Update: TCM Dives into Streaming with Amazon

23632_006_2945.jpgUpdated 9/17/15 -New info in italics

The experience of watching classic films on television is about to radically change for the better – but only for some.

Turner Classic Movies announced today that they’ll make their popular Watch TCM streaming app available for the first time ever on TV sets this fall, offering viewers “on-demand access to TCM’s curated content presented uncut and commercial free,” along with the on-air introductions by hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz. The app, which launched in November of 2013 and offers hundreds of movies on-demand each month as well as two linear 24/7 programming feeds, was previously only available on the TCM website and mobile devices like smartphones, tablets, and the Amazon Kindle.

But, like with everything in life, there are a few catches.

The ability to view Watch TCM content on television (in the U.S. and Canada) will only be available via the Amazon Fire TV, the second-best-selling, full-featured streaming media player on the market. (It’s less popular than Roku, but more so than the currently available version of Apple TV). And the Watch TCM App for Amazon Fire TV will only be available to current cable or satellite subscribers who already get TCM as part of their bundle of channels – and whose provider supports the app. My condolences to the nearly 12 million Time Warner Cable customers in TCM’s universe of 85 million homes, because you’re likely still out of luck – at least until the proposed merger with Charter Communications. (Charter supports the app for their current customers, but there’s no word if newly acquired TWC subs will be included in that deal.)

So let’s take a breath here.

I know many viewers are waiting for TCM to be available via subscription, without the requirement to pay for other channels you don’t watch. This is not that. (TCM is available via Sling TV as part of a so-called “skinny bundle” of channels at $25 per-month, which I wrote about here.)

EstherI also know that many classic film fans have not yet taken the plunge into the world of on-line streaming yet. Well, put on your floaties Esther Williams fans, because The Future is here.

Picture this: you turn on TCM and a movie you don’t like is on (which some with specific definitions of “classic” say is happening more frequently). With the touch of a button, you have on-demand access to just about everything that’s aired on TCM for the last seven days – on your TV. (At this writing, that’s 83 movies and 11 short subjects.) Feel like watching that rare film noir that aired at 6 a.m.? Here you go. Frustrated because you didn’t DVR – or, God help us, videotape – the Bob’s Picks selections that aired Friday night? Watch them whenever you like, with host Robert Osborne’s introductions.

NOW how much would you pay?

Answer – if you already have an Amazon Fire TV streaming player: ZERO. This functionality will cost you nothing more than you’re already paying your cable or satellite provider. If you don’t, it will cost you $39 – the price of an Amazon Fire TV streaming stick. Plug it in to your TV, and you’re off to A DAY AT THE RACES (assuming that aired on TCM in the last week, and that you’re a Marx Bros. fan).

The first generation Amazon Fire TV streaming player is currently sold out pretty much everywhere. But who cares? The Fire TV Stick has essentially the same functionality – including voice search – and it plugs directly into the HDMI port on your TV, so you don’t have to bother with another cord. And you get access to more than 1,600 channels, games, and apps including the biggies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (duh). But you don’t have to subscribe to any of them if you don’t want to, nor does Amazon Fire TV require any sort of a subscription. You pay for it once and you’re done.

Updated 9/17/15 – Amazon announced the second generation Amazon Fire TV streaming media player, available October 5 at $99. A second gen Fire TV Stick (now with voice search via an included remote control) will also be released on October 22 for $49 – $10 more than the current model. As of this writing, the first generation Stick remains available for $39. 

The Watch TCM App for Amazon Fire TV will make TCM “the first network in the Turner Broadcasting portfolio to be available” via a native, TV Everywhere app on Amazon. There’s no indication from the network that this arrangement is an exclusive, however. 

In short (no jokes about my wordiness, please), the ability to view TCM’s brilliantly curated content on TV outside of the boundaries of the traditional channel is a huge development if you love great movies of any era. While most cable and satellite providers currently offer TCM On-Demand offerings, they are usually limited to a handful of films, and all my efforts to jury rig the Watch TCM mobile app to play on my TV set have been abject failures.

“I abject!” — Chico Marx, DUCK SOUP (1933)

Finally, as part of TCM’s Let’s Movie branding initiative, the network has launched the TCM Emoji Keyboard app, offering emojis, virtual stickers and animated GIFs for use on mobile devices. (If you don’t know what an “emoji” is, you’re probably not the target for this.) You can download the app for iOS or Android devices here. I’m going to avoid the GIFs because they make me anxious, but the emojis are cool, and include familiar faces like Chaplin, Audrey Hepburn and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from GHOSTBUSTERS, which somebody will probably complain about because it’s not “classic.”


Posted in TCM | 11 Comments

Dickie Moore (1925-2015) The Original “Little Rascal”

Dickie_Moore_(1932)Dickie Moore, the sweet-faced child actor who gave Shirley Temple her first on-screen kiss in MISS ANNIE ROONEY (1942) and appeared in Hal Roach’s Our Gang comedies (renamed The Little Rascals for television syndication), has died at age 89.

Moore acted in more than 100 films, beginning with THE BELOVED ROGUE (1927) in which the 11-month-old Los Angeles native played John Barrymore’s character as a infant. In a screen career that spanned three decades, Moore appeared in enduring classics like Josef von Sternberg’s BLONDE VENUS (1932), Alfred E. Green’s UNION DEPOT (1932), William J. Cowen’s OLIVER TWIST (1933), William Dieterle’s THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR (1936), and Howard Hawks’ SARGEANT YORK (1941). He also had a small but memorable role as the mute “kid” in Jacques Tourneur’s seminal film noir OUT OF THE PAST (1947) with Robert Mitchum, following a tour of duty in World War II (as a reporter for Stars and Stripes). 

Moore’s final film was THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING (1952), in which the veteran played a soldier. In later years he appeared on radio and TV, directed and acted in New York theater, was active in Actor’s Equity, and served as an advertising creative director and public relations executive. (His P.R. firm Dick Moore and Associates is still in operation.) Moore interviewed actress Jane Powell for his 1984 book Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and married her four years later. The couple remained together until his death.

I first discovered Dickie Moore in the late 1970s, watching Hal Roach’s Little Rascals comedies every day after school on WPIX-11 in New York. Not yet seven years old, Moore was already a screen veteran when he joined the Our Gang crew in mid-1932.

Moore’s first two-reeler was HOOK AND LADDER, released in August of 1932. He followed with FREE WHEELING in October, which is known for being the only Our Gang short in which one of the kids is called a “little rascal.”

That kid was Dickie Moore.

BIRTHDAY BLUES was released in November, wherein Dickie, Spanky and Stymie bake a cake and hilarity ensues. December brought A LAD AN’ A LAMP, followed by FISH HOOKY  in January of 1933, which features appearances by “retired” rascals Mickey Daniels (age 18), Mary Kornman (16), Joe Cobb (16), and Allen “Farina” Hoskins (13). FISH HOOKY also marks the first speaking roles for Daniels and Kornman in an Our Gang comedy, since their tenure took place during the silent era.

FORGOTTEN BABIES (also featuring Roach regular Billy Gilbert) was released in March of 1933, followed by THE KID FROM BORNEO in April. (The latter was apparently pulled from television syndication packages in the early ’70s due to racially problematic content.)

MUSH AND MILK, Dickie Moore’s final short, was released in May of 1933. With the line, “Don’t drink the milk! It’s spoiled!” MUSH AND MILK may be the most-quoted Our Gang comedy ever (at least among my friends in the cafeteria.)

In November of 2011, I met Dickie Moore when he attended a Film Society of Lincoln Center screening of LUXURY LINER (1948) starring Jane Powell. Although Moore reportedly experienced symptoms of dementia in his final years, his love for Powell was clear to everyone in the room.

Posted in Classic Film | 8 Comments

Changes at TCM – What they Mean for Classic Film Fans

osborne1“We definitely want to create on-ramps for a new generation to enjoy the classics,” newly appointed Turner Classic Movies general manager Jennifer Dorian said at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival.

The first of those ramps is open for business, as the 21-year-old network today announced its new tagline: “Let’s Movie.” The promotional campaign, which officially launches September 1, seeks to “attract an even broader audience of movie fans” through advertising on sister Turner networks and websites, electronic billboards in New York and Atlanta, and in movie theaters nationwide. There will also be an expanded social media presence culminating with a “holiday” on Saturday, September 19, when fans are encouraged to watch films communally and share their experiences using the #LetsMovie hashtag. (No word yet on whether TCM will ask your boss for the day off.)

TCM also released a slick new promotional ad designed to position the network as the “last standing, great movie-lover destination” (take that AMC!) In the minute-long spot, demographically diverse family members come together to watch THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE SEARCHERS, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, JAWS, BULLITT, BEN-HUR and CASABLANCA.

ben-mankiewicz-tcm-325Despite the fact that the ad only features films released between 1939 and 1974, and that no mention of programming changes was made in TCM’s press release, some viewers expressed concern that the initiative would lead to a shift in on-air content. Dorian and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz took to Twitter in an effort to allay the fears of a devoutly loyal fanbase, still skittish from the transition of American Movie Classics to the Breaking Bad channel.

#LetsMovie is our new marketing campaign, designed to include more people into the TCM family,” Mankiewicz tweeted. “NO CHANGES TO PROGRAMMING!”

“Same great programming mix, same uncut and commercial free! Just inviting more folks to the network,” Dorian added.

End of story, right? Sort of.

To understand what’s happening at TCM we need to go back to last fall, when a company-wide cost-cutting initiative hit Turner Broadcasting. TCM lost approximately 15 staffers to layoffs and buyouts – far fewer than other Turner networks, but still a tragedy (a staff of approximately 45 remains). Following the restructuring, TCM emerged as a separate and autonomous entity within Turner and gained a new general manager, Dorian, with a mission to “grow” the brand.

DorianA 15-year Turner veteran, Dorian had previously led the rebranding of TNT in 2000 and TBS in 2004, as well as the re-launch of Court TV as truTV in 2007, so some change in the channel’s identity was to be expected. That the change did not involve the addition of commercials – as happened at the previously ad-free Turner network Boomerang – was (and continues to be) welcome news.

“NO COMMERCIALS. EVER. EVER. EVER. EVER,” Ben Mankiewicz assured fans today, luring at least one or two off the digital ledge.

And TCM Senior VP of Programming Charles Tabesh was even more definitive at 2013 TCMFF.

“When AMC went commercial many years ago, the cable affiliates freaked out, because they were getting a lot of complaints from subscribers and they wanted to make sure that TCM never added commercials,” he said. “We’ve never had plans to add commercials. I think it’s actually written into some of our affiliate agreements.”

Thus, Dorian’s challenge: to increase profitability at America’s only remaining commercial-free basic cable movie network without the addition of on-air advertising revenue. The answer (at least in part): an evolving interpretation of “classic.”

We can debate the definition of classic until Buster Keaton’s cow from GO WEST comes home – and many fans do, practically daily, on TCM’s various social media outlets. While many diehards prefer their classics of an older, black-and-white vintage, others don’t. And, although the question is asked at the TCM Film Fest in Hollywood every single year, good luck getting a firm answer out of a staffer.

“There is no cutoff,” Tabesh said at the last TCMFF. “In the right context.”

A shift in TCM’s programming has been feared for years and, to some extent, is actually happening – but not in a way that affects the average viewer. A handful of more “contemporary” films were featured at the recent TCMFF, and TCM’s sightseeing bus tours (launched in New York in 2013 and Los Angeles in 2014) include frequent references to post-Studio Era films (L.A. far more so than NYC). TCM’s Fathom Events screening series (launched in 2012) also featured two films from the mid-to-late 1970s this summer: JAWS (1974) in June and a singalong edition of GREASE (1978) in August.

For the most part, this has been a perfect solution: fans can simply choose to opt out, based on personal taste. And those who have a deep and abiding hatred for GREASE (ahem) can save their money for upcoming TCM/Fathom screenings like PSYCHO (1960), DRACULA (1931), ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953) and MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947).

To the frustration of some strict classic film constructionists, there has also been a subtle addition of newer movies to the on-air schedule, as well. But those films have largely aired in the overnight hours, due to TCM’s status on the basic cable tier.

“Most basic cable networks show edited versions. We won’t do that,” Tabesh said at TCMFF in 2013. “But the price we pay for that is, if there are a lot of F-words or nudity we have to play it later at night: after 10 p.m. West Coast time, which is 1 a.m. in New York. That’s really when we can get away with a lot more.”

Where the network has no limitations is on-line, where films that don’t meet broadcast standards are available on-demand on the excellent Watch TCM app. And this leads me to what I believe is the end-game for TCM and why the network’s branding now positions it as a destination for “great” movies rather than “old” movies: a standalone, subscription streaming service

“We have absolutely nothing to announce, no specific plans,” Dorian told me at the recent Film Festival. “But, like every TV brand, we’ve got to look at the future and new technologies and give people what they want.

TCM has already dipped their toe into streaming waters with their participation in DISH Network’s Sling TV, which allows subscribers to watch the network as part of a so-called “skinny bundle” of channels for just $25 per month. But the ability to subscribe to TCM directly, without committing to other channels, is on the horizon.

As cable and satellite subscribers cut the cord in record numbers, and Netflix continues to kick older films to the curb, TCM has a huge business opportunity in streaming. If the network brings a collection of “great” films from all eras direct to your home on-demand with expert curation, will you mind? And if expanding the parameters of “classic” attracts new paying customers of all ages to that service, will you be opposed? Finally, if a successful subscription VOD service allows TCM to keep their olde fashioned cable channel in business, without commercials, and consistently airing films from all eras, won’t you be happy? I sure will be, particularly because I’ll have dozens of other old movies to choose from on-demand if TCM happens to be airing something I don’t like.

In short (okay, not really, but I had a lot to say): this is great news for film fans of all tastes, but most particularly for classic movie purists who believe strongly in the importance of a high profile national venue for the films we love.

TCM may have hit a bit of a speed bump on their on-ramp today, but the destination is the same as ever. And I’m looking forward to the ride.

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Posted in TCM | 58 Comments

Dates Announced for 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival + 5 Ways to Keep it Fresh

MMIn Billy Wilder’s 1955 comedy THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, a man begins to lose interest in his spouse of seven years and seeks out greener romantic pastures – in the (shapely) form of Marilyn Monroe.

Turner Classic Movies hopes film buffs won’t do the same with the TCM Classic Film Festival, which today announced its seventh annual edition, scheduled for April 28 – May 1, 2016 in Hollywood.

Still, the network appears to be taking no chances, revealing the date far earlier than in the past (last year they announced in October for a March event) and holding the line on ticket prices after a $50 hike at all pass levels in 2015. TCM has also assured fans that beloved on-air personality Robert Osborne – the face of the network since its 1994 launch – will return as “official host” after missing the 2015 event. The 83-year-old film historian was also absent from the channel following treatment for a “minor health procedure” earlier this year, but has (thankfully) returned to his duties.

Films and guests have not yet been announced and likely won’t be for some time. But the historic TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s) and Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Blvd will once again be key venues and the Roosevelt Hotel will again serve as home base, with a schedule of daily happenings at the “Club TCM” event space. Discounted guest rooms are also available at the Roosevelt, but they’ll be gone by the time you read this. (More hotel suggestions are here.)

Passes for the 2016 TCM Film Fest go on sale November 19, with an exclusive online-only pre-sale for Citi cardmembers beginning November 17 at 10 a.m. (ET).

The top tier Spotlight Pass (aka The Charles Foster Kane Pass) offers “priority entry to all events” (thanks to a separate line) as well as admission to an “exclusive” opening night party and meet-and-greet events with Osborne, fellow host Ben Mankiewicz, and celebrity guests for $1,649. The Essential Pass provides full access to all TCMFF events (excluding the opening night party) for $749. The Classic Pass gives you everything except the opening night red-carpet screening for $599. And the $299 Palace Pass grants access to Grauman’s, the Egyptian and poolside screenings at the Roosevelt Friday through Sunday. (Walk-up admissions are also available to some screenings, but usually not to the panels or special events.)

