TV: The Movie
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?
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!
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
Broadcast News (1987)
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
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Good Night and Good Luck (2005)
Groundhog Day (1993)
Quiz Show (1994)
The Truman Show (1998)
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.