We're moving Forums to the Community pages. Click here for more information and updates.

The 5 Best Movies About Television

Film and television have always had a tenuous relationship. Back in the day, television was supposed to kill off the movies; apparently, the movies have never forgotten that threat. The movie world seems to subscribe to the approach best articulated in Reservoir Dogs: “You shoot me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize.”

Still, the movie business shamelessly stripmines television for ideas, and certainly appreciates TV’s promotional power, too. After all, the point of cranking up the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten for this year's Academy Awards was a way to amp up the excitement for this Sunday's Oscar broadcast... and to generate more advertising bucks, more DVD sales, and maybe even a few more tickets sold at the multiplex. You know those TV viewers—they can’t handle the Coen Brothers, but give them the Rob Lowe and Snow White, and Titanic and Leonardo DiCaprio, and maybe even District 9 for best picture, and they’ll tune in.

It’s all a bit like the Seth Rogen-James Franco user-dealer relationship in Pineapple Express. Yeah, the movies and television can hang out a bit. But they’re not really friends. Until there’s a crisis.

This ambivalence has extended to how the movies portray television, which is usually presented as invariably manipulative, shallow, and concerned more with appearances than with substance. As opposed to such high-art cinema as, say, Valentines Day.

But despite everything, the movies sometimes get TV right. And in this Academy Award season we’re here to honor the best movies about television. While we are proud supporters of grade inflation, we draw the line at the inflation of awards-show contenders.

So with our apologies to Anchorman and Galaxy Quest diehards, here are our five nominees for an award we're calling the Lonesome Larry. The honor is named after "Lonesome" Larry Rhodes, the hobo-turned-megalomaniacal-TV-star that Andy Griffith played in the 1957 film A Face In The Crowd. Let’s just say he was no Andy Taylor.

Broadcast News (1988)
An inside look at the operations of a network news show as it struggles with the growing emphasis placed on entertainment over journalism values. Great performances by William Hurt, Albert Brooks, and Holly Hunter—plus a deadpan cameo by Jack Nicholson.

Network (1976)
These days it sounds almost like a documentary. But in its time, this Sidney Lumet-directed movie was a sharp satire about a soon-to-be fired anchorman named Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who announces that he'll commit suicide on the air. Beale's “mad prophet” shtick leads to massive ratings, but he runs into problems when his rants threaten an impending corporate takeover of the network.

Quiz Show (1994)
Directed by Robert Redford, Quiz Show examined the quiz show scandals that rocked television in the 1950s. Ralph Fiennes plays Charles Van Doren, a WASP from a prominent intellectual family who is fed answers to help him dethrone the reigning champ, Herbert Stempel (John Turturro). Stempel is sweaty and fidgety and decidedly ethnic, and his ongoing success is starting to hurt the show’s ratings. It's a great look at early TV and a time of lost innocence in America.

The Truman Show (1998)
Peter Weir’s film starring Jim Carrey earned plenty of accolades when it was released. But it has gained even more cred in recent years, as the premise of a character owned by a corporation and unknowingly living his entire life as a television show no longer seems so far-fetched. Back then, The Real World and its ilk were novelties, not a dominant prime-time genre.

Tootsie (1982)
With acclaimed films such as The Insider and Good Night and Good Luck, the movies have historically been much more interested in television news than entertainment shows. But in addition to its look at the world of struggling New York actors, Sydney Pollack’s Oscar-winner took us into the world of soap operas. And while it’s hard to single out just one Dustin Hoffman performance, his turn here is possibly his best.


And the Lonesome Larry goes to: NETWORK. Folks, this is the Citizen Kane of the movies-about-television genre. And may I use the term prescient? As I sit here, 34 years after Network's release, does the line, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” sound at all familiar to viewers of cable news networks?

Comments (31)
Submit
Sort: Latest | Popular
The The Truman Show was a fantastic movie! "Good Morning, Good Afternoon, and Good Night"!
Reply
Flag
What about Soup! with Sally Field Kevin Kline and Elizabeth Shue? Hillarious movie, one of the best I've watched.
Reply
Flag
Truman Show!!!!!!
Reply
Flag
No one mentioned the 1957 classic "A Face In The Crowd" starring Andy Griffith about the rise and fall of a small town radio star who makes it big on TV, first locally then nationally, despite being crude and abusive in private, before crashing down when his real personality is revealed on the air.
Reply
Flag
My Favorite Year is one of my all time favorites. And I'd also think Face In The Crowd would fit the bill (though television was only part of it's theme). But I can't argue with anything on the list.
Reply
Flag
NETWORK is in my top ten favourite movies of all time. So glad to see it on this list.
Reply
Flag
Opened this thread expecting to see Network. Saw Network. Leaving happy.
Reply
Flag
Staff
Surprised no one has mentioned The TV Set, which is 100% entirely about television and the process. Jake Kasdan and Judd Apatow made it after Freaks and Geeks was canceled and wanted to put the painful process of making a TV show and how networks mess it up on film. Good stuff.
Reply
Flag
no anchorman?
Reply
Flag
The Truman Show is one of my favorite movies of all time.
Reply
Flag
truman show was amazing it really showd jim carry as a great actor and not just fooling around as he did in ace vantura
Reply
Flag
I can't stop watching The Truman show everytime it's on. I think it is just IMPECCABLE.
Reply
Flag
I can't recommend "My Favorite Year" enough. It's set behind the scenes at a TV variety show during the 1950's. The guest they've booked is a drunk movie star who's terrified by live television. It's a huge amount of fun!
Reply
Flag
Soapdish was also good, UHF, Good Night and Good Luck, and Woman on Top were fun. I like the list. Absolutely love each of these movies.
Reply
Flag
I absolutely LOVE Network. It's a fun movie.
Reply
Flag
Tootsie - a classic! Good choice.
Reply
Flag
oh, and for the guy who said Studio 60, ITS NOT A MOVIE!!!!!!!! READ!!!!
Reply
Flag
Network was the coolest. Still rings today, but the sad part is no one gets "mad as hell"!
That is the basic problem with all of us.
Reply
Flag
I loved the The Truman Show :)
Reply
Flag
isn't the video it linked to for The Truman Show illegal?
Reply
Flag
I absolutely love the Truman Show! I was actually there as a kid when they filmed one of the scenes. Classic quality tv right there.
Reply
Flag
I agree with Tootsie but I haven't seen the other ones.
Reply
Flag
If TV shows about TV are being discussed, then the best all-time was "Max Headroom".
Reply
Flag
For realness (or at least realish industry satire) you've got to include The TV Set with Sigourney Weaver and David Duchovny. And gotta agree with IndianaMom: My Favorite Year is terrific.
Reply
Flag
Network is among my five favorite movies. The other movies aren't terrible. I'd recommend the TV Set. It is of course average in comparison to Network, but still hilarious.
Reply
Flag
I would add My Favorite Year as the comedic counterpoint to Quiz Show. I also agree with docspector that UHF would be a good addition to this list.
Reply
Flag
Galaxy Quest
Reply
Flag
Never heard of any of these shows
Reply
Flag
Truman Show is awesome
Reply
Flag
What about Television shows about television... like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip?
Reply
Flag
Where's "UHF"?
Reply
Flag

Like TV.com on Facebook