Films about Television

Network

Drama 1976 R 121 minutes. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky predicted today’s rash of trash television and shock-driven newscasts with this ahead-of-its-time satire that centers on a network news anchor named Howard Beale (Peter Finch) who loses it on the air. His outrageous rants boost the station’s ratings and intrigue cutthroat network execs Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall. William Holden contrasts their avarice as an old-school TV journalist who’s hopelessly out of step.When a network news anchor loses his mind on the air, his outrageous rants reach viewers at home, boost the ratings and intrigue a pair of cutthroat network executives in this Oscar-winning masterpiece that predicted today’s rash of trash television. This film is brilliant. So far ahead of its time and still very much relevant today. There is a speech given in the film to the character Howard Beale about how he sees the world as countries and people when really the world is just a college of a few overpowerful corporations. An aging newsanchor decided to break out of the cookie cutter mold that newsanchors are supposed to fit into. Since he is being forced into retirement by the network, what could he possibly lose from speaking his mind on air anyway? Naturally, audiences loved him because he was an “Every Man” kind of newsanchor pushing through all the crap. Just being real and honest with the viewers. it also reveals the truth about international takeover by powerful corporations that control everything. The premise that business is the king, and individuals, governments, and nations are enslaved by the monetary reach of these corporations.

Nightcrawler

Thriller 2014  R 117 min.  When a driven man desperate for work muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. The film tells the story of Lou Bloom, a freelance videographer who covers the crime world in LA for a local news station and ruthless editor played by Rene Russo. Before long Bloom’s demented job overtakes his life, making him colder and colder the deeper he goes. The film plays like a twisted bloody version of Network with satirical wit. Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic in this film. Lou Bloom is a role that he is completely submerged in as he oozes through every frame while our dislike for Bloom intensifies throughout the film. What this film does best is make us wonder what he is willing to do next, and his actions get sick and shocking. Bloom is a depraved individual, but Jake Gyllenhaal pulls off the tricky task of making the audience care about a character that is truly unlikeable — and does so with not one false note. It is mesmerizing to see. The cinematography also is top notch, and makes it hard for you to peel your eyes from the screen. If you take the slick look of Drive and the satirical wit of Network, you get Nightcrawler. This film is a genius first film for writer/director Dan Gilroy, someone to watch after this brilliant film filled with raw velocity. It is darkly comedic, surprisingly disturbing, and brilliantly acted. I highly recommend it. (Review adapted from IMDB.)

America in Primetime

Documentary 2011 TV-14 4 Episodes.  Discover the creative forces behind television’s modern golden age as writers, producers and performers discuss key elements of acclaimed TV shows.  It covers all the major shows that have impacted society in a very analytic way.  This is a fantastic trip down the road we have traveled to get to the media culture we have today.  Insightful anecdotes and first hand accounts behind some of televisions most loved creations fill this mini-series. Each episode steps back to the beginning, filling in the story of how some of the iconic archetypes of television has been created.  Wonderfully made, and filled with info and insights.  This show truly chronicles the growth and evolution of television in the modern age.  Very interesting!  I cannot stress enough how informative, entertaining and exciting these four episodes are.  One of the best series of documentaries I’ve ever seen.  My only complaint is that there aren’t more episodes.
Episodes:
1 Man of the House
2 Independent Woman
3 The Misfit
4 The Crusader

Showrunners:
The Art of Running a TV Show

Documentary 2014 NR 1hr28m.  This documentary illuminates the work of TV showrunners, who juggle a complex set of activities on the job — including crisis management.

Dog Bites Man

Mockumentary 2006 NR 1 season.  KHBX’s news team in Spokane, Wash., keeps a collective eye on the next big story in this mockumentary-style series about local TV “journalism” at its most ridiculous — which in KHBX’s case includes the hard-hitting segment “What’s in Your Muffin?” The show’s ensemble cast features Matt Walsh as preening on-air reporter Kevin Beekin, Andrea Savage as producer Tillie Sullivan and Zach Galifianakis as cameraman Alan Finger.

Man Bites Dog

Mockumentary 1992 UR 96 mins.  A satirical look at how the media affects and promotes violence in modern society. Spoofing reality television, a fascinated documentary crew follows a charismatic yet unrepentant serial killer on his murder sprees. The crew attempts to objectively document the horror, but as the violence escalates, they ultimately get sucked into participating. Man Bites Dog won the International Critics’ Prize at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.

