Monday, August 29, 2022

TV: TCM's Ben problem

TCM.  TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES.  It's been having a struggle for a few months now and being owned by WARNER BROS. DISCOVERY isn't helping anyone's confidence.  DISCOVERY is pulling the plug on everything and, don't forget, TCM was behind FILMSTRUCK -- the streaming service that collapsed even with Martin Scorsese, Barbra Streisand, Steven Spielberg and others rallying  to save the streamer.  "Will they even bother to try to save us?" wondered an exec.


Better question: Should they?





If you'd ask at the start of the year, we'd be unsure.  What the hell happened -- that was our question.  What the hell?


Month after month, what was wrong with that programming?  It was as though TCM was trying to commit suicide.  And, no, that wasn't because they were finally working 80s and 90s films.  It was because of their hideous programming.


For example?  TCM viewers may watch a western or two but, no, Friday night is not the place for them.  Moves like that saw ratings -- which were up in the '00s -- dip.  And dip some more as we suffered through dull films of various genres with 'stars' that no one remembered for good reason.  It got to the point that it felt like TCM thought the biggest star of the 20th century was Mitzi Gaynor.  


As we watched the non-entities take up prime space on the schedule, we had to note that politics were still at play.  Where are Abbott and Costello?  How does Bob Hope barely pop up on the schedule?  He wasn't just popular while he was alive, he's still popular but you don't really get that if you watch TCM. Why is that?


If you want our opinion on Bob Hope the person?  He was an ass.  But we're not sitting down with him for coffee, we're watching his films and he delivers frequently in film.  


Know who else is an ass?   Ben Mankiewicz.  And he never delivers.  

TCM has gotten back on track in recent months.  But there's always Ben to derail it.  This morning (Sunday, in case this post later) a long struggling TCM staffer (non-on air) called us to complain.  Ben was back to his nonsense.  No matter how many times TCM corrects and guides him, it never takes.

At first, we just listened and nodded and wished we had caught in.  But wait.  SOME LIKE IT HOT?  We always record that.  So we actually were able to catch the stunt he pulled.

SOME LIKE IT HOT is one of the classic films of the 20th century and it is actually our favorite film of the 20th century.  It stars Marilyn Monroe and is directed by Billy Wilder who wrote the screenplay with I.A.L. Diamond.  It's a great screenplay and we love the way, for example, "Goodbye, Charlie" pops up and how a line used by someone will be stolen later by co-stars Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis' characters for a story they tell.  The script is the finest.  Billy Wilder directed a classic and Marilyn Monroe, a great actress, delivered and then some.  


Take a moment to notice how many of those films are classics.  Take a moment to register that she also has small but key parts in Bette Davis' classic ALL ABOUT EVE and the Marx Brothers' LOVE HAPPY and that she also delivers in DON'T BOTHER TO KNOCK and the film noir NIAGARA. 


Marilyn never settled and that's why she went from model, to bit player, to featured actress, to star (she kind of skipped lead and went straight to star).  She studied constantly -- the Actors' Laboratory Theatre, Natasha Lytess, Michael Chekhov and Lotte Goslar.   Even once she was the most famous star of her era, she didn't settle.  She knew she could be more.  So she goes to New York and studies with yet another drama coach, this one Lee Strasberg. Marilyn was an artist.

If you doubt it, she was nominated for two Golden Globes (for BUS STOP and for SOME LIKE IT HOT -- she won for the latter) (she also won three more Best Young Box Office, Personality, and World Film Favorite Female in 1952 and 1962) and for two BAFTAs (THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH and THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL). She won the David di Donatello Award and the Crystal Star Award (Italy and France's highest film honors) for THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL.  

So this block celebrating Marilyn Monroe kicked off well.  Alicia Malone provided solid commentary before and after Marilyn's films airing earlier in the day -- the kind of commentary that Alicia has come to excel at.  And along came schmutzy.  

