Familiarity breeds contempt, the old adage goes.
I believe wholeheartedly in old adages. Even when one rubs me the wrong way and I try to disprove it, the adage usually wins. Still, there have been rare exceptions.
This occured to me about ten years ago, when I was still a full-time professional movie critic. I watched both the Turner Classics and American Movie Classics cable channels as a matter of course and became aware of just how effective Robert Osborne and Bob Dorian were as movie hosts, respectively. Both were courtly, low-keyed and about as far away from overbearing as a TV host could get. I never tired of them. In this case, familiarly bred comfort - a soothing, lulling comfort.
Well, as every movie buff knows, something bizarre happened at American Classics. The programming changed, and then Dorian left, followed by the equally affable Nick Clooney, both replaced by a younger face who exhibited little interest in movies and even less in their history.
That left just Osborne.
Since 1994, Osborne has hosted TCM's films - and has virtually been the face of the cable channel - with a pleasing mix of civility, subtle authority, a humane sense of humor and a keen knack for knowing the difference between opinion and fact. He has never confused the two.
As an interviewer, he's exhibited an invaulable ability to broach uncomfortable situations and to ask tough questions without seeming intrusive or obnoxious. And he has made his guests feel welcome without resorting to the kind of fawning that has made James Lipton (of "Inside the Actor's Studio") so difficult to watch.
Osborne is not afraid to say something negative. Even the best films and performers have flaws. But he manages to convey this without the slightest hint of mean-spiritedness.
Of course, carrying a cable channel just about solo (despite occasional co-hosts) can take its toll and, frankly, at times, the idea of "All Robert, All the Time" can get to be a bit much. So, the addition of Ben Mankiewicz to the Turner slate a few years ago, was a good move.
An authentic child of the film industry, Mankiewicz is as breezy and nonchalant as Osborne is reserved and urbane, and he brings a refreshing young-Hollywood-guy-about-town to his hosting job. When he cuts loose out of the studio, getting behind the wheel of a vintage red Mustange convertible, Mankiewicz conjurs up the fleeting appeal of L.A.'s sunny ambience.
The movies that Turner shows should be enough, and they usually are. But you occasionally need a guide, someone to welcome you and take you on a tour.
Turner Classics lucked out with Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz. They get the job done, with a seeming effortless ease and a genuine respect for the medium they're covering and celebrating.
Familiarity? Absolutely. And that's good.
(Artwork: Bob and Ben of TCM)
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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com