Broadcast News

  • Title:  Broadcast News
  • Director:  James L. Brooks
  • Date:  1987
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox
  • Genre:  Romantic Comedy
  • Cast:  William Hurt, Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks,  Joan Cusack, Christian Clemenson, Jack Nicholson
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Did you go to college? (pause)  So, you’re not well-educated, you have almost no experience and you can’t write.”  — Jane
“Yeah, and I’m making a fortune.” — Tom

“So, don’t get me wrong when I tell you that Tom, while being a very nice guy, is the devil.”  — Aaron
“This isn’t friendship!  You’re crazy, you know that?” — Jane
“What do you thing the devil’s going to look like if he’s around?” –Aaron
“God!” — Jane
“Come on!  No one’s going to be taken in by a guy with a long red pointy tail. …  No – I’m semi-serious here!  He’ll be attractive, he’ll be nice and helpful!  He’ll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation!  He’ll never do an evil thing!  He’ll never delibrately hurt a living thing!  He’ll just bit by little bit, lower our standards where they’re important.  Just a tiny little bit — just coax along flash over substance!” — Aaron

“This is one story they’re not going to cover, ‘course if the network doesn’t cover it – it must not be important, so why worry about it, right?” — Aaron

Broadcast News is a very funny, yet bittersweet romantic comedy.  In some ways it does follow the typical romantic comedy conventions — girl is torn between two guys.  Or, rather, girl is friends with one guy who’d be great for her romantically — but she’s swept off  her feet, so to speak, by the handsome new guy she’s just met.  A guy who flatters her at every turn.

But, besides the comic elements what makes this film work is how it introduces us to three people we end up emphasizing with – even when they are angry at each other, and making a few important points about the status of journalism in the US – without soapboxing or turning the film into an overly depressing drama.

The main characters are:  Jane (Holly Hunter) — a woman so driven and tightly wound that she tells taxi drivers what route to take, and starts every day (or deals with stressful situations) by unplugging her phone and crying for a few minutes.  Jane is very, very good at her job as a Washington news producer.  And Jane’s best friend is Aaron.

Aaron (Albert Brooks) is a professional reporter.  He knows his stuff, he knows how to write and how to produce / manage shooting news.  He’s friends with Jane but also loves her and would like to be more than friends with her.  He’s also supported Jane’s fight against “entertainment as news”.

Tom (William Hurt) is the new kid on the block – even he knows he was hired for his looks and that he’s not all that bright.  Jane argues with him that he can do something about that – he can study-up, and watch and learn from the other more experienced reporters.  Tom sees Jane and immediately falls for her – but at times, he almost seems to be acting like he sees her as a good career move, because he also has a one night stand with another female reporter at the Washington news bureau.

More serious plotlines include exposing entertainment news as NOT news; cuts to staff, especially actual reporters with experience, and faking the news.  Relatively early in the film, Jane and Aaron are in South America with a group of Contras who are fighting the Sandanistas.  A cameraman says something to one of the soldiers about his boots.  Jane strides in and screams that they are not in the business of making news, then explains to the soldier he can do whatever he wants.  The soldier puts on his boots.  Later – she’s happy to have a shot of that because it makes a fine point in the story.

However, Tom’s first story on his own — a well-done piece about date rape, includes a cutaway shot to Tom, the reporter, tearing up.  At the very end of the film, Jane pulls the rough tape and sees Tom faking (or acting) his reaction – which was used in the finished news story.  She’s livid – he doesn’t see what’s wrong with it.  In the end, instead of going for a week’s vacation someplace warm, sunny, and with plenty of sand, together — Tom goes alone, because Jane’s realized she can’t be with someone so contrary to her own ethics.

Meanwhile, Aaron has also decided to leave — with the huge amount of cuts in the Washington bureau, and thinking Jane will be with Tom, or at the very least, never be in love with him.  He takes a job in Portland.

Jane is left alone — not ending up with either of the two men in her life.

The film has two bookends — the opening shows all three characters as children.  The end, taking place seven years later, shows Tom getting the network news anchor spot but refusing to be the managing producer controlling content — instead, he asks Jane to do that, and she accepts.  Aaron is still in Portland, married, with one child.  Tom’s engaged.  And Jane’s still single, but “seeing a guy”.  These bookends are a classy way of introducing the characters and opening and closing the film.

Besides the entire film’s critique of entertainment-as-news, and flash over substance; the film also introduces a very important concept:  budget cuts at national news networks.  At the end of the film, nearly thirty people lose their jobs at the Washington Bureau.  These are characters we’ve come to know and care about like our leads.  But Jane’s promoted — first female Washington Bureau chief;  Tom’s also promoted – sent to London to be groomed for the network anchor position, and in disgust – Aaron quits and heads to Portland.  As the business manager is making the cuts, and the current anchor (played by Jack Nicholoson no less) shows up to show his support for people who have just lost their jobs, the anchor makes the comment about how awful it is that they had to cut so much from the news budget, “all because they couldn’t program Wednesday nights”, and says he wish he could do more.  The business manager says in an undertone, “Or they could have cut a million or two from your salary”, then passes it off as a bad joke, a nervous joke.  The audience knows better.

I highly recommend seeing this film, it’s enjoyable, the character’s are great, and surprisingly enough for a romantic comedy – it actually has something to say.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Broadway Melody of 1940