Pros: Great articles, accurate info, fun crossword puzzles
Cons: It only comes out once a month!
Of all the multitude of channels on television, the best of them all has to be Turner Classic Movies. I think this is a statement that most classic film fans would make, as nobody shows commercial-free movies from the past like they do. Even the “commercials” between the films are usually trailers for classic films, features on individual actors, or promotions of TCM DVDs. And while many people have viewing guides through their cable boxes to see what is coming on, TCM has one-upped things by offering the TCM Now Playing Guides.
What is Now Playing? While it is called “Now Playing: A Viewer’s Guide to Turner Classic Movies”, it is essentially a TV Guide for TCM exclusively. Once a month, I get a roughly 5” by 8” magazine, usually 32 to 34 pages in length, dedicated to giving me all the goodness that TCM has to offer. Usually I’ll receive an issue around the 10th to 15th of the month, so I have plenty of time to plan what I’m going to watch of record for the following month. Still, the movie listings aren’t the only part of the magazine, and probably aren’t even the best.
Every issues starts with a page from Robert Osborne (TCM’s prime-time host) about the star of the month or whatever special event is happening that month (Februarys generally are a month of nothing but Oscar-nominated or winning films, while August typically is their Summer under the Stars event, with 31 actors getting 24 hours of their movies shown). Typically, Osborne gives special notes about the actor/actress’ career and personal highlights, as well as spotlighting certain films of theirs that will be shown during the month. It is the perfect way to start an issue and learn a little something about a star you might not have known.
Next, the guide will focus two to four pages about some of the other highlights of the month. TCM generally does multiple themes in a month (with the exception of February and August), so while Thursday nights might be nothing but Vivien Leigh films, Tuesday nights might be all horse-related films. If there is a holiday, they’ll generally focus a block of dates and/or times on movies celebrating that holiday. There is also usually a guest programmer that selects 2 to 4 films that they want shown one night of the month, and there will be an article about the guest, what they have selected and why. Very informative stuff, if you ask me.
There is a section every guide called Book Corner, which as the title implies goes into detail about one film-related book that is recommended by TCM that month. I have heard about quite a few good books off of this recommendation. There is also an article each month about “Ben’s Pick of the Month”, which is a movie being shown that is being highlighted by weekend host Ben Mankiewicz. This is usually the low point of the magazine, as I am generally annoyed by both his writing and his intros in general. He is grandnephew of Academy Award winning director Joseph Mankiewicz and grandson of screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz, which seems to be his only source of credibility for being on TCM. Anyone who is less eloquent about film’s than I am (which is the minority of people, I assure you) shouldn’t have the job he does.
Anyway, after the movie listing section that lists every film for the month in chronological order comes an alphabetical listing of the same films. The first section is much lengthier, with film information like plots and actors, but it is nice to have the alphabetical option as well if I’m looking for a particular film. At the end of each guide is a movie-related crossword puzzle, where all films and actors mentioned are inside the guide. The crossword puzzle is my favorite part of the guide, as it tests my movie knowledge, while allowing me to scour the book for answers once I’m completely stumped.
Admittedly, much of the information from the guide can be found in other places. TCM provides their full monthly movie listings on their website, and the information about Ben’s pick and the guest of the month are generally talked about (word for word) during their programming during the month. Still, I find it nice to have all of the relevant information in one place, especially when it is in a convenient guide that can be kept on the nightstand.
Overall, I think that guide is a fantastic value. 12 issues are only $12.95 a year, and a 24-issue 2 year subscription is only $24.95. For the price it is a steal, and I find that gift subscriptions are a good (low-cost) gift at holidays for fellow movie fans. I find myself using the guide every day, so I’d definitely recommend subscribing to the Now Playing Guide.