Just like that, it was gone: my default channel.
In its place, the increasingly common and annoying message from Comcast, announcing “This channel only available by subscription.” Comcast certainly isn’t known for its stellar customer service, but this seemed bizarre even by its standards (such as they are).
And yet, it was true. If I want my classic movie channel back, I have to subscribe to a sports and entertainment package, emphasis on the former. Golf, basketball, outdoors, baseball—all the athletics that I really couldn’t care less about. Why? Because fewer and fewer people were watching Turner Classic Movies. (No explanation as to why Comcast is also dumping the Starz Channel.) Okay, I got a D in graduate economics, but it seems to me that if fewer people are watching it, the idea of charging them for it only means diminishing returns for Comcast.
But here’s the surprise—I’m not sure I care. Here’s why.
- Robert Osborne is dead. He was the face of TCM, but I thought he was wonderful long before Ted Turner thought of a classic movie channel. He was a reporter in Hollywood who’d written some wonderful books about the Academy Awards. Don’t get me wrong—I love his replacement Ben Mankiewicz. He not only has a Hollywood pedigree—his grandfather Herman shared the screenwriting Oscar for Citizen Kane with Orson Welles, and his great-uncle Joseph won four Oscars in two years for writing and directing A Letter To Three Wives and All About Eve—but a Washington pedigree as well: his father Frank was Robert Kennedy’s press secretary during his 1968 presidential run. But there will never be another Osborne.
- TCM was a good idea at the time. At its inception, there was no way to get curated commentary on classic movies. You could watch DVDs, but TCM crafted tributes and insights that were unique. But you could tell that the programmers were stretching its boundaries: silent movies, foreign films, trashy horror films, more-recent films (films I saw in high school, gack!). Its original purpose ran out of steam.
- There aren’t that many The Best Years Of Our Lives. The C in TCM stands for “classic,” but there are only so many really classic movies, and you can only show them so many times. I will always be grateful to TCM for introducing me to The Best Years Of Our Lives, a wonderful film that I’d only read about. But even after watching every star-studded movie I hadn’t seen, I found few movies that wonderful. Too many of them are dated, stodgy, or silly; if you can watch Woman of the Year, an antediluvian stiff with Tracy and Hepburn, without cringing at its chauvinism, you’re a better person than I. I began to get the same realization watching TCM that you get walking into an antique shop: just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s valuable.
- On-demand is in demand. Software eats everything, and it’s eaten TCM. I can press a button on my Comcast remote (one of the reasons I don’t loathe it entirely), speak the name of a movie, and my options for watching it appear. It’s probably available on-demand from one of the cable channels Comcast still offers, and if not, there’s Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. It’s like that wonderful Qwest commercial from 1999 has finally come true: “every movie ever made in any language any time day or night.”
This may be blasphemy coming from someone who used to review movies, who used to spend more time in screening rooms than studying for finals. But it’s true. All of life is letting go. If I can live without Crispy Critters, my Mustang convertible, and E tickets, I can live without TCM. It’ll just be one more thing that occasionally flits across my mind, making me think whatever happened to …