Why we’ll always need Turner Classic Movies

TCM fans Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Steven Spielberg helped rescue the beloved network. Here, a day on a TCM Cruise.

Courtesy of John Nowak / TCM

Like other creative enterprises that get national exposure but can be overlooked in their hometowns, Turner Classic Movies is a lodestar for fans of classic film that is sometimes taken for granted in Atlanta.

The network’s film-purist canon of uncut, commercial-free movies, piped into American homes like cinematic catnip 24 hours a day, has made it a beloved binge-watch for top directors like Nancy Meyers, Alexander Payne, and Martin Scorsese. TCM debuted in 1994 with Gone with the Wind, and this year turns 30, having weathered a whirlwind of corporate mergers, the death of its iconic host Robert Osborne, and the dismissal of much of its leadership in 2023.

Working out of Turner’s Techwood campus, a key group of Atlanta-based talent has been programming films for the network, creating documentaries and short films to support the TCM mission, running a TCM podcast, and orchestrating Hollywood’s TCM Classic Film Festival, which will mark its 15th anniversary this year on April 18 to 21. The Peabody Award–winning network boasts an Atlanta staff of longtimers fiercely loyal to the brand. “It really is like a family,” says the TCM Classic Film Festival’s director, Genevieve McGillicuddy, who has been with TCM since 2004.

TCM’s Atlanta team tends to geek out, hard, over classic film. The senior director of original productions, Scott McGee, has been with the network for 24 years. With a master’s degree in film from Emory, he has seen his dreams come true—interacting with the kind of silver-screen figures who defined his pre-VCR childhood. He recounts how he was once scolded by How Green Was My Valley star Maureen O’Hara for never having been to Ireland, despite his Emerald Isle ancestry. As a kid growing up in Peachtree City, he was obsessed with Tarzan films and would mark up the family TV Guide with his movie picks for the coming week. “I felt a kinship to these movies. I felt like they were speaking to me,” says McGee.

Like McGee, McGillicuddy attended Emory’s graduate film program, studying Japanese film. In her 19 years at TCM, she’s shared meals and tête-à-têtes with stars like Peter O’Toole and Jean-Paul Belmondo. She, too, is mad for movies. She remembers, years ago, overhearing a conversation at the TCM Classic Film Festival headquarters, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Los Angeles, in which fans were discussing the merits of ’30s and ’40s character actor Franklin Pangborn. Her heart sang. “I thought, Yes! These are my people!
“Being able to be a part of creating that experience, and giving these films a platform to be discovered and to be enjoyed by people, is deeply satisfying,” says McGillicuddy, who longs to someday bring Julie Christie to the annual TCM festival.

Growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, TCM director of podcast programming Angela Carone had a father who was a classic-film fan, known for his impersonations of stars like Jimmy Stewart and Marlon Brando. At age seven, Carone was doing Mae West to her father’s W.C. Fields. This January, Carone and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz debuted a new podcast, Talking Pictures, which features film figures like Mel Brooks, Emerald Fennell, and Errol Morris talking about the movies that shaped their lives.

“The love of film is so strong, there is such a bonding force between everybody on that staff, and everyone is so mission-driven—that’s not easy to find in the working world,” says Carone.

This small group serves as the brain trust for a film brand so beloved that fans regularly pay upwards of $2,000 for TCM Classic Cruises to places like Cabo San Lucas and Disney’s Castaway Cay, where they have rubbed shoulders with the likes of director Roger Corman and Richard Dreyfuss.

A still from Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

Photograph courtesy of the Everett Collection

With the corporate merger of Discovery and Warner Media in 2022 came the layoff of core TCM staff, like McGillicuddy and L.A.-based senior VP of programming and content strategy Charles Tabesh, who has been at the network for 26 years. After 25 years at TCM, general manager Pola Changnon opted to leave Warner Bros. Discovery as layoffs loomed.

That TCM gutting became a cinematic cause celebre, inspiring longtime TCM fans Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Steven Spielberg to meet with Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav. The directors advocated for rehiring the TCM staff, and Tabesh and McGillicuddy went back to work.

Stars weighed in on social media, with Ryan Reynolds tweeting that TCM is “a holy corner of film history and a living, breathing library for an entire art form. Please don’t f*ck with TCM.”

“We’ve had this very clear statement to the world about how valued we are,” says Mankiewicz of the upside of the merger’s very public kerfuffle. But that postmerger hot mess chronicled in the Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and TheWrap has in many ways overshadowed the ongoing grit of this local team of TCM film nuts working behind the scenes for decades to shape TCM into the film juggernaut it is today.

