How many of you recall when Carole Lombard was Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month in October 2008 (the month of her centenary)? Hard to believe that was nearly seven years ago; since then, TCM twice has featured her in its "Summer Under the Stars" (in 2011 and 2014). Carole's long been a favorite of the channel, and yet there are those who fear she and her contemporaries may not be part of it too much longer.
The reason can be found in two words:
"Let's Movie," the channel's marketing campaign unveiled this week.
According to TVworld.com, "TCM will launch the brand campaign on-air and online at TCM.com and on THE WATCH TCM mobile apps on September 1 and will promote through social media activations, as well as linear, out-of-home and digital elements."
Quoting Jennifer Dorian, TCM's general manager, "We've really seen TCM become the last standing, great movie-lover destination. We're on a mission to share and celebrate the entire spectrum of film history with an engaged and growing community, and the goal of this campaign is to attract an even broader audience of movie fans to the network than ever before."
Sounds innocuous on the surface...but to some, it's indicative of rocky times ahead for their favorite channel. For one thing, social media will be a key of this campaign, featuring the hashtag #LetsMovie. There will be daily social activities and fan engagement across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr, leading into a dedicated "LetsMovie" holiday on Sept. 19 where TCM will encourage fans to watch films with family and friends and share their experiences via social media.
Is TCM pursuing a younger audience? Will it abandon '30s and '40s films to place more emphasis on '70s and '80s product? Might it be following the path of oldies radio? The few stations who still use that format, such as WCBS-FM in New York and CBS stablemate KRTH-FM in Los Angeles, have wiped out '50s oldies, play but a handful of '60s hits, and concentrate on music from the '70s and '80s. Here in LA, it seems as if the Eagles' "Hotel California" has succeeded the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and Aretha Franklin's "Respect" as the most overplayed record.
Aside from the potential loss of classic-era titles -- many of them obscure films no other channel would air -- the biggest fear among many TCM enthusiasts is that the channel might abandon the commercial-free format it's employed since signing on in April 1994. Both Dorian and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz went on Twitter to tell fans ads aren't in TCM's future, and that its contract with many operators specifically precludes commercials.
As for programming changes at TCM, they won't be blatant, but gradual, says Will McKinley of the site Cinematically Insane (https://willmckinley.wordpress.com/). "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."
McKinley adds TCM's long-term goal, done in part with its "Watch TCM" app, may be to reposition itself as a standalone, subscription streaming service -- though it might be to supplement, not replace, the original channel:
"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."
Which probably means we'll have nothing to fret about if, one of these months, Goldie Hawn -- one of Carole's comedic heirs -- is honored as TCM's Star of the Month.
Here's the spot TCM is airing for "Let's Movie." Watch and judge for yourself:
Our latest Lombard LiveJournal header is atypical, to say the least -- a studio sound engineer shows Carole something about the audio aspect of movies in Paramount p1202-726, from early 1934.