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Creator / The Movie Channel

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"You're watching The Movie Channel, Movies for Movie Lovers."

The Movie Channel is an American premium cable network that launched in 1979, and is a sister network to Showtime through their shared parent company ViacomCBS. Exactly What It Says on the Tin, the channel specializes in airing movies and only movies. Its history truly dates back to April 1973, after Warner Communications (the then-parent company of Warner Bros., which would ironically end up co-owned with HBO when Warner merged with that channel's parent Time Inc. in 1990) decided to provide funding and later acquired Gridtronics, a pay movie service developed by Alfred Stern and Gordon Fuqua that delivered videotaped movies to cable systems around the country.


The Gridtronics service launched under the name Warner Star Channel (subsequently shortened to just "Star Channel" within a few months), which served as a hub for the vast Warner Bros. film library (except for those made by Associated Artists Productions before 1950 that were acquired by United Artists when it purchased the studio in 1958; said library is also now back in the hands of WB after the Time Warner-Turner merger of 1996). Cable providers experienced occasional problems attempting to transmit the videotapes on-air, mostly from tapes jamming during playback. By the late 1970s, Star Channel became part of Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment, Warner's joint venture with American Express that spawned the QUBE interactive cable TV service (of which Star Channel was one of the networks on offer).


Star Channel was uplinked to satellite in January 1979, turning it into a national service; by that point, it began to clear up the bugs with broadcasting films the it aired. That April, it entered into a channel sharing arrangement with Nickelodeon (which was originally launched by Warner), with the former switching to an encrypted signal when Star signed on at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time (8:00 p.m. on weekends) until Nickelodeon started its broadcast day at 7:00 a.m. This was actually a marketing strategy on Warner-Amex's part; they hoped parents would subscribe to Star Channel by wanting good educational programming for their kids via Nickelodeon (which was to act as a loss-leader). On December 1, the network adopted a new name, The Movie Channel. Immediately, it became the first premium channel to air R-rated films during the day. Then on New Year's Day 1980, TMC began broadcasting 24 hours a day, and started transmitting on a separate satellite transponder. (Nickelodeon would time-share with a couple other networks, including A&E, before creating Nick @ Nite in 1985; this conincided with their reconfiguring from a ad-less educational format to a network kids would actually want to watch.)


Most TMC subscribers know the channel for Joe Bob Briggs Drive-In Theater, a Saturday late-night showcase of cheesy but awesome B-movies that started in 1984, and was hosted by John Irving Bloom, a film afficionado who played the title character; "Joe Bob Briggs" donned spiffy cowboy attire and was known for keeping a count of the amount of violence and nudity included in each movie during the wraparound segments before each film. He usually signed off with "this is Joe Bob Briggs, reminding you that the drive-in will never die", although Drive-In Theater would die in February 1996, after ten years (Briggs then popped up on TNT's MonsterVision block for a few years after that). TMC was also the original television home for Robert Osbourne (who from 1987 to 1993, balanced his TMC hosting duties with his work at The Hollywood Reporter), long before he became the longtime face of Turner Classic Movies, bursting with film knowledge even then.

TMC struggled to stay afloat in a crowded pay-TV marketplace, until Viacom came to the rescue in 1983, forming a joint venture between Warner-Amex called Showtime/The Movie Channel, Inc., turning it into the sister network of Showtime (whose existence TMC technically predates by three years). Viacom acquired Warner-Amex's interest in Showtime and The Movie Channel in 1985, and eventually renamed the subsidiary Showtime Networks in 1988. However, the Viacom deal essentially screwed TMC anyway in some respects, as it became Showtime's Red-Headed Stepchild. It went through multiple looks and gimmicks through the 80s, 90s and 2000s, trying to find something that would stick, including themed movie blocks on weekdays and the "Weekend Multiplex", offering a variety of different movies, ranging from premieres to oldies; this was dropped by the mid-90s in favor of "never being more than five minutes away from a movie" (meaning breaks between movies wouldn't exceed 5 minutes), but that effort ended in 1997. This is reflected in the fact that, much like every other premium channel, it has multiplex networks, but Showtime only gave TMC just one extra channel, The Movie Channel 2 (later renamed The Movie Channel Xtra in 2001) – whereas fellow movie-focused pay channels Cinemax, Encore and Starz have at least five – not to mention that it isn't sold separately from Showtime like the other premium channels arenote . And with Showtime's increasing reliance on original series and less on movies, not to mention their loss of most major first-run titles as well as the channel's non-inclusion in the standalone Showtime streaming service, TMC's future looks bleak.