TCM Executives Push for Calm During TCM Classic Film Festival Amid Warner Bros. Discovery Chaos

The TCM Classic Film Festival opens every year with a "Meet TCM" event, which is similar to a "State of the Network," where executives introduce themselves and take questions from the audience. Usually, this event isn't that dramatic, but this year's panel took place on Thursday, April 13, just hours after Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav announced the next major moves for the company. Turner Classic Movies wasn't brought up during Zaslav's event, but the network's team sought to calm fans' concerns that major changes are coming under the new owners' watch.

The panel was filled mostly with executives familiar to TCM fans. General manager Pola Changnon; head of production Anne Wilson; head of programming Charlie Tabash; festival executive director and VP of enterprises & strategic partnerships Genevieve McGillicuy; head of marketing Dextor Fedor; and director of programming Scott McGee have all become superstars for fans. The one new face was head of talent Missy Birns-Halperin. She held that role at Discovery+ before the Warner Bros.-Discovery merger, and continues to have Discovery brands under her purview, as well as TCM.

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Left to right: Charlie Tabesh – head of programming; Pola Changnon – general manager; Anne Wilson – head of production; Dexter Fedor – head of marketing; Genevieve McGillicuddy – VP of entrprises & strategic partnerships + Festival Executive Director; Missy Birns-Halperin – head of talent; and Scott McGee – Director of Programming

- TCM)

If Birns-Halperin thought the questions from fans would be easy, she was in for a surprise. One fan asked the executives how TCM could make sure it has a bigger presence in Warner Bros. Discovery's celebration of Warner Bros. Pictures' 100th anniversary. Many classic movie fans groan when they see The Wizard of Oz and other MGM classics thrown in with genuine Warner Bros. movies during this campaign. Why wasn't TCM involved with that in the first place?

The answer to that question mostly focused on how much Zaslav loves the network. Chagnon said no one was asking TCM to "do something different," adding that Zaslav "really cares about" this legacy that he now oversees. "That isn't always true in big working organizations so we feel fortunate in that," she said. WBD Also "embraced" TCM as a "key platform" for celebrating Warner Bros.' 100th anniversary.

"They have been very supportive of what we're doing at this festival and in part that is financial – not to be gross – but they're helping us make this a really great event. And that's key. It's one thing to say to support you, but it's helpful if they write you a check too," Chagnon said. "That's really great."

Chagnon assured fans that WBD still sees the value in TCM. "We're seen as this real reputational asset for the company and people get that we do it in a meaningful and intentional way," she said. "That's rare and we've been so true to it." As for TCM's presence on HBO Max, soon to be just Max, Birns-Halperin said it will "evolve over time."

Zaslav showed his support for TCM by attending the opening night red carpet screening of Rio Bravo. Wilson recalled how Zaslav was "literally like a kid" when he met the TCM hosts. He had one of Eddie Muller's books on a coffee table, and had TCM playing in his office. The executives also suggested that TCM personalities might appear on other WBD properties For example, since Dave Karger is a "foodie," he could appear as a judge on a Food Network show, or Muller could appear on a podcast. There could even be a Food Network host appearing on TCM to join a programming block about food.

The executives also took a question about TCM Underground, a block once hosted by TCM programmer Millie De Chirico. After De Chirico was laid off, the programming block was canceled, which was heartbreaking to anyone who loves cult movies. Tabesh said movies like those could still be on the schedule, just without the TCM Underground label. They asked De Cherico if they could keep it going, but she "really thought it was time for it to end," Tabesh said. He added that it was "especially sad to lose" De Chirico.

In the past year, TCM also got blowback from more conservative fans about their Reframed series, which took beloved classics and explained why they are problematic today. Tabesh didn't think this was any different from what TCM has been doing since it began in 1994. The network has always been bringing on historians to join the late Robert Osborne and his successors to discuss movies and put them into historical context.

"We do not want to take away from the history, even the problematic people, the problematic films, we still play them," Tabesh explained. "They are an important part of Hollywood and history, and movies that we care about. But we want to add to that. We want to have perspective, we want to add different viewpoints, [and] we want to bring in, maybe, overlooked people or filmmakers. That has always been part of what we have done. I think, maybe, there is more attention on it now. I do not know, but we have not changed our approach. We have always really tried to do it in this way. It is important to us, it always has been."

"We are sitting in 2023 and we want to make sure that this network is valuable to a broad swath of audience and it would be crazy if we just put our head in the sand and just did not acknowledge where we live, what the conversation is in our world," Chagnon said. "And we have the ability to do it with these amazing movies and guests to come and inform us and enlighten us. I think it is incredible value to add for the viewer. At the same time, we also are going to program the things that are a dead-center sweet spot for any classic film lover. It is not worth turning our back on a more traditional approach."