The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic blogs at TVWeek.com with wit, humor and strong opinion.


Tom Shales

When Good Networks Do Bad Things

February 11, 2008 10:47 AM

Of all cable and broadcast networks, Turner Classic Movies is the least offensive when it comes to slapping supers all over the screen—promos and logos and “Hi, Mom” and all that other crappy clutter. This is one network that tries not to beat its viewers over the head every two minutes with a “message” about something airing three weeks from Tuesday.

So it was disheartening the other night when, as part of its ongoing “31 Days of Oscar” series, TCM committed the sacrilege of running its TCM.com logo in the lower right-hand corner of the screen just as “2001: A Space Odyssey” reached its fantastic climax: The “star child” is heading toward Earth (or just doing a fly-by to wave hello) and Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra” is booming away on the soundtrack and all the inscrutable stuff that preceded it starts to make sense.

Of all the possible moments in the three-hour film, this was the absolute worst to mar with a stupid logo.

Were we supposed to jump up from our TVs with two minutes to go in the movie and rush to a computer to behold the network’s Web site? Who’s the stupid idiot who would have authorized that kind of blunder? It didn’t seem the work of a computer because it wasn’t on the hour, half-hour or quarter-hour. It was simply placed where it would do the most harm to the film.

Years ago, in its early days, TCM ruined a showing of “Gone With the Wind” by keeping the parental-warning logo on-screen for the first 20 minutes of the film. What an infernal distraction that was. It was also obviously a glitch, a mistake, whereas the “2001” abuse seems more a matter of someone being mean, perverse, evil or just fantastically dumb. Maybe it was a Kubrick hater lurking in the works.

TCM is still the most elegant network on cable or maybe anywhere in domestic television. So it’s even more discouraging when it screws up. It sounds like a little thing, but if you’d been watching, you might well have been as angered as I was.


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Comments (3)

Bruce Chambers:

Its about time the networks stopped basong the size of their logos on 12 inch tv screens. At least TCM dosen't do what BBC America does. Their super is nearly 12 inches high on my screen and is there throughout the full show. Nothing like watching a SCIFI show like Torchwood with a promo for a cooking show on the screen all the time. It would be real nice if they turned down the intensity during dark scenes. Its reminds me of a motel vacancy sign.

Mitchell Hughes:

Hi Mr. Shales,
I am a film lover and occasional critic and as you may be able to relate, my friends think I'm overly critical. They often say, "you hate everything man, but that's what I like about you." That's always nice. I guess people don't like to be challenged when it comes to their tastes in film or music or television.

Anyway, I've never read your blog before and I unfortunately don't really followed your regular articles but I'm familiar with your reputation for having strong opinions. I have read and enjoyed your book about Saturday Night Live.

Okay, getting back... I too caught 2001 on TCM the other night, a film I haven't seen in close to ten years. I tuned in right before intermission and watched to the conclusion and for whatever it's worth, I did not notice the TCM logo at the bottom of the screen, or at the very least I don't remember seeing it. But if I had or did, I'd probably feel the same way.

You might be able to forgive them, they did devote an entire night to screening the films of Charles Burnett after all. That was pretty awesome.


Dear Mr. Shale,

Logos displayed during movies, television series and news programs are not merely an annoyance. Here is a recent email I have forward to a couple of networks as well as a preface I used to forward the emails to my Congressman. Why hasn't the FCC done something about this?

Copy of Forward to Congress Person:

I am concerned about an issue that will likely need to be addressed at the Federal level. At first glance it might seem like a slight concern given all the problems in the world. But it impacts how people gather news and information, so I hope you consider it.

I recently sent this email to CNN. I'd like to know what can be done about the issue of Networks displaying logos for so long that they actually burn into the screen and damage plasma televisions. When news networks do it, we are unable to watch them if we want to avoid the damage to an expensive piece of equipment.

As digital becomes standard more Americans will suffer costly property damage as a result of this irresponsible practice. Is there anything you can do to rectify the problem?

Copy of Email to CNN:

I recently sent this email to a local network in the Los Angeles area. The same comments apply to CNN, if anything your network is the worst offender of constantly displaying boxed information that causes plasma burn in. It makes no sense. We used to watch CNN more, but now we curtail our viewing because of the burn in issue.
By the way, our plasma television is not an older model. It is about 18 months old and a very high in model.
Copy of KTLA email:
We watch KTLA Morning News every day. KTLA has joined the other networks in displaying a logo in the lower right hand corner of the television screen for most of the program. Yesterday I was watching a movie on my expensive flat screen plasma television and I noticed that I could see "KTLACW" in the corner of my screen. Your logo has been burned into my very expensive (I repeat for emphasis) plasma screen television!
Since I've seen the fine reporting your technology reporters do, I know your stations managers are aware of Plasma screen burn in. To say that I am unhappy about it is an understatement. Why would you insist on displaying your logo when you know that burn in will occur? As the digital format becomes standard next year, you will see more and more complaints about this problem. I betting you may also see some class action lawsuits in the future from unhappy consumers. I plan to cc this letter to my state and federal representatives, the FCC, CNN (another network guilty of displaying logos that burn into the screen).
I think networks need to be responsible about how they display their logos. Unfortunately our household must change longstanding viewing habit of watching the KTLA Morning News until the problem is fixed. In other words, YOU ARE LOSING VIEWERS BECAUSE YOU ARE RUINING OUR PLASMA TELEVISION. How idiotic is it for a network already struggling to keep viewers from straying away to create a situation where viewers either avoid your channel altogether or limit viewing time due to this burn in issue.
I think this issue should be examined by all networks and the regulators of this industry.

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