TV: The Movie

Poll Results

We knew social media could topple dictators, but we never suspected it could help Network overtake Broadcast News in our Paley Center poll asking you to name the all-time best movie set in the world of television. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

With just two days remaining before the poll closed on Wednesday, Broadcast News, James L. Brooks’s 1987 film starring Holly Hunter, William Hurt, and Albert Brooks—part love story, part commentary on the battle for the soul of television news—had what we believed to be a rather secure lead over Network, a scathing satire of television’s misplaced values crafted by two veterans of the medium’s early years, director Sidney Lumet and writer Paddy Chayefsky. On Monday, November 14, the Paley Center launched a full-bore campaign for eleventh-hour votes, pumping our Facebook and Twitter accounts with word that November 14 marked the thirty-fifth anniversary of Network’s initial release (we weren’t lobbying for Network votes, just any votes). By midday Tuesday, Network had pulled into a dead heat with Broadcast News

And now, the final results: Network leapfrogged over Broadcast News and wound up not just winning, but winning commandingly, with 25% of the vote versus 20% for Broadcast News. A very tight three-way race for third finished thusly: Good Night and Good Luck, 12%; The Truman Show, 11%; A Face in the Crowd, 10%.  Yes, A Face in the Crowd!

What does it all mean? Chayefsky’s vitriolic despair for television—the medium that nurtured him—obviously still resonates today. Not bad for a man who passed away in 1983 and whose last produced work, the theatrical film Altered States, was released in 1980. 

Time for a Chayefsky revival, perhaps?
—David Bushman


By Becca Edelman

On November 14, 1976, two great talents of the golden age of live TV—writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Sidney Lumet—teamed to reflect on their first medium with Network, a scathing satire about the misplaced values of the executives and programmers in charge of determining what we see on TV. The film went on to win four Oscars (including one for Chayefsky, for best original screenplay), and was nominated for an additional six. Crazed newsman Howard Beale’s anguished mantra—"I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more"—entered the pop culture lexicon. In honor of this upcoming thirty-fifth anniversary, we are offering this poll to see what film about television has the most resonance in 2011 (which is another way of saying, what film with TV as its subject do you like the best?).

"Write what you know," the saying goes. Perhaps because so many filmmakers have passed through television—either on their way up or their way down—TV newsrooms and studios are popular settings. In the early days of television the segregation between the two media was more pronounced, as the film world, feeling economically threatened by television, generally shunned the upstart medium. Even in the fifties and early sixties, however, writers like Chayefsky, Budd Schulberg, J.P. Miller, and Reginald Rose, created works for both film and television. In today's new media-world order, auteurs like Judd Apatow glide effortlessly between the two, often juggling projects in each simultaneously. Interestingly, rather than paint a nostalgic picture, many filmmakers prefer to excoriate the world of television, harping on the medium’s supreme power over the public and portraying both television's individual players and the industry as a whole as stained by corruption and perverse morality. Typically these films embrace a wistful yearning for what television could be, if only it were entrusted to incorruptible idealists concerned exclusively with the public good, rather than their own private coffers and egos. On the other hand, there is a school of thought, represented on the list below by Anchorman, that suggests that perhaps filmmakers are being a little too hard on TV, and maybe we should all just lighten up.

Tell us your favorite

Here are some of our favorite films about television. Which is your favorite? Leave a comment about why you voted the way you did, and feel free to "write in" votes for films we overlooked.

The blue colored names in each write-up link to our online Paley Collection database to show you what work we have of theirs at the Paley Center. You can watch these programs in our libraries when you visit New York or Los Angeles.

Vote now before the poll closes on Wednesday, November 16!

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Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
"Milk was a bad choice." So was bringing female anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) to the evening newscast at KVWN San Diego, at least according to the testosterone-drenched roosters (including Paul Rudd and Steve Carell) who rule the place. Will Ferrell, portraying legendary—and legendarily unenlightened—local news anchor Ron Burgundy, drives this hysterical, albeit politically incorrect, comedy about television, sexism, and news-team gang violence in 1970s America. Ferrell cowrote the script with Adam McKay, his Saturday Night Live buddy, who also directed.
Click on Anchorman in the voting widget above

 

 

Broadcast News (1987)
The arrival of attractive but underqualified newsman Tom Grunick (William Hurt) at the network news division in Washington triggers a battle between brains and beauty that mirrors the war for the soul of the television newsroom, with super-producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) caught in the middle. In the other corner is Jane’s jealous—and love-struck—best friend Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), a talented but charisma-challenged newsman who must watch as Tom makes his way into the hearts of audiences, network executives, and finally even Jane. Director/writer James L. Brooks is no stranger to the TV newsroom, which was also the setting for his iconic sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, as well as his own early career.
Click on Broadcast News in the voting widget above

 

 

