UPDATE: 5 Tips to Be a TCM “Fan Favorites” Programmer

23632_006_2945.jpgUpdated 1/13/15 with additional info from TCM spokesperson

How many times have you watched a celebrity guest programmer chat with Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz on Turner Classic Movies and thought, “I could do that!”

Well, here’s your chance.

TCM announced today that they’re seeking viewers to introduce their favorite films on-air for a segment appropriately called Fan Favorites. In postings on FacebookInstagram, and Google Plus, the network revealed that they’re looking for viewers “with interesting, funny or poignant stories about their relationship to classic films” to chat with host Ben Mankiewicz. The interviews will be conducted via Skype and edited for broadcast.

Update 1/13/15 – A TCM spokesperson tells me the network is hoping to make the Fan Favorites segment “a programming staple” with installments “a few times a year,” each with four viewers participating.

ben-mankiewicz-tcm-325The “pilot” (sorta) for this series aired on the afternoon of Saturday, November 29 as Mankiewicz remotely interviewed four fans: blogger Citizen Screen introduced Vincente Minnelli’s MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944); Paula Guthat, co-founder of the TCM Party live tweeting community, chatted with Ben about THE LEMON DROP KID (1951); Horrible Imaginings Film Festival director and podcast host Miguel Rodriguez introduced THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951); and TCM Party contributor Joel Williams debated with Ben about BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969).

Once selected, the four initial guests were asked to submit a list of ten films they would like to intro. TCM made the final choice, based upon availability and programming considerations. The interviews were recorded in August via Skype and, according to Guthat, took 20-30 minutes to record. The chats were cut down to 5-6 minutes for air, with guests doing both and intro and an outro.

For this go-round, viewers have been instructed to suggest one film they’d like to introduce, and explain why. TCM says they will select a “handful” of fans to participate, and that the choices will be made “very soon” and at their “discretion.”

So how can you get the moment in the classic film klieg lights that you’ve been waiting for your entire life?

Here are my five tips:

1aLOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

It appears that TCM is only accepting Fan Favorites applicants via social media platforms. As of this writing, the Facebook post has 537 comments, Instagram has 64 comments, and Google Plus has 8 comments. So join Google Plus! (It’s not hard to do, and you never have to use it again if you don’t want to.)

Even though I’m sure a TCM representative will thoughtfully and thoroughly consider every single comment posted on every single social media outlet, it’s much easier to stand out among a handful of comments than among hundreds. And longer Google Plus posts are generally easier on the eyes than Facebook comments. (Do you know how to make paragraph breaks in Facebook comments? Because I don’t, and I’m a relatively intelligent person.)

Update 1/13/15 – Regarding the requirement that submissions be made through social media, a TCM spokesperson tells me:We do want to hear a diversity of voices, though, so our platform outreach may change in future. Our outreach may also include non-social options.”

2aSUGGEST A FILM THAT MAKES SENSE

If you watch TCM, you know what they air and what they don’t. Be smart in your suggestion.

Don’t suggest a film the channel has aired a million times, like CASABLANCA (1942), THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) or GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).

Avoid newer films TCM would be disinclined to air, like any post-2000 release (I’d actually stick to pre-1980 to be safe). And since the previous Fan Favorites segments aired during daytime hours, don’t suggest an older film with “mature” content, like THE PAWNBROKER (1964), A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971), or LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972). (You know what I mean. Nothing that would shock Grandma.)

And don’t suggest a film that always airs on another channel, or that TCM is unlikely to be able to secure the rights for, for example: IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) which airs exclusively on NBC and sister network USA; WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954 – AMC); THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965 – ABC); THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956 – ABC).

And don’t suggest a film that TCM has never aired, like the notoriously unavailable LETTY LYNTON (1932) or the eight-hour cut of GREED (1924).

3aBE A GOOD STORYTELLER!

I’ve seen a number of comments posted with film suggestions only, and no explanation of the personal connection to the commenter. Guess what? TCM doesn’t need your suggestions. They have a programming department for that. What they want from you is a good story.

One persistent narrative TCM likes is the concept of classic film as a family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation. Who introduced you to classic film? When did it happen? What was the movie? Tell that story. Make it emotional. Everybody likes a good cry.

Also: this is not a one-sentence comment you should dash off on your iPhone while you’re on line at 7-11. Sit down, think about it, and take time to craft a nice little paragraph or two. Think of this as your elevator pitch.

