Thursday, September 2, 2021

First thoughts on TCM's "Refresh"

If you're in the US and a fan of Turner Classic Movies, you probably heard the news last week that TCM was going to get a "refresh" on September 1. Unsurprisingly, that led to a lot of panic among fans, many of whom thought that this was going to be the beginning of the end for the channel, if they didn't already think that the beginning of the end was some point in the past. At any rate, now that the changes are active and I've seen some of them, I've got a few thoughts of my own:

The obvious change is in the fonts. When I first saw the new TCM logo, I thought it was something close to Arial/Helvetica, but looking a bit more it seems the fonts are somwhere between that and URL Gothic, although closer to the former and a bit condensed. For some reason I have memories of the Reagan-era government food that was handed out to the poor but in our town the seniors got because there weren't enough people on food stamps. But I can't find any pictures. More generally, I got the vibe of functionalist from the 70s/80s, and it wasn't the best mental picture.

I also noticed that the screen of upcoming films is now blocked for 16:9 screens. Previously (and needless to say I preferred the old font), the background filled the whole screen -- no pillarboxing -- but the list of movies would fit if somebody were still watching on a 4:3 screen. That's no longer the case. I think the transition to digital TV was back in 2009, so it's been a dozen years for everybody to replace their old 4:3 TVs. I'd guess that what happened in society in general is what happened with my parents: they only replaced the old 4:3 TV sets as each one broke and needed to be replaced, much the same I did with my computer monitor. When they first did the big change to Robert Osborne's intro, the old one (the "Feature Presentation" revolving around a building) wasn't ready for HDTV.

Speaking of intros, I only got to see the overnight one since I woke up early and made the point to watch the end of Key Largo to see the new graphics package. I didn't like that one, as it's cold and doesn't have any feeling of the time of day the way the old overnight intros did. I also really liked the pop-up book (6AM to noon) and Rube Goldberg (noon to 8PM) intros. I'm guessing they're gone, but I haven't looked.

I also noticed that the film clips in the Eddie Muller piece that aired between the end of Key Largo and the start of the next movie were all cropped to be 16:9, which made them look a bit grainy. The piece on Robert Benchley predates all the changes and was pillarboxed. I assume all the "Word of Mouth" (if they still use that name) and other similar pieces will be pillarboxed when showing old clips.

As for the corporate press release, I should probably devote a little more thought to it. But my first impression is that I've really grown to hate the word "curated"; to me it's one of those corporate words that really rubs me the wrong way.

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