As a huge fan of classic films, it’s safe to say that the only channel I watch is Turner Classic Movies. For years now, I’ve enjoyed looking up the TCM schedule to see if some rare or intriguing gem will be on the air. I’ve immersed myself in the thoughtful commentary of longtime host Robert Osborne and, later, Ben Mankiewicz. Today, there are even more hosts working for the benefit of TCM and sharing their wonderful expertise and passion for cinema every day. I never dreamed I’d actually be seeing myself on this beloved channel anytime soon, but I am delighted beyond measure to share my love of classic cinema any way I can.
This year, TCM celebrated quite a few major milestones. For one, the channel turned 25 this year and has celebrated accordingly by flying in 25 lucky fans. The TCM Film Festival itself celebrated its 10-year anniversary. Moreover, TCM has grown TCM Backlot, which offers TCM fans some fabulous experiences, contests, content, and opportunities to interact with other fans. Rather than waiting for the annual film festival, TCM fans have the opportunity to interact with one another all year long through TCM Backlot and the many fun contests and events it provides.
Seeing all of the exciting events coming up for TCM has allowed me to reflect on how delightful TCM has been for a film fanatic like myself–especially through their cultivation of TCM Backlot. As one of TCM Backlot’s charter members, the absolute pinnacle of membership perks was winning the opportunity to visit the previously closed TCM set.
Upon joining TCM Backlot, I started to enter some of the contests. One, in particular, was pretty tempting–the opportunity to be part of the first group to tour the TCM set. This included meeting various individuals who work for TCM, an in-person meeting with Yacov Freedman (TCM Backlot Manager), and TCM Host Ben Mankiewicz. We would likely be filmed on the tour for promotional spots and would get to see Mankiewicz film some introductions for Summer Under the Stars. Finally, we would end our time there with a lunch shared with other TCM talents. I, of course, decided to try my luck and enter the contest.
One evening, while in the calm of my local public library, I received an email saying that I was one of the names picked out for the contest. Of course, I was BEYOND excited about the whole experience about to happen and it took every bit of self-control I had not to start doing cartwheels out the library door. I made my travel arrangements, left plans for the substitute (I was teaching high school English and Film at the time) and soon found myself on my way to Atlanta.
Once I landed in Atlanta, I hit the ground running and started to tour all of the Gone with the Wind (1939) locations I could possibly visit during my whirlwind trip.
The main attraction was the actual TCM tour, which took place the next day. I walked over from my hotel to Techwood Drive, home of Turner Broadcasting, and checked in with the security guard. I headed on into the building and waited as other fellow film fans started to gather up for the tour.
As has always been the case in my experience with fellow TCM fans, we are a very friendly group that exhibits a genuine interest and enthusiasm for classic cinema. It is so easy to strike up a friendship with this as a commonality among us, especially since I feel that being a classic film fan is such a core part of who I am. Naturally, when you get a whole bunch of us together, it makes for terrific conversation on the topic, not to mention the guarantee of walking away with a lengthy list of film recommendations fresh in your head.
Yacov met with our group and initiated our tour of the Turner campus, ultimately leading us to Mankiewicz’s set. We were introduced to various members of the TCM team and had the opportunity to walk around the set after Mankiewicz finished filming his intros and outros.
In addition to feeling so welcomed and appreciated by the wonderful TCM staff, it was fascinating to be able to watch the crew at work. I had certainly seen this set so many times through my television back home but seeing the set in addition to the surrounding area and all of the behind-the-scenes talent and technology required was captivating.
Once we got the chance to spend some time on the set and get some photos with one another, we were given the chance to be interviewed. Being part of this initial group, I was happy to offer up an interview and share my positive opinions surrounding Backlot and this wonderful event.
Along with my interview, many of my fellow tour members also volunteered to be interviewed. In the end, our segments were compiled into a well-constructed commercial advertising TCM Backlot and the different perks and events that members can enter to win.
TCM Backlot Ad 1
TCM Backlot Ad 2
TCM Backlot Ad 3
After our interviews were completed, we had lunch with Yacov, Mankiewicz, and other TCM staff members. Mankiewicz was quite personable and took the time to chat with each one of us and got to know us a bit better. Likewise, he shared some wonderful stories with us. He answered many of our questions, in addition to one that was burning in many of our minds: How was Robert doing? At the time, Osborne was still alive albeit no longer as present at the Atlanta studios due to his health. It was heartening to know that he was doing alright and continued to be his usual positive, warm self. When it was time to part ways, we were each given a terrific parting gift full of fun TCM-related items.
To this day, I am still in touch with the vast majority of Backlot members who were part of this tour. Though I mostly communicate with them via social media, we have also met with one another at the TCM Film Festival. In addition to winning a spot on this tour, I feel so lucky to have enjoyed it with such a fine group of film fans who are so kind and supportive of one another.
On a more amusing note, many of us were tickled by catching our spots on the air or being tagged in other people’s reactions to our appearances.
Moreover, I find that the TCM staff and the channel as a whole are extremely kind and giving. They are so excited about their work and programming and are highly respectful and appreciative of their fans. I am so happy to have a connection with them and continue to applaud their output. As far as I’m concerned, they are the very best and I continue to look forward to many years ahead for TCM.
I enjoyed your exciting story about becoming an integral part of TCM, and learning how friendly the hosts and staff are! So glad you’ve had these pleasant opportunities. Keep up the good work!
Thanks so much for sharing so many details and photos of what must have been a dizzy whirlwind dream-come-true to those of us who didn’t get to go.