BusterThe 2016 theme will be Moving Pictures, promising a collection of rousing, inspiring movies “that set our love of cinema in motion.” According to TCM’s press release, selections may include coming-of-age pictures, tearjerkers, sports dramas, and religious epics that elevate our spirits.

If you read this site or follow me on Twitter you know I’ve attended every TCMFF since its inception, and that I’m relentlessly vocal in my support of it (and pretty much everything TCM does). But the 2015 TCMFF was my least favorite so far, and, based on both attendance and conversations with other longtime attendees, I don’t think I was alone in that sentiment.

While the 2014 TCMFF sold out in record time – Essential passes were gone in just five hours and Spotlight a week later – passes were still available just days before the 2015 event began. (TCM doesn’t release the number of passes sold, so I can’t do an apples-to-apples comparison.) Smaller crowds were to be expected after the excitement of the network’s 20th birthday celebration in 2014, but some of the fall-off in 2015 may have been preventable.

And so, here are 5 things TCM can do to keep the Seven Year TCMFF Itch at bay.

1aDon’t over-emphasize the theme.

I have enormous respect for the TCM programmers; they consistently make my life a better place. But, in my opinion, the 2015 theme History According to Hollywood became more of an intellectual exercise than past organizing concepts have been.

For most of us, TCMFF is an emotional experience, an opportunity to leave the real world for four days in another time and place. Past themes like Family (2014), Journeys (2013), Style (2012), and Music (2011) were malleable enough to be all-inclusive, while still providing necessary programming structure.

Happily, the 2016 theme Moving Pictures is similar. It has the potential to be more magical than literal, because we can be moved in a variety of ways. And that’s good news, particularly for someone who found fewer difficult choices in 2015 TCMFF schedule than ever before.

2aKeep it “classic.”

“In the right context, there is no cutoff,” TCM’s Senior VP of Programming Charles Tabesh said at the 2015 TCMFF when asked to define classic.

“(It’s classic) if Charlie says so!” general manager Jennifer Dorian added, cracking up a bunch of film bloggers who know how controversial a question that can be.

I agree, but for many of us who spend thousands of dollars to immerse ourselves in a live, in-person TCM experience, we don’t want “contemporary” films intruding on the party, even if they make good intellectual sense.

For the record: I love movies from all eras, and I would enjoy watching any film that has ever played at TCMFF (with the possible exception of GREASE, particularly the singalong version). But there’s a particular type of film that makes an Old Movie Weirdo want to fly across the country (or the world) to watch with like-minded friends, and a handful of titles screened in 2015 did not fall in that category. (Again, just my opinion. Feel free to disagree in the comments.)

3aCelebrate the obscure.

Along the same lines, the cinematic “deep cuts” at TCMFF (like rare noir and Pre-Codes) are often relegated to the smallest auditorium (the 177-seat Chinese Multiplex theater 4), creating an inevitable mad rush among the hardcores every single time, while higher-profile films play to half-full theaters. And while we may get a second chance to see some of those rarities in the TBA slots on Sunday, it’s often without the special guests that appeared during the scheduled screening.

Technology allowing, I’d like to see more “discoveries” play in larger rooms. Just like with TCM’s brilliantly curated on-air programming, this is an opportunity to create new fans, not just play to the base.

4aMake it personal. 

Each year, TCMFF becomes more about the personal connections I make – both among my fellow attendees and the 300+ people who work behind the scenes.

It’s great to spend time with those folks at opening and closing night parties and while waiting on line for screenings, but TCM needs to work more opportunities for dedicated social interaction into the schedule. Events like the opening day trivia contest are great ways to make screening buddies and find new friends with similar interests. We need more of those, and more creative methods of interaction throughout the weekend, like the trading card swaps at the recent Disney D23 convention. (Hat tip to Laura Grieve for her D23 coverage.)

