DID YOU READ

The unsung TV journalist.

The unsung TV journalist. (photo)

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In anticipation of an upcoming series of films about the newspaper biz at New York’s Film Forum, Stephen Whitty at the Star Ledger takes a look at the history of the genre — and yes, the newsroom is one of the few movie workplaces that could seriously qualify as a “genre.” It has its own stock characters (feisty reporter, cranky-but-secretly-idealistic editor, cub scout-age messenger-boys and indelibly sassy women). As Whitty points out, the newspaper picture more or less took the ’60s off and returned a shadow of its former self — when a movie like “Marley and Me” is where your contemporary cinematic journalist resides, you’re in trouble.

But where does that leave the TV journalist? Nowhere in particular, it seems. Hollywood’s relationship with its competition has often been contentious — two of the earliest titles IMDb has listed under the keyword “Television” include 1933’s “The Whispering Shadow” (man commits crimes with mind-controlling TV rays) and 1935’s self-explanatory “Murder by Television.” In the midst of all this hostility to the medium, the TV journalist was always bound to be a marginalized figure.

Part of that has to do with the shift (or perceived shift anyway) from newspapermen as mavericks doing their best to dig up the real truth regardless of the consequences — or, at best, to cheerfully dig up lurid yellow journalism to increase their numbers — to the more complicated role of TV news reporter, who answers to multiple interests, many of them increasingly corporate and ready to interfere. Think of Al Pacino in “The Insider,” doing battle with CBS: even when the producer/reporter is willing, the corporation may not be. There’s also the gap between reporter, anchor and producer; there’s no clear protagonist.

04062010_frontpage.jpgCertainly the person who most collapsed that gap was poor Howard Beale in “Network,” whose crazed pursuit of truth made him the ultimate martyr of a cynical system. A more reasonable, non-vapidly self-serving figure might be Jane Fonda in “The China Syndrome,” a local news reporter ticked off at how she’s always doing soft-focus stories about pets (which is what local news is like when they’re not trying to convince you that the supermarket is trying to kill you) who stumbles onto real news more or less inadvertently.

More common is someone like Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up,” who — for reasons she never articulates and that remain unclear — can imagine nothing better to do with her life than stupid E! celebrity journalism; she’s a logical descendant from Robert Forster in “Medium Cool,” who’s fired from his job once he actually starts caring. The bridge-point might be someone well-meaning but cheerfully intellectually inept like William Hurt in “Broadcast News,” who actively pursues whatever’s wanted of him rather than any inherent interests he has. Whoever the reporter is, their interests are almost never their own; whether or not they embrace that is up to them.

There are, of course, heroic exceptions — “Frost/Nixon” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” come to mind — but they are exceptions. Maybe that’s because there’s nothing to celebrate in the TV newsroom: the print newsroom is all snap and energy, while the TV one is some guy in shorts sitting behind a desk getting make-up put on him. It’s harder to make that heroic, and that’s what it’s all about ultimately: news journalists are heroes screenwriters could relate to, teasing out the story the writers want to see. TV journalists are just there to package it up: they’re the directorial nemesis, taking the edge off.

Here’s Tony Randall mocking TV. If you haven’t seen this movie before, it’s the best thing you’ll see today:

[Photos: “The China Syndrome,” Columbia, 1979; “The Front Page,” United Artists, 1931.]

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.