LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30:  Actress Anna Karina (L) and radio & TV personality Ben Mankiewicz speak onstage at 'Band of Outsiders' screening during day 3 of the TCM Classic Film Festival 2016 on April 30, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. 25826_005  (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Turner)
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film The Turner Classic films need a new home, not just new leadership

The Turner Classic films need a new home, not just new leadership

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 30:  Actress Anna Karina (L) and radio & TV personality Ben Mankiewicz speak onstage at 'Band of Outsiders' screening during day 3 of the TCM Classic Film Festival 2016 on April 30, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. 25826_005  (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Turner)

Kohn’s Corner is a weekly column about the challenges and opportunities of sustaining American film culture.

Shame has never been high on Warner Media Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s list of priorities: Over the past 12 months, he’s buried ‘Batgirl’, ripped nearly 100 titles off his streaming service and thrown a lavish party in Cannes in in the midst of the WGA strike.

Yet in January, when I devoted this column to questions about Turner Classic Movies’ prospects at WBD, the company did its best to project a bright future. Zaslav loved traditional Chinese medicine, the company’s general manager, Pola Changnon, told me. “We feel lucky that in this new world, at the top, someone cares about us,” said Changnon.

That affection has its limits. After a handful of layoffs earlier this year, TCM lost its five senior executives this week, including Changnon and vice president of programming and strategy Charles “Charlie” Tabesh, a 25-year veteran known as the mastermind network maintenance. Other staff members were fired during the week; also closed the TCM UK channel. There was a discussion, now filed, about deleting the post-film discussion segments.

As usual in today’s media landscape, nothing stays stable for long. After protests led by none other than Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson, TCM continues to be overseen by former Discovery+ executive Kathleen Finch, but at least some aspects of its fate now rest with Warner Bros. execs Mike De Luca and Pamela Abdy, former MGM bosses adored by filmmakers who see them as like-minded peers, rather than bean-counting executives. So… happy ending?

Not so fast. The De Luca/Abdy pivot is a short-term fix to a PR crisis, but what impact the pair will have remains to be seen. For now, reports suggest they’ve only been brought in to advise on TCM’s publishing and curation. What that means has yet to be defined. Another senior management role will oversee MTC as a whole, but that role remains to be defined.

Still, even if De Luca and Abdy secure more managerial oversight, it’s hard to see how they could restructure a brand that’s already been dismantled from the top. The prized TCM Classic Film Festival has been reduced to a staff of two, Mark Wynns and Lindsay Griffin, while Tabesh’s programming team is made up of three: Senior Director Stephanie Thames, Senior Director Scott McGee and Coordinator Ben Cheeves. Sources tell me that while Changnon won’t rejoin the company after the latest developments with De Luca and Abdy, Tabesh is still in the mix and could find a way back after this week’s events if he’s granted the kind of programming autonomy that it allowed him to keep the substance of TCM.

For now, the preeminent brand for classic films in America — only Criterion comes close to forging such a respect for the medium’s history across generations — has been reduced to a fragmented team tasked with serving an ambiguous agenda. Zaslav may love classic movies as much as he wants to, but a true hero would recognize the obvious: TCM needs a new home, not a tenuous space within a place with no tangible investment in his future. If that house is indeed within Warner Bros. Discovery, then its structure within the company must be reinvented to ensure its long-term sustainability.

This is where the main problem keeps getting worse. WBD’s network marketing is now consolidated into a so-called “center of excellence” that oversees all of its brands within the US Networks group. However, since TCM runs no ads, it is at the bottom of the list for that team. Even if it incorporates advertising into its offerings, the passionate audience base would be relatively smaller than that of other channels. Whoever leads TCM will have to carve a path out of this centralized structure so that the channel isn’t constantly pitted against other brands unfairly.

Executives running TCM will also need to respect her curatorial agenda rather than push it towards corporate mandates of the moment. After all, the decision to fire TCM’s top leadership made little sense in the first place: The brand equity largely comes from the people programming for its devoted audience. The Ted Turner film library brought the brand to life decades ago, but much of what TCM streams is licensed from other sources. Its curatorial spice comes from a blend of comforting familiarity and adventures into the unknown: for every “Casablanca” or “Citizen Kane,” you’ll find a rare silent comedy or underrated B-movie to prove that cinematic history is a journey constant . The brand value lies in the people with institutional knowledge and cinephile curiosity who give TCM the authority and authenticity that make it a “reputation asset” for the company.

