Fear Not, TCM Geeks!

Turner Classic Movies announced today that primetime host Robert Osborne would be taking a three-month leave of absence for “minor surgery” and “vacation.”

TCM offered no further details about the health of the man who has been the face of the network since its launch in 1994, and I think the lack of explanation may have freaked some people out. Like me, for example. 

I can’t imagine living without Robert Osborne. He’s like the hip grandfather I never had, guiding me through a daily course in Hollywood history. 

But look at it this way: Robert Osborne is nearly 80-years-old. Do you know how many health problems the average octogenarian deals with on a daily basis? I’m barely 40 and I’ve already had all sorts of surgeries. The difference, of course, is that millions of people love Robert Osborne. I, on the other hand, am barely tolerated by a girlfriend, three cats and my doorman.

But nonetheless, I can relate.

Here’s the thing: I saw Robert Osborne at the Walter Reade Theater in New York on May 26 when he hosted a Film Society of Lincoln Center screening of The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming (1966). After his post-screening interview with director Norman Jewison, Mr. Osborne hung out in the lobby and chatted with fans. 

As he made his way toward the door I noticed that he was clearly hobbling. Having witnessed similar movement in my father at that age, I can only hope that Osborne may be undergoing a hip or knee replacement. Neither of these surgeries are life-threatening, but they do require approximately three to six months of recovery and rehabilitation.

But it’s likely we’ll never know the real story, and it’s probably none of our business. I don’t want to tell you all the gory details of my surgeries, even if you were interested (which we’ve already established you’re probably not). If Osborne comes back on schedule, and participates in the TCM Cruise in December as planned, that will be that. 

But unspoken in all of this is the fact that TCM has no clear succession plan in place. Look, I hope Robert Osborne lives forever, and we never have to worry about who’s going to replace him. But 80 is 80. 

So we’ll smile along through a succession of guest hosting stints by greats and sorta-greats like Robert Wagner (week of 7/11), Jane Powell (week of 7/18) and Tippi Hedren (week of 7/25). Others will follow for nine weeks.

But these are stopgaps. What TCM must do — even though we may not want them to — is develop longterm solutions to a situation we all have to deal with sooner or later.

No man on earth is more associated with classic film than Robert Osborne, but this isn’t the movies. This is real life.