who don’t think it’s weird to quote 80-year-old movies like IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. Obviously, you can find most (if not all) of these locations on your own, but visiting hallowed ground with other acolytes has the potential to be something very special, like making a pilgrimage to movie Mecca.
This particular religious experience will set up back $40 for adults and $27 for kids, plus a $3 service fee (in order to guarantee seating you have to buy on-line in advance, so there’s no way to avoid the fee). Tickets are not refundable or exchangeable, and seating is first-come, first-served. But, for an extra $8 you can “enhance” your tour with priority pre-boarding and guaranteed placement in the first four rows (which should keep you far away from any Ratso Rizzo types). Interestingly, the TCM tour is the lowest-priced of On Location’s branded bus tours, less than TMZ ($49), The Sopranos ($46), Sex and the City ($46), and Gossip Girl ($42). You can also find discount codes if you search the web. Here are a few that worked for me and will save you 10% : FILMAPS10, BBOX, OLT2013
According to their website, On Location has been in business since 1999 and serves more than 100,000 customers annually. Still, there are risks inherent in attaching TCM’s name and brand equity to an enterprise others are operating, particularly one that involves extensive face-to-face interaction with viewers. Also, it’s also clear that, with references to films from the 1970s, ’80s and even ’90s, this tour’s definition of “classic” may be subject to some debate among purists. But hopefully, even the most diehard of the Studio Era strict constructionists will remember why they called it the Studio Era and not the Shooting On Location in New York City Era.
With the 20th anniversary of the network coming up in April of 2014, this is an exciting period of growth for TCM. If the New York tour is a success, there’s no reason the concept couldn’t be extended to other cities. One possibility could be Boston, where On Location currently operates a tour of movie and TV sites. Incidentally, TCM says they will have “giveaway items for a grand opening period,” which is a nice incentive to book early and plan a late Summer sojourn to the city.
After the tour, you can make a cinematic day of it by visiting Film Forum in The Village, where the Summer Festival of Classic Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror will be going strong through September 5.
And if you ask the tour bus driver nicely, maybe he’ll take you to the most memorable New York City location ever depicted on film.