Outfoxed
Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism

Documentary 2004 NR 1hr 17m. Filmmaker Robert Greenwald delivers a no-holds-barred documentary on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News cable channel, which has been criticized in certain quarters as running a “race to the bottom” in television news. Featuring interviews with a range of media experts, the film offers an in-depth look at the dangers of burgeoning corporations that take control of the public’s right to know and explores Murdoch’s ever-expanding media empire.

Murdoch’s Scandal

Documentary Frontline 2012. Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Wall Street Journal and FOX News Channel, is in the fight of his life. Frontline correspondent Lowell Bergman details the battle over the future of News Corporation, Murdoch’s reputation and his family’s fortunes.

Bhutan: The Last Place
Television Arrives in a Buddhist Kingdom

Documentary Frontline / World 2002. Frontline/World explores the impact of television on a remote Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas. After centuries of self-imposed isolation, Bhutan legalized TV in 1999 — the last country in the world to do so. Follow Rinzy Dorji, the local “cable guy,” as he hooks up “an electronic invasion.”

The Merchants of Cool

Documentary Frontline 2001 The award-winning “Frontline” television show trains its investigative lens on marketing moguls who conduct endless surveys and focus groups sampling the tastes, attitudes and aspirations of American teens to determine exactly what they want. As Hollywood and Madison Avenue craft tailored versions of teenage life in movies, TV, music and advertising, just how far will they go to reach the hearts — and wallets — of American youth? They will do anything to tap into the 150 BILLION dollars of spending power that 12 to 19 year-olds possess. They are the “Merchants of Cool”, and they will use every technique in the book just to sell to you. This Frontline special is an exploration into the marketing machine that controls nearly 90% of what we read in print, see on TV and movies, and listen to on the radio. The Merchants of Cool (2001) is slightly dated at this point, and it contains many examples that were relevant during its release but less so now. Still, it is important that teens understand that not all images they encounter are benign, but rather a calculated effort to dip into their wallets.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Documentary 2000 PG-13 80 minutes. Tammy Faye Bakker’s journey from traveling evangelist to weepy, scandal-scarred cult icon is chronicled in this tongue-in-cheek documentary from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato that’s narrated by RuPaul. The film was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and details Jimmy Bakker’s infamous affair — which, in essence, ended the PTL Ministry — as well as Tammy’s emergence as a hero to alternative-lifestyle communities.

EDtv

Mockumentary satire 1999 PG-13 124 mins.  The things that comprise Ed’s (Matthew McConaughey) life don’t amount to much, from his dead-end job to dealing with his deadbeat brother (Woody Harrelson).  But when a television executive puts Ed in front of the camera 24 hours a day, his now-public existence gets much more interesting. A cable channel has dwindling ratings, so it decides to start up a reality TV show where it follows someone 24/7. Matthew McConaughey happens to be the guy, and the ratings skyrocket. Fresh into his career as a leading man, McConaughey plays into his typecast as a drawling, charming bachelor, this time spiced with the angle of a 24/7 reality show that broadcasts his every waking moment. Naturally, this eventually plays havoc on his personal life, especially when he picks up with his brother’s publicity-shy ex (Jenna Elfman). Director Ron Howard explores Ed’s newfound fame — and the discontent that grows among his family and friends. McConaughey is unbearable in a few scenes, but he’s at least believable as the naive, overnight celebrity everyman adopted by pop culture. He wants out eventually, but his contract doesn’t allow him to do that. So he finds a way to get back at the company by exposing their secrets. EdTV, which I thought would be a knockoff of the Truman Show, turned out to be a witty, creative, interesting flick that actually had me laughing out loud! Unlike Truman, EdTV satirizes our society’s desire to be famous — over being someone substantial. Ron Howard shows you how people can change once their lives are exposed to the rest of the world, and how far a TV network will go for ratings.  A decent conceptual drama with a mildly sour twist of social commentary thrown in.  Warm and charming at times, thin and predictable at others, it’s a good effort with a curiously accurate prediction about the surge of reality programming that was on the horizon. Watching this now is interesting in that much of the movie has come to fruition with our insatiable appetite for reality shows and constant social media.  This film was ahead of it’s time. A realistic look into reality TV and where we were headed in the future.  This nice commentary on the culture of reality TV depicts the networks as the problem, but I would believe that the viewers share a majority of the blame.  I really liked this film. Funny when it needed to be and touching at times. Perhaps not quite as interesting or original as 1998’s thematic clone The Truman Show, it’s still a fair (if light) take on the cult of celebrity with some good, unexpected curves peppering the plot.

