Monday, September 2, 2013

Movies! -- some thoughts on television's second best classic movie channel

One of the things I've noticed following this antenna TV over the past few years is that the quality of reporting on television tends to be very strong in Chicago, strong in LA, pretty good in Atlanta and terrible in New York, a ranking that tracks fairly well with the importance of the industry in each town. I don't have much first hand knowledge of Milwaukee but I'd imagine that, given the proximity there's a fairly strong shared culture with Chicago. 

That would explain why Duane Dudek of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel not only covered a terrestrial superstation but actually took the time to get quotes from Neal Sabin, the Ted Turner of over-the-air television.
The channel called MOVIES! is a partnership between the Chicago-based Weigel chain and Fox Television Stations. The channel will reach over 40% of US TV homes when launched, said Neal Sabin, president of content and networks for Weigel.

He said the films will be presented in a "movie lovers' kind of manner," with 12 minutes of commercials per hour and with no editing for length.

Which means a movie will end "when it's over," he said. The service is "a little Turner Classic movies, it's a little AMC and it's a little ME-TV in the way we present the films," Sabin said.

Films will often be presented in showcases, he said, such as female-oriented films on Saturday night and Westerns every morning "because that's a genre that isn't in most places."

"And every night in prime time, there will be an iconic movie or iconic movie star in the movie."

Films are from the Fox studios library, plus two other yet to be named studios.

The first prime-time movies Monday will be "Silent Movie" (1976) and "High Anxiety" (1977), starring and directed by Mel Brooks. 
It's obvious both from reading press materials and from watch the station that despite the fact that it runs on Fox stations, shows Fox movies and is probably financed by Fox money, Movies! is very much a Weigel operation and it shares the underlying philosophy that have made ThisTV and METV so much fun:

Try to find something good. Failing that, find something interesting. Failing that, find something different.

The big difference between Movies! (yeah, I'm getting tired of the exclamation mark too) and the earlier Weigel efforts, particularly the otherwise similar ThsTV is budget. Though ThisTV found a number of creative ways of working around a lack of resources, sometimes even making a virtue out of their limitations (such as their Tarantinoesque art-house/grind-house vibe), but there are obviously some programming choices that the channel wouldn't make if they had the option of showing something better. Movies! is Weigel operating largely without financial constraints. 

Turner Classic Movies was the reason I went over to rabbit ears in the first place, or, more precisely, it was the last straw. I'd been growing increasingly pissed off with cable for years, the inconvenience of installation (I moved frequently), the poor customer service, the opaque pricing and bait-and-switch offers, the failure to improve value even though viewing alternatives (online and DVD) were constantly getting better. I kept telling myself, next time I move I'm going to get my TV online and over the air but what finally tipped the scale was when my provider bumped TCM to a more expensive tier. After that, I looked at my cable listings and asked myself "what am I getting here that I can't get online or via DVD? The answer was "not much."

TCM remains the gold standard for movie people, but Movies! pulls off a surprisingly respectable second. It can't match Turner's commercial-free format (though twelve minutes an hour is quite reasonable) or catalog, but they do have a good catalog and they do dig deep enough to present an interesting cross-section. This week, which is fairly representative, features films ranging from Lawrence of Arabia to Mothra, recognized classics like John Ford's Rio Grande, interesting oddities like Elvis Presley's two best reviewed dramatic films (one directed by Don Siegel, the other written by Clifford Odets), notable work by stars like Clark Gable, Dick Van Dyke, Janet Leigh, Burt Lancaster, Peter Lorre, Gary Cooper, Rita Hayworth, William Holden, Richard Widmark, Richard Boone, Sean Connery, Richard Harris, James Coburn, James Caan, Charles Bronson and others, loads of effective little genre pictures and guilty pleasures like the Zatoichi remake Blind Fury, Ray Harryhausen's creatures in Mysterious Island and the Grand Guignol of Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Movies! and the other terrestrial superstations raise some interesting business and media questions but those can wait till later. For now I just want to say that, speaking as someone who has wasted a big chunk of his life watching TV, even if you gave me unlimited cable, I'd still keep a set of rabbit ears around for the Weigel channels. Like TCM and Cartoon Network, they show what happens when you hand television over to smart people who love the medium. 

No comments:

Post a Comment