A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Aw, shucks, Andy, who knew you had it in you? Before becoming folksy Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry, Andy Griffith portrayed Lonesome Rhodes, a charismatic guitar-strumming wanderer rotting away in an Arkansas jail until he is transformed into a mega-star thanks to Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal), a local radio correspondent. Rhodes starts out as a genuine populist sympathetic to ordinary folk, but soon devolves into a media monster consumed by fame, power, and wealth, abandoning not only his morals but also the people who helped him along his way. Budd Schulberg, author of the showbiz-set What Makes Sammy Run, scripted the film, which was directed by Elia Kazan.
Click on A Face in the Crowd in the voting widget above

 

 

Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
Amid the cigarettes, jazz, and chauvinism of the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy tightens his grip on the neck of the American media in his crusade to rid the country of “commie sympathizers.” Meticulously directed by George Clooney (who also appears as producer Fred Friendly), this historical drama chronicles CBS anchor Edward R. Murrow's audacious transformation of his studio into a journalistic courtroom as he exposes McCarthy’s specious methods on television for the American public to see, raising important questions about the moral obligations of television in a free society.
Click on Good Night and Good Luck in the voting widget above

 

 

Groundhog Day (1993)
Imagine the most boring day of your life. Now imagine living it over and over and over again. Worse yet, imagine that it begins with Sonny and Cher warbling “I Got You Babe” over your clock radio. Yes, it’s that bad. Welcome to the life of local TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray), on assignment in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, waiting for groundhog Phil to emerge from his winter burrow. Ah, but there is method to this madness, as the cynical, self-absorbed Connors eventually finds enlightenment and love, not to mention a way out of Punxsutawney. SCTV alum Harold Ramis cowrote and directed.
Click on Groundhog Day in the voting widget above

 

 

Network (1976)
Perhaps Howard Beale (Peter Finch, in an Oscar-winning role) is “mad as hell” with good reason. To boost ratings and profits, the floundering Union Broadcasting System presents a new show featuring Beale, its crazed ex-anchor, as a modern-day prophet—“a magnificent messianic figure inveighing against the hypocrisies of our times,” in the words of zealous programming executive Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). Behind the twisting plot lies a scathing satire of the power of television and its deleterious impact on the emotions, intellect, and values of those who consume it. The film was scripted by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet—two veterans of the “golden age” of live television drama.
Click on Network in the voting widget above

 


 

Quiz Show (1994)
Robert Redford, who cut his teeth as a television actor in the early sixties, directed this docudrama based on the famous quiz-show scandals of the 1950s, when, in an attempt to boost ratings, producers and sponsors manipulated the results by providing answers to preferred contestants and incentives to lose to those deemed less desirable. A pre-Voldemort Ralph Fiennes stars as Charles Van Doren, a charismatic young Columbia professor caught in the shadow of his Pulitzer Prize–winning father, who compromises his moral values in exchange for fame, and John Turturro is Herbert Stempel, the poor guy victimized by Van Doren’s success. The film—nominated for four Oscars (including best picture and best director)—puts “television on trial,” accusing it of necessitating a choice between intellectualism and morality on one side and wealth and corruption on the other.
Click on Quiz Show in the voting widget above

 

 

Tootsie (1983)
Frustrated out-of-work actor Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) decides that the only way to save his flailing career is to make over his persona—rather drastically. Taking a walk on the wild side, Dorsey goes drag to land a female role on a daytime soap. As the fame and popularity of Dorsey’s female alter ego explode, a tangle of confusing romances ensues, prompting Dorsey to reexamine his masculine identity as well. As Dorsey learns empathy for his female coworkers, the film exposes a web of gender struggles within the entertainment world of the '80s. Longtime TV scribe Larry Gelbart cowrote the screenplay.
Click on Tootsie in the voting widget above

 

 

The Truman Show (1998)
As a young boy, Truman Burbank dreamed of adventure and exploration. Unlike his hero Magellan, however, Truman (Jim Carrey) lives in a flat world, entrapped within an enormous television studio: unbeknown to Truman, the entire world is watching his life unfold on a twenty-four-hour reality television show, complete with product placement and a pre-scripted destiny. But is it possible to find love and fulfillment in such a world? In this satirical look at our media-obsessed culture, Truman’s midlife crisis proves a bit too complicated to be soothed by a brand-new sports car.
Click on The Truman Show in the voting widget above

 

 

Videodrome (1983)
In this dark science fiction thriller from Fly-boy David Cronenberg, James Woods stars as Max Renn (James Woods), a TV executive at a small channel that functions as a contemporary Colosseum, bringing violence and sex to viewers as a form of catharsis. While pirating video signals, Renn becomes fascinated with a bizarre, exceedingly disturbing torture show called Videodrome, and as his obsession elevates, distinctions among reality, television, and hallucination blur, raising the question of whether Renn’s world is one of futuristic science fiction or, in fact, a devastating perspective of our own.
Click on Videodrome in the voting widget above

 

 

Becca Edelman is a sophomore at Yale University, where she plans to pursue a major in film studies. Her interest in film was almost stunted when her father showed her The Godfather at the age of eight. Thankfully, it was soon revived by Annie Hall and Casablanca

Josh Einbinder, an intern from American University, contributed.

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