Turner Classic Movies’ 20th Anniversary

By Julia Ricci

Classic films have been a part of my life since my mother and grandmother introduced me to movie musicals when I was three years old. At the time, I was terrified of most Disney movies (those villains were creepy!), so films like The Sound of MusicSinging in the Rain, and The Music Man provided me with an entertainment escape without giving me nightmares.


     Though I’m not scared of the films I used to be, old movies have continued to be a source of comfort for me, and Turner Classic Movies–which celebrated its 20th Anniversary this April–has fueled my passion for them.
TCM made its television debut on April 14, 1994 with a showing of Gone with the Wind introduced by film historian Robert Osborne. Since then, Osborne and daytime host Ben Mankiewicz have presented thousands of films–most of which come from the Warner Brothers and MGM collections–to television audiences across North America and the world, uncut and commercial-free.

The network also produces special showcases including 31 Days of OscarSummer Under the Stars, and The Essentials, a weekly program featuring specific movies important to film history, with a special introduction and post-film discussion with co-hosts Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore.

Its spin-off showcase, Essentials, Jr., is a summer series for families introducing their children to classic films. Saturday Night Live alum Bill Hader and has hosted the show for the past two years.

My love affair with TCM began when I first watched National Velvet at seven years old. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but what immediately grabbed my attention was Robert Osborne’s introduction. His warm personality was welcoming and the enthusiasm in his voice made me even more excited to watch the film.

Though others may consider them “useless information,” I’ve always loved absorbing the random factoids from the hosts’ interesting segues. The more I learned about movies, the more fascinating they became to me. Tuning in to TCM is a constant delight because whenever I hear the familiar, “Hi, I’m Robert Osborne,” or “Hi, I’m Ben Mankiewicz,” I know I’m in for a treat.

Over the past two decades, TCM has expanded beyond its usual programming and brings classic movie fans together by hosting annual events such as the annual TCM Classic Film Festival and Classic Cruise and launching a Classic Film Tour in New York City.

The network also has a strong social media presence, where it connects with fans who in turn interact through the website’s message boards, Facebook, and Twitter (#TCMParty). In the summer of 2013, a free app was released in which cable subscribers can watch the channel live on their computers or mobile devices. All of these opportunities to connect with the network and other movie lovers make audiences feel as though they’re part of an extended family.

     Sometimes it seems young people are not keen on older films. Interestingly, TCM’s audience is younger than you may think. According to blogger Will McKinley, at the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival, TCM general manager Jeff Gregor said that two-thirds of its viewers are in the 18-54 demographic. The audience is a film’s most important curator, and TCM’s relatively young but diverse viewership demonstrates that there will always be an appreciation for classic movies.

Like countless other viewers, I’ve discovered some of my all-time favorite films from watching TCM. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy contemporary movies, but there’s something about classic films that produces a different kind of joy when watching them.

Perhaps it’s the stories, universal themes, or even nostalgia that make them special, but the most significant aspect is how they connect with the audience. Certain films can mean something to a person for a number of reasons, and TCM has done a wonderful job fostering those relationships and fueling viewers’ passion for the classics. It’s why TCM has secured a special place in the hearts of many, and why it’s guaranteed to stay there.

Happy 20th Anniversary, TCM. Here’s to many more.