Mankiewicz, who travels to Atlanta every month for TV tapings, finds the unpretentious, unapologetic film love of Atlanta’s TCM crew a delightful break from L.A.’s company-town ethos. “It’s easier to become jaded about this business in Los Angeles,” says Mankiewicz, whose own family of film world luminaries—screenwriters, producers, directors—have lived in the City of Angels for generations. “When you’re in Atlanta, nobody says, ‘Let’s do lunch.’”

Host Ben Mankiewicz’s Top TCM Movies

Sweet Smell of Success (1957)
“I love journalists and journalism movies,” says Mankiewicz. “It is gross and dirty and scummy, and I love every second of this movie.”

Paths of Glory (1957)
Along with Saving Private Ryan, Paths of Glory sits atop the list of the greatest war pictures ever made, says Mankiewicz. “It’s a treatise on the madness of war, told through the numbing madness of World War I, the dumbest war ever fought (which is saying something).”

12 Angry Men (1957)
“A tense, claustrophobic look at the biases we all carry, consciously or not; as well as our innate self-interest. It’s also a compelling story, beautifully told, led by an actor who projected humility and decency as well as anyone, Henry Fonda.”

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
“I saw Saving Private Ryan in 1998, when I was working as a reporter in Miami. I saw it with a Vietnam veteran and a World War II vet. They both came out of the film wiping away tears, clearly moved by what they’d just experienced.”

The Narrow Margin (1952)
“I’ve recently renewed my love affair with this 1952 Richard Fleischer film. It’s one part Charles McGraw, the cop, who slowly worked his way up to leading noir roles; one part Marie Windsor, the mob widow set to testify against the outfit, who’s as cold and steely as a femme fatale can get; and one part the dialogue. Charles McGraw describes Marie Windsor to his partner as a ’60 cent special. Cheap. Flashy. Strictly poison under the gravy.’”

Jurassic Park (1993)
“It’s on the list because it’s as perfect a movie theater experience as I’ve ever had. Saw it with a girlfriend in DC on opening weekend in 1993. Uptown Theater. Midnight show. Packed house. It was a madhouse.”

Notting Hill (1999)
“I loathe the term ‘rom-com,’ because I believe it has subliminally taught us that romantic comedies are trivial cliches, unworthy of top-10 lists. Nonsense, to which I’ll add, ‘I’m just a boy, standing in front of a movie screen, asking to love it.’”

Midnight Run (1988)
“This is, I’ve now determined, the funniest movie I’ve ever seen. De Niro is perfect. His work here is as good as he is in The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, and The King of Comedy.”

Out of Sight (1998)
“This was another seminally important viewing experience. In Miami, opening weekend in 1998. I fell in love. With Jennifer Lopez, with George Clooney, with Don Cheadle, with Steve Zahn, with Ving Rhames, with Catherine Keener, with Dennis Farina, with Albert Brooks. Mostly, though, I fell hard for Steven Soderbergh, the director, who told this story, based on an Elmore Leonard novel, in such a creative, non-linear way. I walked out of the theater after Out of Sight exhilarated, buzzing with excitement. It remains the best feeling I’ve ever had after a seeing movie.”

3 Days of the Condor (1975)
Robert Redford has never been more handsome than in Condor, except in The Sting. And Jeremiah Johnson. And Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He’s looks pretty good in All the Presidents Men, too (which should be on this list. What’s wrong with me?).

Casablanca (1942)
It’s best studio movie ever made. Period. Might be the best movie ever made, too. Romance? Check. International Intrigue? Check. Danger? Check. Emotional heft? I guarantee everyone with a soul cries at least twice.

This article appears in our February 2024 issue.

The post Why we’ll always need Turner Classic Movies appeared first on Atlanta Magazine.

Like other creative enterprises that get national exposure but can be overlooked in their hometowns, Turner Classic Movies is a lodestar for fans of classic film that is sometimes taken for granted in Atlanta. The network’s film-purist canon of uncut, commercial-free movies, piped into American homes like cinematic catnip 24 hours a day, has made it a beloved binge-watch for top directors like Nancy Meyers, Alexander Payne, and Martin Scorsese.
The post Why we’ll always need Turner Classic Movies appeared first on Atlanta Magazine. Read MoreAtlanta Magazine

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