For many of us, this is the only weekend off the year when we can share something we’ve loved our entire lives. TCM needs to make the most of that.

5aContinue to champion 35 mm.

In 2015 I saw 20 movies at the Festival, 15 of them projected entirely or in part on 35mm film. In fact, TCMFF has screened more movies on film than digital formats every year, and the number of film screenings actually increased this year compared to 2014. Where else do you see that happening?

“(We’re committed to) showing films on film,” festival managing director Genevieve MacGillicuddy told me at the 2013 TCMFF.

That’s a huge selling point for many purists, and I hope it continues. And while they’re at it, upgrade the projection capabilities at the Roosevelt Hotel poolside screenings, where films are presented on DVD. Unless it’s GREASE, then I don’t particularly care.

See you all in Hollywood in 2016.


Posted in TCM Classic Film Festival | Tagged , | 14 Comments

That Time I Met Batgirl

ABC“You were my first crush,” I said to Yvonne Craig, dispensing with the small talk.

It was September of 2006 and Craig was appearing at an event in New York City celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Batman, the TV series that made her an icon. I suspect she had heard those words once or twice before in the intervening decades, but she looked up at me and smiled as if I too were her first.

“Aw, that’s so nice to hear!” she replied, locking eyes with me warmly.

“It’s very exciting to meet you,” I continued, holding her hand far longer than any socially acceptable definition of “handshake.”

Batman was cancelled before I was born, but it lived on in daily syndicated reruns throughout my childhood. Every day after school I would park myself in front of the TV and air-punch along with the Caped Crusaders, as they battled a rogue’s gallery of villains portrayed by aging classic film stars. It was a budding Old Movie Weirdo’s dream, set to a frenetic jazz score.

Once, in first grade, I got so worked up by one of the fight scenes that I actually catapulted myself at the TV set. Some part of me thought that, if I really, really believed it was possible, I could dive head first into the action and battle alongside my heroes. Sadly, it didn’t work. The Zenith teetered, then tumbled backwards, pinning six year-old me under it with a frightening ZAP!

But waiting for my mom to get home and rescue me was just like a Batman cliffhanger, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Yes, Batman got me all sorts of worked up. But Batgirl had an entirely different effect.

CastIn the show’s third and final season, actress and dancer Craig joined the cast as the mysterious heroine (and her librarian alter ego Barbara Gordon) in an effort to reinvigorate a faltering franchise. Batgirl wore a metallic purple costume that appeared to be painted on Craig’s athletic form, beating the crap out of bad guys with ballet twirls and gymnast kicks, her gold-lined cape spinning behind her like a pinwheel.

Back then I didn’t really understand my feelings for Yvonne Craig, but I do now. Batgirl was established in my developing psyche as the model for the perfect woman: sexy but self-sufficient, with no time for primping when there were asses to be kicked. And this girl was no cling-on (even though Yvonne would later appear on Star Trek), rescuing the Caped Crusaders from danger more than once.

The years passed, I grew older and Batman receded into my childhood. But I never forgot my first love.

“I hope you enjoy coming to these things,” I said to Craig, who was still striking at age 69.

“I didn’t even think we’d be discussing it forty years later,” she laughed. “But the nice thing about having done Batman is, you meet people and they’re watching it with their kids. They saw it when they were little and now they have kids to share it with.”

She looked down and noticed no child accompanying me. Then she smiled again.

“And of course the original fans still love it,” she said, scoring a nice save.

“When I watch episodes now I can still recite lines of dialogue!” I blurted nervously, doubling down on my inner dork.

“That’s better than I can do!” Craig laughed.

As she began to autograph my picture, I asked her why Batman was not yet available on home video.

“I’ll tell you in just a second, otherwise I’ll misspell my name,” she said. “And then it looks like ‘Rat Girl.’”

Craig offered her take on the delay, blaming it primarily on pending litigation with the heir of series creator William Dozier (who died in 1991). I nodded, all the while thinking, I’m talking to Batgirl! And we’re getting along really well!  (Thankfully, the legal issues were resolved and the show made its debut on DVD and Blu-ray in 2014).

