HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 29: TCM host Ben Mankiewicz speaks onstage at the screening of 'Woman of the Year' during day 4 of the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival on April 29, 2018 in Hollywood, California. 350482. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for TCM)
Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for TCM
Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for TCM

What happens to TCM under the AT&T WarnerMedia restructuring? 

Originally posted Friday, March 8, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

The initial memo Monday in which AT&T described how it was divvying up Turner Broadcasting networks and there seemed to be logic in all the various splits.

TNT, TBS and truTV joined HBO. CNN and HLN were teamed up with live sports. And Cartoon Network and Adult Swim will help bolster the new Warner Bros. division focused on children and younger people.

But it seemed, on the surface, odd that Turner Classic Movies (TCM) ended up in that Warner Bros. “new global kids and young adults business.”  That network, which Ted Turner created in 1994, is the opposite. It targets a much older audience that prefers their movies black and white, mining films from primarily from the the Old Hollywood days of the 1930s through the 1960s.

But Warner Bros. is also a film studio which owns a vast library of thousands of classic movies. TCM on the whole airs just films, both licensed from Warner Bros. and from other studios. Even its original shows are tied to such films. 

So TCM - run by Jennifer Dorian since 2014 - is not actually going to be part of the division for kids and young adults. It’s really under the Warner Bros. umbrella because of its usage of Warner Bros. films for programming purposes. 

TCM was created in 1994 by Ted Turner to leverage his library of 4,700 feature films from MGM, RKO and pre-1950 Warner Bros. films Turner Broadcasting acquired in the mid-1980s.

Among Turner’s most prized holdings at the time were “Gone WIth the Wind,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Casablanca.” It also licensed films from other studios. It originally competed directly with American Movic Classics, which eventually called itself AMC and went a different direction. AMC now focuses on more recent films and original programming such as “Better Call Saul” and “The Walking Dead.”

The network has always been an interesting bird because it relies purely on fees from distributors, not advertising. As a result, it feels less pressure to skew younger like AMC did. It has run commercial free for 25 years and held firm even after Time Warner purchased Turner in 1996. 

TCM over the years has created a rabid fan base, including many actors such as Alec Baldwin and Rose McGowan. Former journalist Robert Osborne, who died in 2017,  was the glue, the beloved voice of TCM, for most of its run. The network has rewarded those fans by holding a big film festival every year for the past decade in Hollywood that returns in April.

Margaret McDaniel, a retired 64-year-old Marietta resident, has watched TCM for a quarter century and loves how it has maintained its vision from day one.

“I appreciate that TCM has made so many classic movies available through the years to folks who didn’t grow up going to the movies,” McDaniel said. “Robert Osborne was a gem of a host and Ben Mankiewicz is doing a good job, too.” She raved about the network’s annual “31 Days of Oscar” theme in February and how management changes it up each year. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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