Tuesday night marks a major event in the career of Reggie Miller, Hall of Fame basketball player and still-employed color commentator for TNT. No, I am not referring to the night's slate of basketball games, which features some good ones. Miller will experience a far greater honor — he will participate in the "Guest Programmer" series for Turner Classic Movies.
If you're unfamiliar with the concept, here's a brief summary: a famous person (usually an actor) picks three or four films from the huge TCM library and introduces them along with network host Robert Osborne. It's always an interesting experience, primarily to get a sense of the celebrity's taste and approach to film.
Miller's picks run from 8 p.m. EDT to 4:15 a.m. EDT, and they are worth your time. From TCM.com:
When it comes to choosing films to co-host with Robert Osborne, Miller goes for compelling themes and strong performances. Of Strangers on a Train (1951), starring Robert Walker and Farley Granger, he comments that "Everyone loves a good Hitchcock thriller; it's all about the 'whodunit' when you're watching this film."
Interestingly, Miller's other three films all come from 1967. In Cool Hand Luke he "loved how Paul Newman's character could never be broken; no matter what he faced, he never was defeated." Referring to The Graduate he asks, "Who hasn't fallen in love with an older woman?" and notes that this was "the breakout performance for a young Dustin Hoffman." He finds Guess Who's Coming to Dinner a "socially progressive movie for its time," with "each and every character relationship complex and interesting."
The short bits of commentary mentioned here raise lots of issues, and not just for the odd image of one of the greatest shooters in NBA history romancing middle-aged women in hotel bars. For one thing, his description of "Strangers on a Train" is flatly wrong — it is not a whodunit. Also, claiming that "The Graduate" was Dustin Hoffman's breakout film is not really commentary, just as saying that LeBron James won his first championship in 2012 is not basketball analysis. These are facts, not insights.
In the grand scheme of TCM and this particular series, Miller's picks are not particularly adventurous — all four of these films play on the channel fairly regularly. In the past, Osborne has been vocal in the opinion that the best guest programmers choose movies that they can introduce to a new audience — Bill Paxton's January selections were a great example — and Miller pretty clearly isn't doing that. In some ways, it's a lost opportunity. (It should be noted that Paxton is an exception — Joel Grey's choices last month were just as familiar as those of Miller.)
On the other hand, TCM probably hopes that Miller can bring a new audience, and in that sense he's done a good job. These four films are accessible classics with familiar stars and strong reputations. In short, each would serve as a fine entry into the world of classic film for someone more accustomed to today's Hollywood options. If forced to choose, I think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did a better job with his "Guest Programmer" selections, but his acting resume stacks up a lot better than that of someone who can only boast of playing himself in "He Got Game." Really, Kareem probably underperformed relative to expectations.
It is likely that BDL readers will be more inclined to watch Tuesday's TNT games over decades-old movies, but these films deserve DVR space if you can spare it (I would opt for "Strangers on a Train" and "The Graduate" ahead of the others). Plus, if we're lucky, Reggie will tell one hell of a story about his first affair with an older woman.
Watch a preview of Reg's trip to the aisle, here: