Robert Osbone Is Back. Where Has He Been?

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 1 2011 6:16 PM

Welcome Back, Bob: An Iconic TV Host Returns

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Robert Osborne attends the Oscar Party Preview at GILT in New York last year.

Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

After a five-month absence, Robert Osborne, the primetime host for Turner Classic Movies, will return to the network tonight at 8 p.m. And it’s not a moment too soon for his diehard fans: As the day has neared, a surprising number of blogs—some created for the occasion, like Welcome Back, Bob: The Officially Un-official Robert Osborne Welcome Home Party—have been celebrating his resumption of duties, some even launching countdowns to his “homecoming.”

Since TCM’s on-air debut in April 1994, the film historian has introduced and provided commentary on movie classics nearly every night for the network. In that time, Osborne has amassed a considerable following, with fans looking upon the anchor as an “old friend” they’ve invited into their homes for well over a decade now. While his apparently encyclopedic knowledge of classic movies is much appreciated by these viewers—Osborne has written multiple books about the Oscars—his personal charm seems to play an equally large role in his appeal. As the blogger Noir Girl says in another of the “welcome back” posts, Osborne exudes “a genuine warmth of feeling and care not only for the films but for you as a viewer.”

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“To say that Bob has been missed is a serious understatement,” writes Brandie at another blog, True Classics. “TCM without Robert Osborne is like Veronica Lake without her peekaboo hairdo, like Charlie Chaplin sans mustache, like Fred and Ginger minus dancing shoes. It’s just not RIGHT.” Another fan described the months leading up to Osborne’s return as “agonizingly long”—though there has also been praise for stand-in hosts like Ben Mankiewicz, Eva Marie Saint, and Kenneth Turan, who have held down the TCM fort in his absence.

The 79-year old anchor took a break starting in July of this year, after undergoing minor surgery for an unspecified ailment. Prior to his sudden departure, apparent signs of deteriorating health—including slurred speech and seemingly severe weight loss—left fans speculating about “kidney problems,” strokes, and even terminal illnesses. It wasn’t long before “death rumors” hit the Internet—and, in October, Osborne shot a brief promo assuring fans he’d return in order to quell the gossip.

Questions concerning his reasons for departure remain unanswered, with Osborne casually brushing off speculative chitchat. “Honestly, it was no big deal,” he told Atlanta Magazine recently. “Essentially, I had worked 17 years straight without a vacation. I wanted a lump of time just to relax and unwind. I wanted to go get an MRI and a CAT scan. I wanted to get a facial and get some crowns put on my teeth. I wanted to start going to a gym regularly. I wanted to pamper myself a little. I feel really good and very well rested.” TCM representatives—similarly tight-lipped about Osborne’s medical circumstances—could not be reached for comment.

Whatever the case may be, TCM’s iconic anchor seems more than ready to fill his old post. He’s been back in New York City since October, shooting the entire 2012 season of The Essentials with new guest host Drew Barrymore. This month, if all goes as planned, he will attend TCM’s first “Classic Cruise” and appear on additional TCM features, including the Guest Programmer Series and Race & Hollywood: Arab Images on Film. And it looks as though he’ll have plenty of time to do these shows and more: He recently signed a new, multi-year contract with Turner Classic Movies.

Sonia Tsuruokai is a Slate intern.

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