Friday, August 1, 2008

Summer Under the Stars

Today begins TCM's annual August feature, Summer Under the Stars, in which each day is devoted to 24 hours of movies wiht one particular person in the cast. The star for August 1 is Michael Caine; perhaps the best-known of his movies showing up on TCM is Alfie, which airs at 10:30 PM ET.

In my experience, a lot of people on the TCM message boards complain about Summer Under the Stars, and any time somebody starts a new thread about it, you can be certain that one of the results is going to be people posting about which obscure stars ought to have their own days devoted to them. However, I find myself very much of two minds about this.

I believe I've made my feelings fairly clear during the six months I've been blogging that I'm a fan of the character actors. I think they add a lot to the movies of the studio era. I personally believe that a channel like TCM could use the character actors as a good way to repackage the material in their libraries. Sure, we've all seen Casablanca before, and it's a wonderful movie. How many people recall that John Qualen was in it? As I myself admitted when I blogged on Our Daily Bread, I couldn't recall Qualen's appearance. Having seen Casablanca since posting on Our Daily Bread, I can now point out that Qualen is the man who approaches Victor Laszlo and shows him the signet ring. By the same token, who here remembers Spring Byington in Mutiny on the Bounty? (She plays Franchot Tone's mother.) The point is that character actors can be a good way to introduce films to everybody: the more prominent films can be aired during the prime time hours when TCM might want to try to attract new people to the channel, while lesser-known movies can be screened during the other hours for those of us who think we already know more about the movies.

But as for Summer Under the Stars, should TCM focus only on the character actors? I'm not so certain. As I've commented with TCM's series for families, Essentials, Jr., I think that to lure new viewers, one has to spend some time showing the "all-time" classics like a Casablanca that those of us passionate to comment on blogs about the movies have seen a dozen times, but which are amongst the smaller group of movies that the average person is more likely to have heard of. By the same token, TCM has to spend at least some of its time with Summer Under the Stars celebrating the more famous people.

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