Ben Mankiewicz, the TCM disaster.  He's not Robert Osborne and he never will be.  He is a case against nepotism.  He's not famous, not even well known, but he does trade on the family name (his family included famous screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and legendary director-writer Joe Mankiewicz).  We guess it's an alternative to doing actual work.  

Ben's biggest problem used to be how he dressed on air.  We addressed that here and, thankfully, shortly after TCM addressed it as well and it was goodbye to the tacky and too large suits he'd been sporting.  Then we tackled his other problem.  TCM is not the Democratic Party.  It is a film channel and his constant need to work praise of Barack Obama into commentary on film classics from the last century were both irritating and unneeded.  Fortunately, TCM again agreed with us and he was told to drop the partisanship.  

TCM now has Alicia and Dave Karger and Jacqueline Stewart and they're great.  We've noted Alicia's series where she spoke with designers and costumers -- a very important part of the film industry and one that especially needs to be highlighted after this year's awful Academy Awards presentation that suddenly wanted to ignore makeup and hairstyling, original score, production design, sound, documentary short subject, animated short, live-action short, and film editing.  Alicia's efforts should be mirrored across TCM.  The industry needs some support.  (Yes, new Academy Awards CEO Bill Kramer states he wants to bring these categories back to the live broadcast; however, he is saying he wants to -- not that they will be brought back.)

We try to ignore Ben.

But there he was Saturday, during a block celebrating Marilyn Monroe and his mouth was as appalling as always. When we watched what we'd been informed of this morning, we were outraged and shouting "F**k you!" at him on the TV.  We understood why the TCM exec called us.

He used his time to lament what Billy Wilder had to go through.  Remember that.  

Marilyn Monroe couldn't remember he lines and poor Billy, poor Billy.


Really?  At this late date, we're going to get that garbage?  After the last 20 years have finally had it dawning on a number of people that Marilyn messed the lines up when she didn't like the direction.  She makes Sugar Kane a person.  She does that in spite of Billy Wilder, not because of him.  She had to wear him down to get her interpretation up on screen.  

 And she wasn't the diva on that set.


Yes, there's Tony Curtis.  He was a diva.  He was also "a damn liar" (to quote his first wife Janet Leigh) and he lied about everything throughout his life -- including that he never had sex with men.  Including some of the women he claimed to have had sex with.  Including that he got Marilyn Monroe pregnant, including that kissing her was like kissing Hitler, including that she couldn't remember her lines.

 Lines were easy for Marilyn when she was allowed to bring the motivation.  She worked extensively with Paula Strasberg on the set of SOME LIKE IT HOT.  The problems occurred when Billy wanted Sugar to just be the typical dumb blond.  That's not how Marilyn saw Sugar and she had to fight every day to keep Sugar real.  


To his credit, when he watched the completed film, Billy Wilder realized that Marilyn had been correct.


After the fact.  While filming, Billy was being the diva.  Not a new role for him, one he'd taken on over and over.  And we don't hold it against him or hold it against the films he directed.


But we don't also don't lie.


Billy suffered?


Help us out, Ben, how many months pregnant was Billy on the set of SOME LIKE IT HOT?


And when did he have his miscarriage?


Marilyn was a victim of sexism in her lifetime.  That shouldn't be the case all these years later.


We're not surprised by Ben's sexism -- it's always there.  But it's never been more pronounced than on Saturday night when he felt the need to 'take down' a woman on a night that was supposed to celebrate her.  


There was no point to his remarks.  They were attacks on Marilyn.  Does no one have the guts to tell him enough?  Someone sure as hell needs to.  It is one problem after another with him.  SOME LIKE IT HOT is Marilyn's triumph and to fail to mention that she won a Golden Globe for the film that you're talking about is bad enough.  To go on to offered a gender trashing of her?  


There's no place for that.  It wasn't news.  It wasn't anything that needed to be shared.   If this is what he thinks qualifies as 'commentary' to the films being shown, he needs to go -- at least to some form of sensitivity training -- if not from the network itself.

As for the network, we like TCM but Ben's actions make it so hard to fight for -- and to even care -- about its future.


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