After all, tomorrow is another day.
Video courtesy of TCM Classic Film Festival.

For 27 years, TCM has been a television oasis for movie lovers. A stalwart comfort, where the familiar environment of the host's "living room" would usher you into viewing — or better yet, discovering — a film classic.

While the TV landscape has shifted time and again, TCM has remained a haven that fans hope will exist for as long as time goes by. But when the network released a teaser video announcing big changes were afoot on Sept. 1, it sent fans into a spiral. Was the network moving off cable to HBO Max full-time? Partnering with Criterion on a project? Some other worst case scenario notion? (As a classic movie fan, I can say, as a group that's been mourning the loss of the classic studio system for over 50 years now, we as a people like to catastrophize, okay?)

In the end, it was none of these things (and we can only hope if it was that TCM fans such as Martin Scorsese, Ryan Reynolds, and others of that ilk would put a stop to it). Instead, it was a brand refresh, complete with new logos and graphics, a new set for host Ben Mankiewicz (and more for the other hosts on the way), and a new slogan that reflects TCM's eternal mission: "Where Then Meets Now."

As TCM General Manager Pola Changon puts it, "'Where Then Meets Now' is reflective of what we've always done. We've always addressed various issues through film. Film is a great lens for those conversations, but we wanted to be a little more upfront with it and really bring it closer to viewers and would-be-viewers to entice them."

"What we are interested in seeing is how over time, this plays into how we can communicate different themes, how we can lower the drawbridge to people who think, 'I don't know if I know enough to be able to enjoy classic movies,'" adds Changnon. "This gives them a bit of a open invitation to say, 'Oh my gosh, that looks like something I enjoy. It's got an energy; it's got quality visually.' Even though we're focused on classic movies, it has a modern spark to it."

That extends to the new colorful ethos of the packaging, which is meant to evoke the vibrancy of Technicolor. Artist Kate Gabrielle, who creates merchandise and artwork inspired by Classic Hollywood, sells a lapel pin that reads "Vintage Style, Not Vintage Values" and that seems to reflect TCM's new motto. It's certainly already been seen in programming prior to this visual update, such as the network's "Reframed" series that contextualized and provoked conversations around classic films with problematic elements.

Changnon says the "Where Then Meets Now" tagline will continue to be reflected in programming and design (it dotted posters around the Telluride Film Festival this past weekend). There's the obvious link of remakes, but she stresses it goes much deeper than that. "It's the juxtaposition of, say, an actor in a type of part up against an actor in a movie 50 years later, and you realize, 'Oh my gosh, there's a DNA strand that connects them,'" she notes. "It's about seeing that thread of history."

The new look includes a mid-century modern refresh for Mankiewicz's set, as well as more streamlined, contemporary vibe for the logo, including a moving central "C." That "C" is at the heart of TCM's efforts to preserve the world's film legacy and ensure it continues to each new audiences for decades to come.

Credit: courtesy tcm

In the logo itself, it stands for "classic," which Changnon takes care to note: "Classic doesn't mean old. It means quality. It means value." But as they brainstormed how to break the logo out of the rectangle that had been part of its distinctive look for over a quarter of a century, they realized the "C" was even more dynamic than they thought as words like connection, community, and creativity kept coming up in conversation.

Mankiewicz frames the re-brand as if TCM were a film. "The movie takes place in a house, but it's not just a house, right? It's the opening and closing credits and every shot in between," he explains. "I think of it as new production design."

Credit: courtesy tcm

That extends quite literally to his set, after 18 years in the previous layout, which strongly echoed the vibe of TCM's inaugural host — and arguably patron saint — Robert Osborne. Now, Mankiewicz finally gets something more distinctly his own, and the team behind the redesign (including design firm Sibling Rivalry) consulted him about the spaces he feels most comfortable to create an environment that would reflect more of his personality.

Ultimately, this is about striving to cultivate a sense of intimacy between the hosts and the viewer, which is also being reflected in changes in lighting, camera angles, and more. "From the way we're shooting this and the way we're lighting it, all of it is to try and foster that," he adds. "Of course, that's subtle and subjective."