The Truman Show

Satire 1998 PG 103 mins.  Truman Burbank is the star of “The Truman Show,” a 24-hour-a-day TV phenomenon that broadcasts every aspect of his life without his knowledge. When Truman discovers that his life is a sham for public consumption, he makes a desperate escape bid.  It is the themes that make this the great film it is. Full of Orwellian connotations, this is perfect for anyone who wants Big Brother to keep his distance. By the end of the 90’s, media saturation, anxiety over privacy, encroaching media power, and with virtual reality, the increasing unreliable nature of the real world, were all prevalent preoccupations.  Peter Weir hopes that after watching the film, viewers will look for themselves how the government and media is intruding into their right to live freely. It probes how far technology can go before inhibiting the free living of the individual. If these are topics you are interested in, then “The Truman Show” is the perfect–and as far as I know–one of the only films to excellently probe them. An excellent example of what an intelligent movie can be about. The Truman Show questions the immoral attitude of television conglomerates and our insatiable hunger for watching reality TV. This movie should be a wake up call to all of us to do less watching and more doing. That is, instead of watching other people sleep, eat, work, have fun, cry and laugh on television; we should busy ourselves and make the most of our short time in the only life that we know, this life. As the ultimate Reality Show, this film becomes a little chilling to imagine and as directed by Peter Weir, it is an exceptional film that should not be missed. Very Highly Recommended.

Pleasantville

Drama 1998 PG-13.  David and his sister, Jennifer, get sucked into the black-and-white world of a 1950s TV sitcom called “Pleasantville.” But when Jennifer’s modern attitude disrupts Pleasantville’s boring routine, she literally brings color into its life.

Wag the Dog

Satire 1997 R 110 minutes. When the president is caught in a sex scandal less than two weeks before the election, White House spinmaster Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro) creates a phony war with the help of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to distract the electorate. From acclaimed director Barry Levinson and writers Hilary Henkin and David Mamet comes this biting look at American politics and its insidious relationship with the media.

Smoke in the Eye

Documentary Frontline 1996. Frontline investigates the war between network news and the tobacco industry in the wake of the $10 billion libel suit against ABC and the controversial decision by CBS not to allow 60 Minutes to air an explosive interview with a tobacco company whistle-blower. As media companies increasingly come under the control of large corporations, will their newsrooms continue to aggressively report on corporate America?

Who’s Afraid of Rupert Murdoch?

Documentary Frontline 1995. In the last forty years, Rupert Murdoch has gone from publisher of a marginal newspaper in Adelaide, Australia, to chairman of one of the world’s largest and wealthiest media empires. His business acumen combined with a gambling spirit has made him an enormously successful player in the communications industry. Frontline correspondent Ken Auletta probes Murdoch’s drive to establish the first global telecommunications network and examines how Murdoch’s success has been dogged by controversy over journalistic standards and the use of political influence.

Spin (1995)

Documentary 1995. Spin is a film by Brian Springer composed of raw satellite feeds exposing politicians’ pre-appearance planning. It covers, not only the United States presidential primaries, 1992 and presidential election, but also the LA riots as well as the Operation Rescue abortion protests. Using the 1992 presidential election as his springboard, Springer captures the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of politicians and newscasters in the early 1990s. Pat Robertson banters about “homos,” Al Gore learns how to avoid abortion questions, George H. W. Bush talks to Larry King about Halcion — all presuming they’re off camera. Composed of 100% unauthorized satellite footage, Spin is a surreal expose of media-constructed reality.

Does TV Kill?

Documentary Frontline 1995. Before the average American child leaves elementary school, researchers estimate that he or she will have witnessed more than eight thousand murders on television. Has this steady diet of imaginary violence made America the world leader in real crime and violence? Frontline correspondent Al Austin journeys through what is known about television violence and how it affects our lives. The program reveals some unexpected conclusions about the impact TV has on the way we view the world.

