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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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