The changes, even once revealed to be a facelift more than anything, are wont to cause consternation or concern among the network's most devoted viewers. TCM was well aware of this fact, with Mankiewicz even noting in his intro announcing the shift that TCM fans hate change.

Mankiewicz says that was his first concern when the earliest conversations started over a year ago. "They're going to flat out panic," he notes of his reaction. "It was a good idea to try to mitigate that as much as possible."

But both Changnon and Mankiewicz say positive or negative, they appreciate the vocal response and how unique that is in the cable and streaming landscape. As Mankiewicz quips, "I don't think you would be on a call [with me] if Showtime changed their logo. "

He's right. TCM's viewers, who congregate on Facebook pages and live tweet films weekly via the TCM Party hashtag and Twitter accounts, are a passionate bunch. The community the network has built sells out film festivals and cruises packed with fans (and they range from small children to the elderly, despite whatever assumptions you might have about the channel's demographic). "We knew we had to be careful because they are our lifeblood," Mankiewicz notes. "They're the only group of fans that are this passionate, this emotionally invested in one channel."

But as Mankiewicz points out, ultimately, this refresh is about ensuring TCM and above all, the films they show, stay relevant and a part of the contemporary conversation. "The movies are not going to change; they're classic movies," he reflects. "But we're on now. And every classic movie fan may fear TCM changing, but their biggest fear is that these movies stop being relevant. They stop mattering to people. Our job is to make sure that never happens."

It's these films and the imagery surrounding them that will remain at the heart of TCM's mission and programming. "It's like a setting on ring," Changnon says. "You've got a great, great diamond and what are the other ways we can highlight it and show off the light and color and whatever else?"

Credit: courtesy tcm

TCM will still focus on programming film festivals in miniature 365 days per year, whether you're craving a primetime loaded with Paul Robeson films or something more quirky like films linked by stars' astrological signs. It will also remain commercial free. All of which, Mankiewicz says, makes their jobs easy at the end of the day. "Whenever someone says I'm doing a great job, I reply, 'Well, if you talk for two minutes and 14 seconds before we show Casablanca, it's a really good spot to be.' This is a recipe for success. We have these great images. We have this great library. Our job is to figure out ways to deliver it."

That includes expanding their footprint to streaming as well. TCM was a partner on the now-shuttered Filmstruck, but streaming libraries often leave movie lovers bereft if they're searching for anything released prior to 1980.

HBO Max, as an offshoot of TCM parent company Warner Media, has created a TCM hub and the offerings there are curated monthly by TCM's programming team. "TCM needs to be there," says Changnon. "Who else would be able to really deliver on the promise that we have as a network for 27 years in the streaming space? That's part of what we envision as being the fabric of this rebrand."

The two sparked the beginning of a beautiful friendship back in May, collaborating on the virtual TCM Classic Film Festival. While the festival aired linearly on the network, viewers could also pick and choose from a range of titles (arranged carefully by festival theme as always) and special features to enhance their experience. Enhancement, extending their reach, that's what this is all about (maybe they need to tack an "e" onto that logo).

"It's not about TCM the network going away," stresses Changnon. "It's about us being introduced to new people who don't necessarily have a chance to have TCM the network or didn't grow up with it. But they're streaming HBO Max."

The success of that has the two Warner Media divisions brainstorming to see what might come out of their collaboration next. "We're already communicating with the team at HBO Max to ideate what the next phase of that experience might look like or other things we might do," she notes. "We are thrilled to be able to participate in that big sandbox."

All of that ties into the forward-looking ethos that Changnon chooses to lead with. Now that the refresh is launched, it will continue to pop up in new ways on the network and in TCM's role in the world at large. "We get to experiment with other ways that this will inform how the network feels, what we do with it at other places," she concludes. "It just opens new doors and that's always really exciting."

Those who love the cultural products of our collective past might naturally fear change. But TCM is forging ahead with the gems of the films they show and a splash of Technicolor whimsy in an evolution that is anything but black and white.

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