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TCM at 25: Ben Mankiewicz on How to Make the Perfect Introduction

Two minutes. Two minutes is the magic number for Ben Mankiewicz.

The primetime host of TCM has recorded hundreds of introduction segments for movies that air on the film lover’s cable haven. After much experimentation and market research, the TCM team has concluded that two minutes is the ideal length for the amuse bouche delivered by the host before the feature entrée is served.

“After you get to about 2:15, people are saying, ‘Go ahead and start the movie now,’“ Mankiewicz quips. He credits original TCM host Robert Osborne for perfecting the timing and tone of the set-up segment. “It’s an art. Robert really found it,” he says of the late TCM host, who died in 2017 at the age of 84.

Within his 120 seconds, Mankiewicz tries to share enlightening, surprising, or amusing anecdotes connected to the movie that is more than a dry reading of credits.

“We are programming for people who want to be told good stories. Our job is to tell an engaging story and not merely a recitation of who was in it and where it was shot,” Mankiewicz said. Ideally, he added, “you’ve told a story in that time that could be a movie itself.”

The first-ever movie introduction on TCM — Osborne’s set up for “Gone With the Wind” — ran about three-and-a-half minutes. TCM will replay that movie and Osborne’s intro on April 14 to mark the 25th anniversary of the channel’s launch.

Mankiewicz has recorded a special intro-to-the-intro to note the anniversary and also to put “Gone With the Wind” in historical context through a 2019 lens.

Providing what Mankiewicz describes as “context and curation” to help TCM viewers enjoy and appreciate movies even more is job-one for Mankiewicz, and his fellow hosts Alicia Malone and Dave Karger.

“When I started this job in 2003 my friends used to joke about what an incredibly easy job I had,” Mankiewicz said. “This is a full-time job.”

Here are some other “fascinating facts” about TCM, as provided by the cabler:

  • First movie ever to air on TCM: “Gone With the Wind” (1939), which has since been shown more than 60 times
  • Oldest films to air on TCM: “Annie Oakley,” “Bucking Bronco,” and “Sioux Ghost Dance,” all from 1894
  • Newest film to air on TCM: “Hugo” and “The Artist,“ both from 2011
  • Most frequently aired movie on TCM: “Casablanca” (1942), which has aired 150 times
  • Number of on-air appearances by Osborne: 62,851
  • Number of on-air appearances by Mankiewicz: 20,077
  • 
First appearance by TCM primetime host Mankiewicz: Sept. 6, 2003
  • First appearance by TCM host Alicia Malone: March 4, 2018
  • First appearance by TCM host Dave Karger: March 5, 2018
  • 
First appearance by Noir Alley host Eddie Muller: March 5, 2017
  • TCM guest programmers: 245 guest programmers, including celebrated actors, directors, composers, celebrities, film critics, musicians, fashion designers, athletes, authors, producers, fans, TCM employees, and — a Muppet
  • The Essentials Hosts: 12 hosts, beginning with Rob Reiner, Sydney Pollack, and Peter Bogdanovich. Starting in 2006, Osborne began co-hosting with film critic Molly Haskell, followed by Carrie Fisher, Rose McGowan, Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore, and Sally Field. Following Osborne’s passing, Baldwin hosted in 2017 with guests David Letterman, Tina Fey, and William Friedkin
  • Number of events during the first TCM Classic Film Festival in 2010: 52, including one world premiere restoration
  • Number of local chapters in Backlot, TCM’s official fan club: 34
  • Number of classic films shown in theaters as part of TCM Big Screen Classics in partnership with Fathom: 78 since 2011
  • Number of TCM Classic Cruises: Six, with the seventh setting sail in October
  • Highest price ever paid for a movie prop: $4,085,000 for the iconic lead statuette of the Maltese Falcon from the 1941 film, sold by Bonhams in partnership with TCM

(Pictured: Ben Mankiewicz with TCM guest programmer Roger Bow)

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