Over time, it has become difficult to distinguish between television shows and movies. With the advancement of production values for television shows, each episode looks a lot like a mini-movie. Even movies have become more “serialized,” with character arcs and other minutia crossing over between separate films (I’m looking at you, Marvel Cinematic Universe). So if it is not for entertainment content, what does television provide us? Clearly, the first thing television offers us is convenience. We can watch television on our own time in our own homes. However, there is another benefit of television: the most up-to-date content; or, at least that is what it used to provide. With the internet offering non-stop, live content, television is no longer the “go to” for this material. This week’s two films highlight the challenges, struggles, and behind-the-scenes of television.
Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours
There once was a time when television was not on 24/7. It provided content for the day, and the network would go off the air for the wee-hours of the morning. Being a network during this era of television was simpler because the amount of created content needed on a daily or weekly basis was small. Starting a new network certainly had its challenges, as was seen in UHF (1989). On top of creating interesting content, maintaining viewers and keeping them engaged has always been the challenge of television networks. What may be in vogue one week may drop off entirely if the content does not engage audiences. Fads come and go quickly. From trivia shows to reality television, knowing what is popular at the time can make or break a network. Behind this content, there are people. People who make decisions about what the viewer gets to watch.
Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) is always on the lookout for the next big show in television. After sealing the deal for The Mao Tse-Tung Hour to appear in the fall season, she turns her attention to the new hot personality: Howard Beale (Peter Finch). Initially, Beale was a news anchor whose falling ratings led to an angry tirade on the news, consequently skyrocketing his ratings through the roof. Diana convinces her boss to make the news show into something more “entertaining” and receives rave reviews when it transitions over. Because of the success of the show, Christensen finds herself in a new romance with her boss. Unfortunately, for her boss, Diana’s one true love is her job, which has its benefits and detractors. When Beale gets a little too excited about network politics, Diana finds the perfect solution in hiring terrorists to assassinate him and to kick off the next season of The Mao Tse-Tung Hour.
Length: 117 minutes / 1.95 hours
At its most basic level, television is entertainment. Even the news needs to keep its viewers entertained so they will keep coming back for more. Local news has a bit of an edge in its market because the only competition is with other local news stations. People living in a community will always have an innate desire to know what is going on around them, so the local news with the latest scoop will likely earn their viewership. Sometimes, human-interest stories can bring in the viewers, but we all know that the violence of our everyday world is truly what entices people to tune in. These stories might give us anxiety if they happen near where we live, or they could comfort us to know that justice still reigns in our region. In the end, these stories often need video footage to aid in the television program’s presentation of the news.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is eking out a living selling stolen materials from construction sites. One night, in his escape, he runs across a car accident where he learns that freelance video journalists film these events and sell the footage to local news stations. After a few failed attempts, Lou finally manages to get an exclusive and sells it to KWLA 6. It turns out, the station is looking for footage of violent incidents in the poor parts of Los Angeles to make the wealthy neighborhoods feel safer. As Lou continues to provide content, he manages to blackmail the morning news director into a relationship. Since his business is starting to take off, he also hires an intern, Rick (Riz Ahmed), who helps navigate him to police scenes. Unfortunately, Lou gets a little too ambitious and ends up in a high-speed chase to get footage of dangerous criminals. Can Lou and Rick get out of their predicament alive?
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 terrible slaves to television