Then Yvonne Craig invited me to sit beside her so we could take a picture together. I sat down and gently put my arm around her shoulder like we were old friends, which we kind of were. Then we said our farewells, and I shook her hand. Again.

“You were totally flirting with her!” my girlfriend said afterwards, laughing. “And you were blushing the whole time”

“I know,” I replied. “But do you think she knows how happy I was to meet her?”

“Oh, she knows. Trust me. She knows.”

MeTV will honor Yvonne Craig this Saturday at 7 p.m. (ET) with two episodes of “Batman,” followed at 9 p.m. with her 1969 episode of “Star Trek.”



Posted in Classic TV | 12 Comments

One Last Gasp for #NoirSummer

bfi-00o-2rjWhat did you do this summer? I saw a bunch of people get killed.

Thanks to Turner Classic Movies’ nine-week Summer of Darkness series, I spent June and July with duplicitous dames, menacing mugs and the movie buffs that love them. And although August is half over, I’m not ready to give up this twisted summer romance.

First, some stats: I watched 55 of the 121 films (most of them on the indispensable Watch TCM App) and had previously seen another 26 of the titles in the series (brilliantly curated by TCM programmer Millie De Chirico). I also got to see three of the programmed movies on the big screen in New York City within weeks of their TV airings. Hitchcock’s criminally underrated THE WRONG MAN (1956) and the gorgeous 4K restoration of Carol Reed’s THE THIRD MAN (1949) both played at Film Forum in July, and I caught an outdoor screening of Robert Siodmak’s THE KILLERS (1946) in Bryant Park (which I wrote about here).

lscott-2-lateAll told, I saw (or have seen) 84 of the 121 films in Summer of Darkness. That’s not bad, but I’ve still got plenty of work to do.

My favorite is a three-way tie: Byron Haskin’s TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949) with “tiger” Lizabeth Scott; Richard Fleischer’s NARROW MARGIN (1952) with gravel-voiced noir stalwart Charles McGraw; and Joseph H. Lewis’ seminal GUN CRAZY (1950). Least fav: the talky A WOMAN’S SECRET (1949) with Maureen O’Hara. Biggest what the fuck? David Bradley’s TALK ABOUT A STRANGER (1952) with George Murphy, Nancy Davis (future Mrs. Reagan) and Billy Gray (Bud from Father Knows Best), which apparently failed to kick off the “Dog Noir” sub-genre.

I learned a lot during Noir Summer, thanks to host Eddie Muller’s witty and insightful wrap-arounds and Professor Rich Edwards’ on-line course Investigating Film Noir, presented by Ball State University in conjunction with TCM. But my biggest takeaway from the last two months is this: I prefer pulpy, low-budget noir to the glossier studio product.

And here’s the best part: tons of independently produced and Poverty Row noirs are streaming for free on YouTube. So my love affair can continue. For free.

If you’re jonesing for one more crime film fix before you hang up your #NoirSummer holster, I write about five underrated noirs today for the excellent film blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks. You can read it here.

Let me know what you think of my choices, and tell me your suggestions for others I shouldn’t miss. Because we’re all in this together now, pal. Whether you like it or not.

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Posted in TCM | 3 Comments

Here’s Johnny! Carson Returns to Late Night TV

CCCFrom 1962 until his retirement in 1992, Johnny Carson ruled late night with wit, charm, and a feathered turban. He wasn’t the first host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, nor the last, but he’s considered by just about everyone to be the best. And now, more than two decades after his final sign-off and ten years after his death at age 79, Carson is returning to late night television.

Antenna TV, a nostalgia-themed digital broadcast network owned by Tribune Broadcasting and available in 78% of the country, will begin airing Carson reruns in January, weeknights at 11 p.m. (ET)/8 p.m. (PT) and Saturdays and Sundays at 10 p.m. (ET)/7 p.m. (PT). Because NBC controls the rights to The Tonight Show name, Antenna’s broadcasts will be called simply Johnny Carson. (Jimmy Fallon is undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief.)

