“We’re going to do our best to uphold the high standards that this Peabody Award symbolizes,” Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne said in May of 2009 when the then-15-year-old network was first honored with the prestigious prize for excellence in broadcasting.
He kept his word. Five years later, as TCM prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary, the channel has once again been recognized with a Peabody Award, this time for its groundbreaking THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY series.
From September 2 through December 9 of 2013, TCM broadcast 15 weekly installments of Mark Cousins’ 2011 documentary series. It was a risky programming decision, in part because the 48-year-old Irish filmmaker looked at cinema history through an international lens, sometimes discounting the “romantic” moviemaking of Classic Hollywood in favor of the gritty naturalism of foreign film. While the series angered some Studio-centric Old Movie Weirdos, Cousins’ mission seemed to be to expand horizons and alter perspectives, and to encourage viewers to take a larger, world view when considering the 100-year odyssey of moviemaking. And, at least in the case of this viewer, he succeeded (though I would have preferred if he wore socks while doing it).
To assist in this mission, TCM surrounded the airing of the 15 one-hour documentaries with a brilliantly curated collection of 119 films and dozens of short subjects representing 29 countries across six continents. It was an exhaustive and meticulously inclusive three-month programming initiative, and one that is perhaps unmatched in scope in the history of cable television. While some fans missed the familiar classics that were briefly displaced by obscure foreign oddities, others welcomed the 15-week film school TCM offered for free (not that cable is free, but you get my point). A number of the movies were also available on the network’s newly launched streaming platform, Watch TCM, allowing viewers of all ages even greater opportunity for discovery. And every film was presented respectfully, most in good quality transfers in the director’s intended aspect ratio.
THE STORY OF FILM may well be remembered as TCM’s “coming of age” – the moment when the network began a subtle but clear evolution from the “old movie channel” to a venue that programs significant classics of all eras (whether the diehards like it or not).
“We have a very open mind as to what makes a classic movie; it’s not really about years removed from a movie’s release that makes it okay,” host Ben Mankiewicz said at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, a few months before THE STORY OF FILM premiered. “We always, always want to find something that will be relevant and emotional for our audience to see.”
The 73rd annual Peabody Awards, emceed by “This American Life” host Ira Glass, will be presented on May 19 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Later this Spring, Pivot TV will broadcast a special presentation “blending ceremony footage with exclusive interviews with featured recipients.” All 15 installments of THE STORY OF FILM: AN ODYSSEY are also available to watch instantly on Netflix.