During the final
sixth of the 20th century the television cable channel, American
Movie Classics (AMC), quietly became one of the fastest growing
television networks in the U.S. Half owned by Cablevision Systems
and mammoth TeleCommunications, Inc., AMC is one of the great success
stories in the emergence of cable TV in the U.S. Film fans loved
AMC for showing classic, uncut, uncolorized Hollywood films of the
1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, with no interruptions for advertisements.
television had already served as the principle second run showcase
for Hollywood films from the mid-1950s into the 1970s. But the number
of over-the-air TV stations in any one market limited the possible
showcases for classic Hollywood films. Film buffs in major markets
did have independent television stations which frequently counter-programmed
with Hollywood movies, but they hated the ways in which stations
sanitized the presentations of theatrical films, cut them to fit
them into prescribed time slots, and interrupted moving moments
with blaring advertisements. With the emergence of cable television
in the 1980s, AMC offered a niche for these fans, who sometimes
referred to the channel as the "Metropolitan Museum of classic movies."
Indeed, AMC created a "repertory" cinema easily operated by a remote
AMC began in
October of 1984 as a pay service, but switched onto cable's "basic
tier" in 1987 when it had grown to seven million subscribers in
one thousand systems across the U.S. This growth curve continued
and by the end of 1989 AMC had doubled its subscriber base. Two
years later it could count 39 million subscribers.
No cable service
in the U.S. ever received more favorable reviews. Critics raved
at AMC's around-the-clock presentation of Hollywood favorites and
undiscovered gems, a stark relief from the sensory overload of MTV.
AMC bragged about its sedate pseudo-PBS pacing.
AMC also has
created first run documentaries that focus on some part of the movie
business, such as a corporate profile of Republic Studios, a compilation
history entitled "Stars & Stripes: Hollywood and World War II,"
and a history of boxing movies labeled "Knockout: Hollywood's Love
Affair with Boxing." AMC regularly features interviews by Richard
Brown, professor at the New School of Social Research, as part of
its on-going series "Reflections On the Silver Screen," and also
cablecasts Ralph Edwards' This is Your Life episodes from
Classics regularly fills slots between films with old 20th Century
Fox Movietone Newsreels. Fans can once again watch as a bored John
Barrymore puts his profile into the cement in front of Grauman's
Chinese theater or Shirley Temple accepts her special Oscar, then
asks her mother if it is time to go home. In short here is the perfect
nostalgia mix for anyone who lived through (or wished they had)
the "simpler" time of the 1930s and 1940s.
promotes its nostalgic escape. Consider a typical stunt. The room,
painted black and white (the purity of American Movie Classics),
is filled with the sounds of Gordy Kilgore's big band playing Glenn
Miller's "In the Mood" as more than two hundred couples spin, remembering
a better time. The celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl
Harbor? No, this was a late 1980s marketing device by American Movie
Classics and the local cable system (owned by Time Warner), in Wichita
Falls, Texas, a moment designed to launch AMC in that market.
Courtesy of American Movie Classics
June 1988 American Movie Classics was successful enough to begin
a colorful magazine. An old time classic star graces the cover of
each issue; the first featured Katharine Hepburn, later came James
Stewart, Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck, John Wayne, and Henry Fonda.
Inside the cover comes a short, picture laden piece about a classic
movie palace. Then comes a table of contents filled with articles
about the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood (keyed to American
Movie Classic showings). The core of the magazine is the listings
of that month's American Movie Classics offerings, highlighting
festivals constructed around stars, series (such as Charlie Chan)
and themes ("Super Sleuths," for example).
there are limitations to the successes and benefits of AMC. Unless
a new preservation print has been made (as was the case with the
silent 1927 classic Wings), American Movie Classics runs television
prints. These versions of the films are often incomplete, having
been edited during the 1950s and 1960s to eliminate possibly offensive
languages and images. Often TV prints have been cut to run a standard
88 minutes, timed to fit into two hour slots, with advertisements.
American Movie Classics runs these incomplete prints, deciding not
to spend the necessary moneys to create a complete version.
rarely complain about the TV prints, however, and cable operators
herald American Movie Classics as what is best about cable television.
The channel has replaced the repertory cinemas which used to dot
America's largest cities and college towns and serves as a fine
example of specialized niche programming in cable TV of the 1990s.
Ron. "AMC, Where the Movie Never Ends." New York Times, 17
Rich. Cablevision Pays $170 Million for AMC." Broadcasting & Cable
(Washington, D.C.), 20 September 1993.
John. "Profitable AMC Turns 10; Sets for Some Classic Competition."
Variety (Los Angeles), 26 September 1994.
Sharon D. "AMC Buys Universal Packaging." Broadcasting (Washington,
D.C.), 20 May 1991.