The Strange Case Of TCM

Quick! Name the Golden Age movie stars pictured above!

Some will know this answer, but most will not. Depending on one’s point of view, this can be seen as either a weakness for TCM or a strength.

It is possible that top management at Warner Bros. Discovery sees the obscurity of much of TCM’s content -- such as the movie above titled “When Ladies Meet” from 1933 -- as a weakness. After all, they are in the business of building audiences, not tolerating tiny ones.

Others -- such as long-time fans and movie buffs for whom TCM is some sort of cinema temple -- see the unfamiliarity of many of the TCM titles as its greatest strength.



Thanks to the curators at TCM who dig deeply into the inventory of movies available to TCM, movie buffs get to experience hundreds of movies they might not otherwise have heard of, much less seen.

The catalyst for this rumination is the recent news that WBD tried to execute a sweeping restructuring of TCM’s upper management and then had to walk back that plan.

This aborted change in management was attempted last month. It was deemed so alarming that it drew the attention of three directors.

Indeed, many saw the restructuring as some sort of death knell for TCM. 

Those let go were Pola Changnon, executive vice president and general manager of TCM; Charlie Tabesh, senior vice president of programming and content strategy; Dexter Fedor, vice president of brand creative and marketing; Genevieve McGillicuddy, vice president of enterprises and strategic partnerships; and Anne Wilson, vice president of studio production.

About half of TCM’s 40 staff members were also let go, according to The Wall Street Journal. At the time, the reason for the layoffs that circulated in the news reports was cost-cutting. 

Under the leadership of Warner Bros. Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav, WBD has been on a cost-cutting campaign ever since Discovery merged with Warner Bros.

The attempted restructuring has been credited to Zaslav. In its wake, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson literally declared the situation to be an “emergency.” 

They just couldn’t stand for it. So they made a fuss, then met with Zaslav, who agreed to a concession or two. 

Among them was restoring Charlie Tabesh to the job he had just lost -- senior vice president of programming and content strategy.

The directors, who to my knowledge have little or no stake in TCM financially or otherwise, then issued a victory statement. 

“We have each spent time talking to David [Zaslav], separately and together, and it’s clear that TCM and classic cinema are very important to him. Our primary aim is to ensure that TCM’s programming is untouched and protected.

“We are heartened and encouraged by the conversations we’ve had thus far, and we are committed to working together to ensure the continuation of this cultural touchstone that we all treasure,” said the statement.

And just like that, TCM’s vast movie catalog will now be forever under the protection of Spielberg, Scorsese and the other director Anderson. Or something like that.

It is ironic that their most famous movies are not under the same protection. For all of Martin Scorsese’s efforts at promoting the restoration of the world’s cinematic heritage, there has never been a peep out of him about how his own movies have been treated for decades on television.

They have been reformatted, chopped up and bleeped into near-total incomprehension. I realize he does not “own” his pictures, per se, but neither does he “own” TCM. And yet, he didn’t hesitate to lecture WBD management about the sanctity of “TCM’s programming.”

In the vast pantheon of TV content platforms, TCM stands alone. It is a basic cable channel with almost universal carriage that has no advertising.

Indeed, unlike the rest of television where the atmosphere is loud, profane, violent and coarse, the tone of TCM is like that of a hushed library where voices are soft and the collection is discussed with reverence and erudition.

The TV Blog likes TCM as much as the next person, but the opinion here is that aspects of TCM have gone stale.

Or to put it another way, how many times can a person watch “Singin’ in the Rain”? Maybe it is time for new blood.

Oh, before I forget, the stars in the photo above, from left to right are: Frank Morgan (who later played the hapless wizard in “The Wizard of Oz”), Ann Harding and Myrna Loy.

The movie, “When Ladies Meet,” has been available to watch for the last few weeks for free on TCM On-Demand.

Usually, the TCM On-Demand movies are added after they are shown on TCM. If this movie got more than 10 people to watch it over the last few weeks, then that would be a huge surprise. But without advertising, I suppose audience tonnage at TCM is not the point. 

2 comments about "The Strange Case Of TCM".
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  1. Tim Brooks from consultant, July 7, 2023 at 12:45 p.m.

    Shame on you, Adam, throwing shade on TCM, one of the few channels that really serves the public interest. (Another is the C-Span suite - are you going to diss them as well?) Do you really want to shut down "hushed libraries" because they don't generate enough commercial traffic, or flash and dazzle? It's not just about how many times you have seen "Singing in the Rain." It's also how many generations get to see it (or not).

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, July 7, 2023 at 3:45 p.m.

    Your questions are entirely rational, Adam. When you buy something, it's yours, not automatically a national treasure. So if you buy a Frank Lloyd Wright house, you can paint the floors another color, not Cherokee Red. If someone who worships such treasures is aghast, too bad. TCM is a treasure but its ownership might be complicated unless cultural pressure can be brought to bear on the new owners, which appears to be the case here. Auction it off to Spielberg and Scorcese, I guess. They could round up some donors who might put their money where their concern is. For the record, I love TCM but I love property rights, too.

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