And good news for you cord-cutting Carson fans: Antenna TV is free. The network is available over-the-air (as a digital sub-channel of a broadcast television station) with some affiliates carried by local cable providers. (More info on how to get the channel is here.)

Best of all, Antenna will be running complete episodes, in some cases broadcast in their entirety for the first time since their original airdate.

“This is not a clip show. This is full episodes of Johnny Carson,” Sean Compton, Tribune’s president of strategic programming and acquisitions, told Variety.

JCSadly, only 33 shows from Carson’s first ten years as emcee survive today. Although the episodes broadcast during that decade were recorded on videotape, those tapes were erased and reused as a cost saving measure (common practice in the early days of videotape). Only when the show moved from 30 Rock in New York to NBC Studios in Burbank in 1972 were all daily broadcasts retained.

According to Variety, Tribune is dedicated to keeping each episode “as intact as possible,” which is great news. The extent to which the episodes are edited will largely be determined by music rights clearances, which need to be negotiated on a show-by-show basis – a complicated and expensive proposition for a relatively low-profile network like Antenna. The prohibitive cost of music licensing has wrecked havoc with the afterlife of shows like WKRP in Cincinnati and The Wonder Years and has likely played a role in why music-heavy variety shows are so infrequently rerun.

Tonight was a 90-minute show until 1980, so any pre-1980 episode Antenna airs on a weeknight would have to be edited to fit the shorter time slot. The weekend broadcasts will be ninety minutes, however, so those shows should be largely intact. I was too young to watch Carson in the ’70s, so the prospect of seeing those episodes un-cut is exhilarating. Topical Nixon jokes! Wide collars! Talk show guests smoking on TV! The mind boggles.

This is not the first time Johnny Carson has made a posthumous return to TV. In July of 2013, Turner Classic Movies launched Carson on TCM, a series of 60-minute compilations of Johnny’s conversations with classic film icons, hosted by one of his successors in the hosting chair at Tonight, Conan O’Brien. The package of fifty interviews TCM licensed from Carson Entertainment Group will continue to air on the network “occasionally” as interstitial programming (sans Conan’s intros), a TCM spokesperson told me today.

Johnny also appeared in reruns during his original run as Tonight Show host.

In 1982, Columbia Television syndicated a daily, thirty-minute clip show called Carson’s Comedy Classics that included sketches and comedy bits from the previous decade, as well as a handful of surviving material from the 1962-72 lost episodes. The show also included bridging narration from Ed McMahon, Carson’s beloved sidekick for his entire run. Carson’s Comedy Classics has continued to air sporadically ever since, appearing as recently as 2009 on Reelz Channel.

Complete Carson episodes have also been marketed to collectors on DVD for years, and digital downloads of a handful of shows are now available (including one from 1968). But Antenna TV’s re-launch of the show will provide – by far – Johnny’s greatest visibility since he left the air in 1992. In addition to the scheduled nightly broadcasts, Antenna will also air reruns at 2 a.m. (ET)/11 p.m. (PT) weeknights and 1:30 a.m. (ET)/10:30 p.m. (PT) on Saturdays and Sundays. That adds up to a stunning 16-hour programming commitment each week, or roughly ten percent of Antenna TV’s broadcast schedule.

As much as I’ve enjoyed the excerpted interviews on TCM, to fully appreciate the brilliance of Carson and the charm of his breezy, off-the cuff interactions with guests and staff, you have to see the shows unfold in real time. That’s part of why this initiative is so important, and potentially groundbreaking. If it works – and Tribune’s financial commitment and pledge to be “nimble in programming episodes on short notice to respond to headlines and current events” has me feeling optimistic – Carson’s legacy may live on for a whole new generation of fans.

And if the Carson reruns succeed, what other treats from the variety or talk show genres might we see on the growing number of venues catering to fans of classic content? The answer is locked in a mayonnaise jar under Funk and Wagnalls’ porch, and on Antenna TV next year.

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