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Robert Osborne May 3, 1932 – March 6, 2017
March 6, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

Robert Osborne showed us why television, more than any other medium, turned hosts into stars.

Osborne, who died Monday at the age of 84, wrote or compiled more than a dozen books about the movie biz. But what endeared him to anyone who loved movies was his long-running role as a host on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and, before that, on The Movie Channel.

Before the latest showing of Casablanca, or during a night of Joan Blondell, Greta Garbo, Gary Cooper or Elizabeth Taylor flicks, Osborne would pop up as the genial host.

He would summarize the historical value and artistic merit of the film, usually interspersed with fun facts about its casting or filming.

These short monologues were often masterpieces. They were not, however, the primary reason we loved Robert Osborne.

We loved him because, in very important ways, he was a dear friend who had picked out these wonderful movies just for us.

Television at its best invites itself into the viewer’s home, bringing the day’s or evening’s entertainment along. In Osborne’s case, that was a canister from which he would produce Ben-Hur or Breakfast At Tiffany’s or The Godfather and say sit down, friend, let’s enjoy this one together.

We never felt that Osborne filmed these introductions or commentaries and then retired somewhere else, though we knew perfectly well that’s what happened.

In every important way, including spirit, we knew he was sitting down on the couch and watching these films with us, savoring them just as we did.

That’s always been the secret of the best hosts in the only other medium where hosts often become the stars, radio. Good radio personalities come into the kitchen, living room or the car and talk with the listener. If they play music, it’s music they’ve picked out because they want us to hear it and they think we’ll like it.

A good television host makes that same connection. We don’t tune in a Johnny Carson, Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart or Samantha Bee to see guests. We like the show in direct proportion to how well we like them.

In the early golden age of television variety shows, the stars weren’t the variety. They were Arthur Godfrey, Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan.

In more contemporary times, we have American Idol or The Voice, where the hosts come to define the show. Besides the Colberts and Kimmels at night, we have the View crew and the Talk crew in the daytime.

Cable network news, even more than broadcast news, often makes the messengers more prominent than the message – a situation that we should add does not make a Fox News unhappy.

Radio hosts can have that power. But with radio hosts, we only have names and voices. We imagine the rest, which can be quite wonderful in its own way, but for much of the audience can’t match the impact of actually seeing who is talking.

We would have admired Robert Osborne’s work just as much on radio. We wouldn’t have felt we knew him in the same way.

Osborne, once he found this niche, understood how to sustain it.

As a host or an interviewer, he didn’t raise his voice. He didn’t show off. He never gave the sense he was walking ahead of us or above us. He stayed right alongside.

Television rewards that kind of cool, which is why so many of its most memorable hosts have had it.

Robert Osborne never told us he was great – because anyone who really is doesn’t have to say it.

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TCM has announced their tribute to Mr. Osborne. 48 hours,Sat. Mar. 18 &Sun. 19, with no films. Instead, lots of Osborne's Private Screenings interviews and star appearances from the TCM Film Festival,most scheduled twice during the weekend. Interviews include Debbie Reynolds,Ernest Borginine and Peter O'Toole,all of whom are also gone. Alec Baldwin's newsy,table-turning interview with Robert about Robert is also included. This "tribute" was quick to schedule,leading one to think they had this set up a while ago. Osborne had not been seen in new openings for over a year,including the shortened Essentials season that featured Sally Fields. Maybe for that one weekend,they might re-label the channel as Osborne Classic Movies.
Mar 9, 2017   |  Reply
Losing Robert Osborne is sad news for this Boomer. Growing up with easy access to films on TV sliced,diced,never curated,rarely shown in an historical sense(outside of the "Clark Gable Week" type of collections put together so the viewer would stay for the plastic slip cover ads-Hey,I'm from Philly). During the past 20 years that our crummy cable company finally debuted TCM,I have found out why Barbara Stanwyck and Ginger Rogers were so important to the womens' movement. How Lucille Ball was a beauty and a fine comedic actress years before TV. My favorite actor,Jack Lemmon,not only was great in major pictures,but Robert showed how he became grew in lesser films. Director Billy Wilder? His Ace In The Hole is as good as Some Like It Hot,but I've only known about Ace in the last ten years. Thanks to Robert.
I could not find a Film 101 class in my college in the '70s,but I finally got a great one from Robert Osborne. TCM Remembers indeed!
Mar 7, 2017   |  Reply
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