To Die For

Satire 1995 R 106 mins.  Vacuous Suzanne Stone is dead-set on making her dream of being on television come true, but there’s a hitch: her hubby, who wants her to stay at home.  This is a satirical thriller about a woman who is so determined to make it big as the local television weather girl (in spite of her lack of talent) that she won’t let anything stand in her way including her husband, Larry (Matt Dillon).  Ever determined, Suzanne drafts a lovesick teen to help execute a sinister plot — and her spouse.  It is a black comedy loosely inspired by the real-life Pamela Smart case.  This is a wicked commentary on the darker side of human nature and a hilarious parody of TV news and reality TV.

Natural Born Killers

Satire 1994 NR 1hr58m.  Mickey and Mallory Knox hit the road on an interstate killing spree that triggers a manhunt and garners amazing ratings for a tabloid TV star.  The film tells the story of two victims of traumatic childhoods who became lovers and mass murderers, and are irresponsibly glorified by the mass media like a Bonnie-and-Clyde couple.  Don’t let the DVD cover or the film’s surface level violence fool you.  It’s not just about murder…the whole production is a metaphor for our world, even today.  The media. Popular opinion.  Ethics.  Morality.  A country full of sheepish humans.  Everything’s analyzed and ridiculed here.  This film is an intense commentary on our “sick” “normal” American society.  Robert Downey as reporter Wayne Gale on a series called ‘American Maniacs’ does a seeming parody of TV reporter Geraldo Rivera that is a brilliant exaggeration of his excesses and a satire of American media practices.  I’ve always loved this movie and its statement on how the media glorifies society’s monsters.  Much of the film is told via parodies of television shows, including a scene (‘I Love Mallory’) presented in the style of a sitcom about a dysfunctional family.  Commercials that were commonly on the air at the time of the film’s release make brief intermittent appearances.  Throughout the film, background scenes show psychedelic versions of violence from movies, TV shows, comic books, and media coverage of criminals and mass murderers.  The movie is shot and edited in a frenzied and psychedelic style consisting of black and white, animation, and unusual color schemes, and employing a wide range of camera angles, filters, lenses and special effects.  This exaggerates the daily bombardment of modern life by the mass media, especially TV.  The film emphasizes the influences on the common masses in America, primarily via the media.  Natural Born Killers ends with the couple symbolically destroying the mass media, as represented by reporter Wayne Gale, and successfully fleeing together to live a relatively “normal” life, with kids and a Winnebago.  Director Oliver Stone considered Natural Born Killers his road film, specifically naming Bonnie and Clyde as a source of inspiration.  Furthermore, both films fall under the road film genre through their constant challenges of the society in which the characters live.  The characterizations in the film are over-exaggerated.  The killer couple showing exaggerated glee in their murder spree.  Robert Downey Jr. as TV reporter Wayne Gale in his tasteless and relentless pursuit of scandal and ratings.  Rodney Dangerfield as the child-molesting father of Mallory who is beyond menacing and into farce.  Tommy Lee Jones as a prison warden who is entertainingly manic.  The killing culture that Natural Born Killers pushed to an absurd extreme has become reality.  Much of the “violent media makes violent children” hysteria of the 90’s no longer exists.  Now we don’t seem to care how watching violent acts affects us.  Instead we’ve moved on to a sort of violence one-upmanship.  The most popular TV shows are often the most violent.  PG-13 movies are incredibly violent, as long as there’s no blood.  R-rated movies take on-screen violence to new heights with clever CG effects.  So with this film Oliver Stone did not shock society into becoming a bit more introspective about our appetite for violence, and instead gave some permission to revel in it.  But I think highly enough of myself to expect that I will be revolted by violent psychopathy, whether or not someone else tells me I should be.  From almost the moment of its release, the film has been accused of encouraging and inspiring numerous murderers in North America, including the Heath High School shooting and the Columbine High School massacre.  Stone has continually maintained that the film is a satire on how serial killers are adored by the media for their horrific actions and that those who claim that the violence in the film itself is a cause of societal violence miss the point of the film.  Great movie on the morals of our society — sorry if you don’t “get” this movie.  Many critics said that Oliver Stone was a hypocrite for making an ultra-violent film in the guise of a critique of American attitudes.  Is this film just banal post-modern garbage that indulges in mindless violence that masquerades as social commentary?  One critic noted that the movie “hits the bulls-eye” as a satire of America’s lust for bloodshed, but it repeated Stone’s main point so often and so loudly that it became unbearable.  Other critics also found the film unsuccessful in its aims.  Instead of letting the viewers make up their own minds about the characters and their actions, the director imposes his own morality with heavy-handed satire.  So the result just doesn’t click, and overall I think it’s a flop.  Notorious for its violent content and inspiring “copycat” crimes, the film is controversial.  The frank truth is, this is a cult classic, and you’re going to either love it forever, or turn it off in the first 15 minutes.  Technically it’s great; the casting’s great, the acting’s great, the camera work is great.  Have fun!  Not for the faint of heart, but not a film to be ignored.  Film critic  Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars out of four and wrote, “Seeing this movie once is not enough.  The first time is for the visceral experience, the second time is for the meaning.”

