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Craft

TV Movies, RIP: 1969-2015

Among the many lamented show biz passings of 2014 was one that won't be a part of the impending Oscar show recap.

You know, that squirm-inducing rite where a clip of somebody remembered by the young audience will illicit huge applause and loud cheers, followed by dead silence for the clip of anyone out of their demographic reach (just wait to hear a pin drop when the passing of Oscar's first back-to-back winner, 104-year-old Luise Rainer, comes up).

The demise we mourn, is not one of flesh or blood, but of pulp and ink, two matters dear to our hearts, needless to say.

Upon its publication last fall, it was announced that this would be the final edition of “Leonard Maltin's TV Movie Guide,” which had been a rite of autumn, every other year, since the first, which came out in 1969 ... pre-cable, pre-home video, pre-digital, pre-anything other than what your rabbit ears deigned to suck in from the cosmos.

In the final edition's forward, the cause of death was revealed:

"With ready access to information on the Internet, our readership has diminished at an alarming rate. The book’s loyal followers know that we strive to offer something one can’t easily find online: curated information that is accurate and user-friendly, along with our own reviews and ratings.  But when a growing number of people believe that everything should be free, it’s impossible to support a reference book that requires a staff of contributors and editors."

Maltin, a venerable Hollywood graybeard now, was all of 17 when he began compiling, if not the first capsule-format movie guide for TV-bound cinephiles, certainly the most thorough and useful.

By chance, we pulled a copy (which survives) of a now-shockingly-petite edition of "TV Movies" down from a shelf at the Haines and Essick Store in Decatur when we were barely out of the sixth grade and knew that, like everything else in life, all movies were not created equal.

We were immediately taken with the succinct one-or-two-sentence judgments passed, far more incisively than what we're getting in the usual suspects of the time: the weekly TV Guide and its Sunday newspaper supplement progeny, more obsessed with channels, start times and grids than hardcore data.

We also got, courtesy Maltin: the name of the film's director, at least a half-dozen cast members, the running time and a rating system that plummeted from the heights of HHHH to the abyss of BOMB.

It was the latter verdict which most obsessed us, fascinated as we were with anything that could detonate before our eyes on the cathode ray tube.

Before long, "TV Movies" became the bible we constantly consulted for guidance, thumbing it to tatters and checking off the couple hundred movies we could admit to having seen vs. Maltin's 6,000 (that figure grew with each passing edition, along with the page count, until something had to give, meaning with each edition's addition of a thousand or so new entries, just as many would have to go, usually the obscure rarities of yore that most fascinated us, alas).

We didn't know that the "Leonard Maltin" on the cover (name, no bearded photo as later became de rigeur) was just a kid himself, nor did we stop to ponder the likelihood that someone that young had, in fact, actually sat through 6,000 movies in his short run on terra firma and formed an educated opinion on each.

If we'd stopped to do that, we'd have realized he was probably passing judgment based on prevailing data or had a staff of associates which he wasn't acknowledging (as the years passed, he did own up to the latter in each edition, name-checking them to a man and woman).

All we knew was that something in Maltin's approach fanned a spark into flame, instilling in us a burning desire to do something similar. It was something that eventually came to be, more or less ... even to the point of (years ago) a weekly imitation-Maltin Pantagraph TV-movies column called "Critic's Choice," complete with a half-dozen capsule reviews that we were certain bested their counterparts (they didn't, but we could dream, couldn't we?).

Savvy entertainment creature that he is, Maltin long ago moved into the electronic media via his "Entertainment Tonight" gig, which is what elevated him from fan-boy geekdom to mainstream celebrity in his field, second only, perhaps, to two more who have since passed, name of Siskel and Ebert.

So Maltin will likely handily survive the passing of his "TV Movies." Thumb-wise, though, some of us will be left wanting.

Craft is Pantagraph arts and entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-820-3259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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