If you’re a fan of classic films, you’ve probably heard of Turner Classic Movies. The cable channel is a favorite with people who love Old Hollywood and classic black and white movies.
Robert Osbourne’s Impact Was Huge
The channel is incredibly popular and even has its own film festival which celebrates classic movies. One of the biggest draws of the channel was its host, Robert Osborne, who sadly passed away recently. While the channel will undoubtedly continue to be around for years to come, it will be forever changed without its beloved host. Robert Osborne had not only a significant impact on the channel but also was influential in helping a new generation fall in love with classic movies.
Here’s what you didn’t know about Osbourne and TCM.
Robert Osborne’s influence on Turner Classic Movies is one that definitely should not be underestimated. What many people who come from younger generations do not know is that Robert Osborne was not just a fantastic host but also a celebrated actor in his own right. He graduated from the University of Washington School of Journalism before embarking on a career in show business as a contract actor for Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball’s (of I Love Lucy fame) Desilu Studios. He was a part of Lucille Ball’s Desilu Workshop where Lucille Ball herself helped to train and nurture his acting talent.
While Robert Osborne’s acting career was short-lived, his experiences in Hollywood help to pave the way for his future role as the host of Turner Classic Movies. He had some small television appearances such as a part in an episode of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. He was in the pilot episode of The Beverley Hillbillies where he portrayed Jeff Taylor but declined to remain on the show as he didn’t believe it to be successful. Of course, as we now know, The Beverly Hillbillies would become a massive hit. If he had stayed on the show, the future of Turner Classic Movies might have been very different!
A Journalism Career
After a few years of acting, Robert Osborne decided to use the skills he learned in school to begin a career in writing. He said that he was also encouraged to become a writer by Lucille Ball “especially after she saw me act,” Osborne joked. After his role on The Beverly Hillbillies Osborne begin to focus on his writing and had his first book published not long after appearing on the show. His first book, which focused on the Hollywood industry, was called Academy Awards Illustrated and was published in 1965 when Robert Osborne was still only in his early thirties.
Becoming an Expert
The years that Robert Osborne spent acting and writing about Hollywood were vital to his future career as the host of Turner Classic Movies. He began establishing himself as an expert at a young age. Following the publication of Academy Awards Illustrated, Osborne became a columnist for The Hollywood Reporter. This was followed up by another book, 50 Golden Years of Oscar which was published in 1978. The book was quite successful and earned Robert the National Film Book Award, a significant achievement in his career. Shortly after, Osborne was elected as the president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
A Leader in the Field
After this, Robert Osborne’s career reached even greater heights, cementing his reputation as a leading expert in his field. In 1982, he became the entertainment reporter on KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles, California. He also launched a column in The Hollywood Reporter called Rambling Reporter which was published five times weekly. By 1984, Osborne was branching out and laying the foundation for his future role as the host of Turner Classic Movies. His first hosting position was for The Movie Channel in 1984. That same year, he won the Publicists Guild of America Press Award and hosted a Shirley Temple tribute at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills.
60 Years at the Oscar
Perhaps one of the most significant accomplishments of Robert Osborne’s career was the book 60 Years of the Oscar which was commissioned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1988. The volume would be updated six times, ending with 85 Years of the Oscar in 2013. Robert Osborne’s career throughout the 1980s and 1990s was quite a prolific one during which he became well known throughout the Hollywood industry as an expert in film and media. When Ted Turner created Turner Classic Movies in 1994 as a competitor to the popular American Movie Classics channel (now known as AMC), Robert Osborne was a logical choice as the host of the nightly broadcasts featured on the channel.
The Birth of TCM
Media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner created the classic film channel after acquiring the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio for a whopping sum of $1.5 billion back in 1986. While Turner was forced to sell the studio back to Kirk Kerkorian, its previous owner, later that year after concerns over Turner Entertainment’s debt, part of the deal meant that Turner Entertainment retained ownership of all Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films released up to May 9, 1986. Turner Broadcasting System was then divided into two separate companies, Turner Broadcasting System and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was then reincorporated as MGM/UA communications CO.
The founder of Turner Classic Movies, Ted Turner, was no stranger to television when he first started the channel in 1994. The businessman had previously founded the Cable News Network (better known today as CNN) which was the first 24-hour cable news channel in existence. Turner also founded WTBS which was pivotal in pioneering the cable television concept of a super station. The philanthropist has also made many charitable contributions such as a $1 billion gift to the United Nations which was used to create the United Nations Foundation, a charity which helps to broaden domestic support for the United Nations.
Turner Classic Movies became a hit. Instead of simply screening movies on the channel, it also provided commentary on the featured selections. It hosted four primetime movies seven days a week, as well as Private Screening interviews (hosted by Robert Osborne) which gave viewers deeper insights into the films through interviews with actors and directors. Turner also colorized many of the black and white films that he owned, releasing the film Yankee Doodle Dandy in color in 1985. It was the first black and white film to be redistributed in color. The public loved the concept, although many other film stars and directors objected to the practice of altering films.
This may come as a surprise to some, but the acquisition of the Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer library also included the early libraries of many cartoons such as Looney Tunes, Merry Melodies, and Popeye. This collection of animated shows would later become the core of another popular channel: Cartoon Network. Ted Turner’s companies also published Hanna-Barbera Productions. After merging with Time Warner in 1996, the channel also gained the Warner Bros. cartoon library. For a time, Cartoon Network was to classic cartoons what Turner Classic Movies was to classic films, although it would later branch out into creating more original content.
A Significant Date
A lot of thought was put into the official launch date of Turner Classic Movies. The date was eventually set as April 14, 1994, debuting at 6pm Eastern Time. Ted Turner himself launched the channel in a special ceremony in New York City’s Times Square. This specific date was chosen because it coincided with the centennial anniversary of New York City’s very first public movie showing. The first movie that was screened on the channel was the classic 1939 film, Gone with the Wind, which was also the first movie aired on sister channel TNT in October 1988.
When Turner Classic Movies first launched, it had a very similar format to the American Movie Classics channel. Both of the networks aired in uncut, commercial-free formats, although AMC eventually began airing commercials in the middle of screenings leaving Turner Classic Movies to screen classic films without any commercial interruptions. Both channels continued to primarily show films released prior to 1970, but American Movie Classics later began to branch out into original programming, creating many successful television series on the revamped AMC network. Today that channel is perhaps better known for its original shows such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men.
An Important Merger
In 1996, just a couple years after it was launched, Turner Broadcasting System merged with Time Warner. This had a big impact on the future of the channel, not only putting Turner Classic Movies and Warner Bros. Entertainment under the same parent company, but also allowing Turner Classic Movies to air films from the Warner Bros. library, significantly expanding the content aired on TCM. The merger gave Turner Classic Movies access to films that were released after 1949 and included other acquired entities including the Saul Zaentz, Lorimar, and National General Pictures libraries. This kept the content at TCM fresh, even though all of the films were old.
The Young Composers Film Competition
While American Movie Classics branched out to other formats and other forms of content beyond classic films, Turner Classic Movies stayed true to its Old Hollywood roots and expanded in other ways. In 2000, Turner Classic Movies started the annual Young Composers Film Competition, which invited aspiring composers to participate in a competition in which the judges would select a winner to be given the opportunity to score a feature-length silent film. The winner of the competition would also be mentored by a well-known composer and the completed work would then premiere on the Turner Classic Movies Channel.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Turner Classic Movies was the celebrity co-hosts who appeared on the show. Many of the co-hosts were unexpected choices, as they were young celebrities themselves. They appeared on Turner Classic Movies’ The Essentials which was primarily hosted by Robert Osborne and first aired in 2006. From 2006-2007, Osborne was teamed up with Molly Haskell. This was followed up by Carrie Fisher who co-hosted the show from 2007 to 2008, Rose McGowan from 2008-2009, Alec Baldwin from 2009 to 2011, Drew Barrymore and finally the iconic actress Sally Field.
Robert Osborne’s Classic Film Festival
Starting in 2005, Robert Osborne began to host the annual “Robert Osborne’s Classic Film Festival.” The non-profit was held every year in Athens, Georgia, at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Five years later, Robert Osborne would host the first Turner Classic Movies Film Festival and participate in subsequent festivals which celebrated classic films. The international Turner Classic Movies Film Festival is notable for featuring classic films on the big screen in some of the most iconic venues in the world. Robert Osborne not only became the face of the Turner Classic Movie channel but also the face of the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival.
The Great Movie Ride
Turner Classic Movies sponsors a ride at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. The Great Movie Ride, which is a guided vehicle dark ride, uses Audio-Animatronic figures, special effects, and projections, along with live actors to recreate scenes from some of the most iconic films throughout motion picture history. The ride debuted in 1989 and is hosted inside a replica of one of Hollywood’s movie palaces, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Turner Classic Movies began sponsoring the attraction in 2014 and added a pre-show and post-show hosted by none other than Robert Osborne. Other additions include Robert Osborne’s recorded narration which is present throughout the ride.
Around the World
Turner Classic Movies became so successful that it was launched around the world. Canada was one of the first countries after the United States to gain access to the show; TCM was first carried by Shaw Cable and Shaw Direct in 2005. International versions of Turner Classic Movies are available in many countries throughout Europe, South America, and Asian. The United Kingdom’s version of Turner Classic Movies operates as two separate channels including a spinoff channel dubbed as Turner Classic Movies 2. Turner Classic Movies has achieved international success, with it being one of the more popular American networks to air worldwide.
Robert Osborne’s Legacy
Robert Osborne was instrumental in the formation and success of Turner Classic Movies. His iconic presence on the channel is remembered by those who worked with him and those who watched the channel. Although he did not pass away until March, 2017, he was forced to retire from the air in early 2016 following an undisclosed health issue. He also missed many Turner Classic Movies annual events throughout that year. His death was announced on March 6, 2017, by his partner David Staller, a stage director and producer. While his presence is missed on the channel, his legacy lives on.