TCM Focuses Off-Screen

Turner Classic Movies is turning to two very big Hollywood names — Spielberg and Brando — as part of a diverse original-programming slate that will premiere in 2007.

Making its highest investment in original productions to date, TCM plans to debut five original specials next year, while bolstering some of its showcase events with more talent and texture.

Moreover, the commercial-free retro film service is going ahead with its first original series, the previously announced Idols.

TCM executive vice president and general manager Tom Karsch called the original schedule “one of our most ambitious” to date, adding that the service has doubled its original production over the past five years as part of its ongoing efforts to serve not just classic film buffs — many of whom are on the other side of 50 — but a younger audience as well. He declined to disclose the outlays.

“We certainly are continuing our efforts to attract a younger base, but what we never want to do is offend our core viewers,” he said, noting that “we're the only one catering to this niche.”

Karsch believes that having projects centered on the famed director Steven Spielberg and the iconic Marlon Brando will have appeal to younger viewers. “I think a lot of people are going to come to these projects,” he said.

The 90-minute first-person Spielberg on Spielberg, in which he will speak about his work, is scheduled to debut in July.

The two-hour Brando project, produced by The Grief Co., will look at the actor's life both on and off the screen. Set to premiere next fall, it will include interviews with Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, James Caan and Martin Scorsese.

“Many times, when we focus on some of the older stars or the silent era, you can't find many contemporary stars to participate,” said Karsch. “That wasn't the case here. Brando had such a big influence.”

Other specials in the works for 2007: Bienvenue Au Cannes (May 2007), a look back at the frenzy surrounding the heralded film festival, which will celebrate its 60th year; Val Lewton's American Horror (fall 2007), a 90-minute doc from Scorsese on the producer and writer of such low-budget horror films as Cat People and Bedlam; and The Men Who Made Movies: William Wellman (winter 2007), an update on the 1973 documentary about the director of The High and the Mighty and the original A Star is Born.

As for original series, TCM has ordered the pilot for Idols, a show in which one of today's stars sits down and speaks with someone who influenced and inspired them. First up: Alec Baldwin and Gene Wilder.

“Alec Baldwin is such a good comedic actor and he's really such a big fan of Gene, who doesn't do a lot of television,” said Karsch. “This is really a big win for us.”

Karsch said TCM has made progress in securing other talent to participate in Idols, and hopes to have five or six installments ready to premiere toward the end of next year.

At the same time, TCM is still working toward the project now known as Another Take in which a current Hollywood star recreates a famous scene from Tinseltown's past. To that end, Wilmer Valderrama has re-enancted a scene from Lost Weekend.

“You need to be able to show people something in order to get them to go along,” said Karsch, noting that it takes “a decent amount of work to do this.” While he thinks the concept is strong, he noted that it's not an easy sell, as some of “the more established stars may view it as too risky. The younger people may be more interested. The last thing we want to do here with originals is do something that feels like it's forced, so we'll see what happens.”

Elsewhere, TCM's signature showcase franchise, The Essentials, will begin its seventh season on March 10, with Carrie Fisher, joining Robert Osborne as host. The pair will handpick a number of classic films, with an eye toward bringing viewers better understanding of these “must-see” movies.

Expanding on its guest programmers feature in which a celebrity talks about their personal interest in a classic film, TCM in November 2007 plans to use a new host each night. Chevy Chase, Lorraine Bracco and David Mamet are among the talent that will serve as guest programmers in 2007.