By studio metrics, it’s a modest investment: I’m told the annual budget averages less than $45 million to cover everything from licensing fees to festival and team salaries. This is a fraction of the production and marketing budget for ‘The Flash’, only this product delivers on the hype.

As my colleague Christian Blauvelt previously reported, Spielberg, Scorsese, and Anderson jumped on the phone with Zaslav to voice their concerns, and it seems like they’ve made a real impact. But this gathering of “Avengers” of America’s most respected authors might not have changed Zaslav’s strategy if he didn’t have unfinished business with at least one of them.

I’m told Anderson’s mysterious next film, which is rumored to star Joaquin Phoenix, Viggo Mortensen and Regina Hall, is being set up at Warner Bros. Zaslav probably wants to stick with the up-and-coming deal, lest he repeat the mistakes of the former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, who alienated Christopher Nolan with the 2021 day-and-date release strategy when the director fled his longtime studio and instead set up “Oppenheimer” at Universal.

Zaslav is hacking into divisions of the company, so saving a PTA deal might not be his top priority. The statement released by the filmmakers on Tuesday said Zaslav reached out to the men earlier this week, though multiple sources tell IndieWire that’s not true at all: Scorsese instigated the call through his nonprofit The Film Foundation, a company that has been experimenting with streaming classic movies through its website for the past year and could make more sense as a future home for TCM than any line item in Zaslav’s budget. So why did Zaslav take credit for the call? The statement seeks to calm things down for him without having to officially issue any comments. He has outsourced a shield to the film community.

Let’s suppose that De Luca and Abdy can stabilize the immediate panic of TCM a little. It will never find total safety within the cold-hearted WBD ecosystem, so the same influential people who rushed to rescue it this week might consider contingency planning should something like this happen again. One day, in the foreseeable future TBD, TCM could benefit from a new owner. But what would TCM look like under new ownership? And how could it be set up to succeed?

In conversations with staff members past and present, it’s clear that TCM doesn’t quite scale with the evolving streaming market. The company’s newly rebranded streaming platform Max has a budget cap on how many classic film titles it can release to the service at a time, and that narrow curation doesn’t address TCM’s core appeal as “a valuable cinematic resource, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” as Anderson, Scorsese and Spielberg say in their statement. Its live television presence distinguishes TCM from the likes of the Criterion Channel, which has attempted to chart a path towards sustainability entering the niche streaming market.On demand streaming is not what TCM does best.Turn on the channel and the movies are always there for you.

However, there may be a future for this kind of never-ending curatorial approach that splits the difference between streaming and cable, one that could exist beyond the constraints of WBD if key stakeholders engage in outside-the-box thinking and get involved. .

While broadcast and cable seem less viable in today’s on-demand market, the “always on” conceit remains contemporary among GenZers who get much of their media diet from live streams on YouTube, Twitch, and elsewhere. These entities are Also same OTT streaming services that can be experienced as live TV. An avid investor could set up the TCM concept as a 24/7 channel within this ecosystem, continue to cater to traditional audiences and Hollywood royalty who treasure its existence, while ingesting new public in the process. Programming itself is a relatively inexpensive enterprise – it just needs the proper structure to thrive.

And hey, maybe De Luca and Abdy or the new incoming MTC supervisor could consider a version of this approach by making a live feed of TCM available to all Max subscribers. If they really wanted to solve the TCM problem, they would be fighting for it. ensure it features prominently in the company’s most visible line of business. As a result, more people might even tune in.

For now, Zaslav has committed to performative valence by establishing a loose protective sphere around TCM rather than saying goodbye in style. It’s impossible to argue for a safe space in an organization so prone to abrupt cutbacks and reorganizations. Reality Check: The call is coming from inside the house.

In any case, I hear outgoing TCM leader Changnon will be staying at the channel until the end of August, just in time for the Telluride Film Festival, where TCM has maintained a strong presence alongside many of the festival’s classic film restorations for years. . Whatever happens next, the community moves on.

As usual, I encourage readers to share their thoughts in this week’s column: eric@indiewire.com

Last week, I looked into the implications of the deaths of key French New Wave directors. Here is one response I received among many.

“Jacques Rozier may not have been the last director of the New Wave – Alain Cavalier is still alive and apparently still active. Only his ‘Thérese’ (1986) was very successful in the US, although a handful of his more mainstream early films starring actors like Deneuve, Piccoli and Trintignant got some exposure in the US. But his work over the past 35 years or so has been as off the American radar as it has been provocative, useful, and intriguing. —Peter Scarlet, film programmer

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