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TCM: A treasure worth protecting

Filmmakers (from left) Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg have stressed their support for Turner Classic Movies in meetings with Warner Bros. Discovery’s chief executive, David Zaslav.AP/file

If you told me I could watch only one TV channel for the rest of my life, the choice would be an easy one: TCM (full name: Turner Classic Movies).

This week, to my surprise and delight, TCM announced that on Oct. 28 it will air a filmed stage production of “Sweeney Todd,” from the 1982 national tour starring Angela Lansbury and George Hearn.

It’s not the usual fare for TCM, which specializes in classic cinema, but the choice of “Sweeney Todd” does reflect the channel’s trademark creativity when it comes to programming. It was yet another reminder of why TCM is such an indispensable cultural treasure — and why there was such an uproar over the summer when budget cuts and layoffs aroused fears about TCM’s future.


The issue had its roots in the $43 billion merger of WarnerMedia and Discovery that created Warner Bros. Discovery. Inevitably, consolidation, cost-cutting, and steep layoffs followed at the media giant’s divisions. Then the bean-counters turned their eyes to TCM, and could not have been pleased that the cable channel airs classic films without commercials.

In June, nearly half a dozen members of TCM’s senior leadership team were let go, via buyout or layoff (one was later brought back, after the public outcry). In August, Entertainment Weekly reported that the TCM staff was down to 20 or 25 people, and that the channel had been directed in the spring to cut two-thirds of its annual budget.

Concerned, a trio of Hollywood heavyweights — Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Thomas Anderson — spoke to Warner Bros. Discovery’s chief executive, David Zaslav. In a statement after the meeting, the filmmakers said they were “heartened and encouraged,” adding: “We have each spent time talking to David, separately and together, and it’s clear that TCM and classic cinema are very important to him.”


Uh-huh. I guess we’ll see in the months ahead how important.

Don Aucoin can be reached at Follow him @GlobeAucoin.