4aTELL THEM WHO YOU ARE AND WHERE YOU’RE FROM

TCM is unlikely to admit this, but age, location, and ethnicity will play a part in who is chosen and who isn’t. They don’t want five 60-year-old white people from New Jersey. They want an eclectic collection of fans who properly represent the diversity of their audience. TCM loves to talk about how young their viewers are, and they like to demonstrate that in viewers to participate in live appearances at their annual film festival and on air. When TCM selected 20 fan programmers to celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2014 one of the most memorable was 10-years-old. So if you’re young, play that up! And if you have an unusual hook regarding where you live, tell them. Use every arrow in your quiver, like ROBIN HOOD (1938).

5aDON’T LET THE TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS SCARE YOU OFF

Maybe I lost you when I mentioned Skype earlier in this post. (It’s actually very easy to use, so relax.) Or maybe you got nervous when TCM said you need to have “access to an Internet hard-line” connection. (That just means you need to plug your computer directly into your cable modem, rather than use a wireless connection, because the Skype connection will be better and more reliable.)

Ignore all that technical stuff. If you have a relatively recent computer or laptop and a broadband Internet connection in your home, you can make this work. And if TCM likes you and your story, they’ll most likely provide a man (or woman) “behind the curtain” to help (remotely) with the technical stuff.

6aBONUS – DON’T BE NERVOUS

As they used to say in the Lotto commercials, “Ya gotta be in it to win it!” Don’t talk yourself out of going for this. If you get selected it won’t be as nerve-wracking as sitting in one of the red leather chairs in the TCM studio, I promise. This is a relaxed and casual chat that will take place in your home, and nobody is better than Ben Mankiewicz at making you feel comfortable and relaxed.

So go for it. You’re ready for your close-up!

tcm-classic

About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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23 Responses to UPDATE: 5 Tips to Be a TCM “Fan Favorites” Programmer

  1. I was just thinking of the contest they held a few years ago (maybe 5? 7?) looking for a guest programmer from the fanbase. I made some weird silent comedy… I wonder what ever happened to that video. Anyway! This sounds so exciting! I’ve gotta think about what I’d pick…

  2. That is exciting news! I found out about the TCM Ultimate Fan Video contest too late, but I’m going to enter this one. Are you entering, too? You should!

    • willmckinley says:

      I didn’t this round, Beth. But maybe next time.

      • You definitely should next round! All your tips were excellent. Afterward I thought I should’ve gone with Born Yesterday instead of It Should Happen to You. That selection would have followed your advice better. I, also, noticed that quite a few of the people selected were known to TCM staff as very active fans in its community, and you share that trait with them. Plus, from your radio show, they know you can talk well!

  3. donnazak says:

    Sounds exciting thanks for the info.!

  4. Suzan Lowitz says:

    Thank you so much for your tips. You influenced me to change my choice of film from “The Magnificent Seven” to “The Boy with Green Hair,” clearly a much more interesting choice. Even the page moderator had never seen it.

    As for making paragraph breaks in comments on Facebook, command + return will do it. Same as the page break command in Word.

    Thanks again for your wisdom.

  5. CineMaven says:

    These are great tips. Are you going to be throwing YOUR hat into the ring, Will?

  6. Thanks for these tips, Will! Have you been a guest programmer before?

  7. Sylvia J Ciranni says:

    All I am trying to do is find out how I can get my skype set up with my program to enter the Guest Host program., Sylvia Ciranni

  8. Richard R Quesada says:

    when I was a boy of say around five or six my mother new just how to keep me occupied in order to finish her house work before getting home from work and that was to sit me in front of grandmothers TV so I could watch Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Castillo grandmother had the TV because we could not afford one so mom would take next door to watch these zany guys make me laugh.Mom use to tell me that she could hear me laugh from our house while I would roll around on grandmothers floor an have gut pain from the laughing.The other movies I love watching were spy movies pre-WW2 or the cold war era.One movie in especially was “13 Rue Madallane” with James Cagney playing the part of Sharky. and Richard Conte as the evil German double agent and the one that comes very close to that movie is “The House On 52nd street” another very suspenseful spy movie.

  9. Lydia says:

    Iam soooo! Glad TCM has decided to do this! I work in Culver City near Sony and it’s rather hard to go to and fro from work and not pretend Iam really going to the studio lot. After all who better to introduce a “Sunset Boulevard ” type of movie than me. Norma Desmond is not the only diva in the house!

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