One day, the date I cannot remember, I was scanning my cable TV listings when I came upon an unfamiliar station.

It was called Turner Classic Movies, and it played nothing but movies, movies and more movies. And, blessedly, they were commercial-free.

Well, I thought I had died and gone to movie heaven. I’ve added and subtracted stations from my cable lineup in the years since, but I have never gone without TCM. If you’re a movie buff (I will also accept ‘nerd’) TCM is essential. There is no shortage of all-movies, all-the-time stations, but TCM is still the gold standard. It has often been called a national treasure (U.S. version), and I wouldn’t argue with that assessment. 

TCM, which debuted 30 years ago April 14, was the brainchild of Ted Turner, whose previous creation – CNN – changed the face of television news. Turner, a brash southern billionaire, had acquired the vast library of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films, and needed some way to show the colossal collection. To his eternal credit, Turner chose to have the films curated and, crucially, shown unedited and without commercial interruption. This was one of the keys to the success of TCM. Movies on TV are routinely edited with naughty language overdubbed, and commercials jammed into the film at any moment, making even the best of films frequently unwatchable. If you watch a movie on TCM, you know you’re seeing the unedited film as shown on the big screen exactly as it was when it was released.

TCM also employs knowledgeable, articulate hosts to introduce their prime-time films. I’m a fan of the main host, the often-droll Ben Mankiewicz, and Eddie Muller, who knows all about film noir.  

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 12: TCM Hosts Eddie Muller, Jacqueline Stewart, Ben Mankiewicz, Alicia Malone, and Dave Karger attend the 30th Anniversary of Turner Classic Movies at The Four Seasons Hotel on January 12, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for TCM)

My sons have good-naturedly (I think) teased me about watching TCM. The movies are old. The pacing is glacial. Most are often in (horrors!) black and white. And some don’t even have sound! How, they would ask, could you watch this?


Aside from being a film buff, I am also a history nerd. I look at vintage movies as historical documents. Films from the early 20th century show us how our grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents lived. It shows us what they wore, where they worked, how they styled their hair, what they drank and ate and smoked (and smoked and smoked and smoked). Most tellingly, they also tell us a lot about morality at the time. (If you think all old movies are innocent and hokey, check out the ‘Pre-Code’ movies of the 1930s, before the motion picture code came into effect, or any film noir.)

TCM is the gold standard of movie channels, but there is no shortage of others.

Canada’s own Hollywood Suite is the perfect package for film fans. Four channels of movies, divided by decades, with original documentaries like Cinema A-Z sprinkled throughout. Everything is unedited and without commercial interruptions. I’ve found that Hollywood Suite is a great way to catch up on movies of somewhat newer vintage that you may have missed the first time around. And there’s Hollywood Suite on Demand, with a deep catalogue of movies – from 1950s sci-fi to current Canadian fare – that you can watch at any time. Hollywood Suite on Demand also has exclusive, imported TV series. I can recommend the brutal Italian crime series Gomorrah, and the German miniseries The Allegation, a true story of a sex crime trial that resulted in a nationwide scandal.

And I would be remiss not to mention Silver Screen Classics, a less-glossy Canadian version of TCM. Plenty of ancient movies here, some classics and some dreck, albeit with commercials (and to be truthful, some of the prints are not in the best shape). If you’re looking for something guaranteed to make you laugh, check out Classroom Classics, films that were apparently shown to teens in the 1950s. Was the world ever like that?

[Editor’s note: Edmonton based Maurice Tougas hunts down Hidden Gems here at TCM is no hidden gem, however — it also happens to be my favourite network.]

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