In the early days of cable, there were many networks that set out to tackle a specific type of programming, or cater to a specific type of fan. In the decades since, the majority of those niche networks have gradually morphed into more general entertainment channels. But one network that has managed not to waver from its initial mission statement is Turner Classic Movies, or TCM.
While TCM’s line-up eventually branched out from strictly black and white classics to include more modern hits, the channel’s focus has remained the same: presenting vintage, highly-regarded, or culturally important films, and doing it uncut and commercial-free. Another fixture on TCM over the years has been its hosts, who popped in to offer the viewer background information on the films shown. The most famous of these was easily Robert Osborne, an imminently knowledgeable film historian and author, in addition to being an engaging TV presence.
Sadly, Variety reports that Obsorne has died at the age of 84, after over 20 years at TCM. Himself a former actor, Obsorne lived in New York City, but worked primarily in Atlanta, taping his TCM segments at the Turner TV studio that serves as the network’s base of operations. Prior to TCM’s 1994 launch, Osborne had also hosted films for The Movie Channel. Obsorne hosted multiple themed programs for TCM, including Essentials, and Private Screenings, where Obsorne also interviewed Hollywood notables. TCM released the following statement on his passing:
“All of us at Turner Classic Movies are deeply saddened by the death of Robert Osborne. Robert was a beloved member of the Turner family for more than 23 years. He joined us as an expert on classic film and grew to be our cherished colleague and esteemed ambassador for TCM. Robert was embraced by devoted fans who saw him as a trusted expert and friend. His calming presence, gentlemanly style, encyclopedic knowledge of film history, fervent support for film preservation and highly personal interviewing style all combined to make him a truly world-class host. Robert’s contributions were fundamental in shaping TCM into what it is today and we owe him a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time.”
Outside of his on-air hosting duties, Osborne proudly represented the TCM brand at the annual TCM Film Festival from 2010-2014. He also emceed the TCM Classic Cruise, in which guests celebrated the movies while on the high seas. Born in Colfax, Washington, Obsorne also served two years as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, before getting his break into the industry courtesy of Lucille Ball, who he remained friends with until her death in 1989. It was in fact Ball who suggested Osborne write his first book about movies.
While TCM will go on, the experience of watching films on the channel will never quite be the same, at least not for those with fond memories of watching the always-enthusiastic and well-spoken Obsorne impart on them interesting info concerning the production or reception of what they had just watched, or were about to watch.
R.I.P. Robert Osborne — May 3, 1932 – March 6, 2017