You know how much I love old movies. And you know how much I love Turner Classic Movies. So it pains me to have to say this but, TCM has really blown it with its new summer series Essentials Jr.
The idea behind the show is a good one: expose a new generation of kids to great old movies, and you develop a classic movie fan for life. This is certainly in TCM's best interest. If young people don't develop a taste for the classics, TCM will eventually cease to exist.
The question of course is how to do this. That remains to be seen. But if want to know how not
to do it, watch Essentials Jr
First of all, no kid older than 6 wants to watch anything called Junior
TCM's The Essentials
(sans the Jr
., and with an added The
), with host Robert Osbourne, is the channel's signature program, airing every Saturday night at 8 PM (ET). Each season the producers pair the aging film buff with a new, younger co-host, most recently the sexy actress Rose McGowan. Some of these pairings work better than others, but you can always count on the films they show to be truly, as the name implies, essential
classics that all film fans must see.
Such is not the case with the Jr
Last night they ran 20 Million Miles to Earth
, a boring, black & white, sci-fi clunker with bad actors and an even worse script. It's essential perhaps only for the effects work of mid-century master Ray Harryhausen
. Harryhausen was a genius well ahead of his time, but his stop motion effects work is positively laughable compared to what kids today are accustomed to.The Essentials Jr
. co-hosts, formerly-boyish-and-now-aging actor Chris O'Donnell and Little Miss Sunshine
's Abigail Breslin, attempted to address this point in their stilted and awkward intro to last night's movie.
"My brother once did some stop-motion animation, on a video camera, with his action figures" Breslin said cutely.
"Cool," O'Donnell replied.
That was it. Why tease the supposedly kid audience with that fact? Why not have the two hosts do a little stop motion of their own? Do a fun demonstration, with GI Joe or Barbie or something . Show kids how they can do it themselves, with a video camera or even a cell phone camera and some simple computer editing software.
MAKE IT FUN!
Give them something more than these stilted, two-minute introductions where two mismatched actors sit awkwardly across from each other saying nothing
. It's boring. And kids aren't going to watch just because it's a kid co-host -- not if she doesn't say or do anything interesting.
O'Donnell went on to mention that there's a restaurant named Harryhausen's featured in the animated film Monsters Inc
., and that it was a tribute to the guy who invented modern special effects.
Who cares? Guess what. Kids don't want a history lesson. Particularly in the summer when school is a distant memory. Nor do they want to be force fed supposed "Essentials" that are picked by stupid grown-ups.
Nor do they want to be pandered to, which is exactly what TCM is doing by selecting films with juvenile protagonists: 20 Million Miles
with little Pepe who discovers the alien, National Velvet
with young Elizabeth Taylor, The Courtship of Eddie's Father
with Ronnie Howard.
These are not the films I would pick to get kids excited about old movies. And later selections like Mutiny on the Bounty
and Captains Courageous
are even worse choices. I've never even seen these, and I don't imagine you have either. Is some 9 year-old kid going to sit through a black & white movie based on a creaky old novel?
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER, NO LESS!!
Show kids fun movies: comedies, musicals, scary pictures, iconic stuff. These should be the best of the best that TCM has in its library. You have 15 chances over the Summer to hook these kids. And if you blow it JUST ONCE, you lose them. And they won't give you a second chance -- not with 150 other channels, and the internet and DVDs and video games and Myspace and all the million other entertainment options kids today have.
So if anyone at TCM is reading this. please do the following five things next Summer
1) Pick better, more iconic movies. And if some of them like say, Gone With the Wind
, are too long, then split them into two parts. And don't run stupid movies just because they have kid protagonists.
2) Give the hosts something to do other than stare awkwardly at each other. Make it fun. Make it dynamic. Make it interactive.
3) Interrupt the movie in the middle for a fun host segment (and potty break)
4) Remember that kids today are way hipper and smarter than you think, so call it something better than Essentials Jr
. And don't talk down to them.
5) Hire me to produce this show. I guarantee I'll do it better than the people who are doing it now.