The Larry Sanders Show

Satire 1992 TV-MA 1 season.  In this hit HBO comedy series, Garry Shandling stars as Larry Sanders, the host of a late-night talk show. Larry brings the laughs for his television audience with help from his sidekick, Hank — but Larry’s private life behind the scenes is funnier.

Broadcast News

Satire 1987 R 132 mins.  Three ambitious workaholics — a handsome but weak-minded anchorman, his driven producer and a neurotic reporter — are set loose in a network TV newsroom, where their professional and personal lives become hopelessly cross-wired.

The King of Comedy

Drama 1983 PG 105 minutes. Director Martin Scorsese hits a satirical bulls-eye in this black comedy that explores the absurd lengths to which nebbish Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) will go to land a spot on the TV talk show of his idol, Jerry Langford (a wonderfully caustic Jerry Lewis). Pupkin believes that one appearance on Langford’s show will be his ticket to stardom, so he kidnaps his idol and sets into motion a chain of events you have to see to believe!  See Full Review

Évocateur:
The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

Documentary 2012 R 90 mins.  Rude, crude and polarizing, Morton Downey Jr. was the profane right-wing prince of talk show hosts during his brief heyday in the late 1980s. This colorful documentary includes archival footage of Downey’s riotous show with revealing interviews.

Quiz Show

Docudrama 1994 PG-13 133 mins.  Robert Redford directs this infamous true story of Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), who rocketed to national fame as a repeat winner on the TV quiz show “Twenty-One.” In the late 1950s, prime-time game shows were a cultural phenomenon. But the American public didn’t realize it was being hoodwinked … until persevering congressional investigator Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow) unmasked the corruption behind the show’s glittering façade.

Good Night, and Good Luck

Docudrama 2005 PG 93 mins.  George Clooney’s Oscar-nominated docudrama pits veteran television newsman Edward R. Murrow against a determined Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his single-minded crusade to quell the threat of communism in America.

Real Life

Mockumentary 1979 PG 99 mins.  In his directorial debut, actor and funnyman Albert Brooks plays himself, a comedian who sets out to film a documentary about the typical American family — in this case, a family of four headed by Arizona veterinarian Warren Yeager and his wife.  Albert Brooks stars, directs and writes his debut film where he plays himself as filmmaker. His character chooses a normal American family in Phoenix, and documents their natural day-to-day living experience for a movie — reality entertainment before its time. Charles Grodin and Frances McCain are the supporting players in this film along with their two children, and they are constantly invaded by Brooks and his film crew interrupting their privacy. The film was revolutionary for its time, since nowadays the reality genre has become everyday popular entertainment with the rise of TV reality shows and mockumentary films.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

Comedy 1970-1976 TV-PG 7 seasons.  Laughs abound in this Emmy-winning TV classic, with Mary Tyler Moore heading an outstanding cast as spunky Mary Richards, the associate producer of the nightly news at ratings-challenged WJM in Minneapolis. Despite a lack of viewers, the broadcast crew soldiers on as producer Lou Grant (Edward Asner) calls the shots, Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod) writes the copy and clueless Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) mans the anchor desk.

A Face in the Crowd

Drama 1957 NR 125 minutes. Andy Griffith plays Lonesome Rhodes: a castaway maverick and cowboy who, reluctantly, becomes a radio sensation. A masterpiece about the hypocrisy behind many of the popular and beautiful people who have either graced the media or the political scene and have let power go to their heads. Elia Kazan’s masterpiece proves that celebrity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When talent scout Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) spots drifter Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) and makes him a superstar, he gets a taste of the good life. But his hunger for kleig lights, fed by run-ins with famous people such as Burl Ives and Bennett Cerf (who play themselves), turns desperate, and he loses sight of who he is and what he’s truly about.

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