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Televisionary Movie Recommendations

And now for something completely different.

I'm constantly asked by readers about what my job is like and what it's like to work within the medium that I love so much. Usually, rather than give them specifics or recount anecdotes interesting only to me, I push them to check out two films which more than anything else completely capture the highs and lows, the ecstasy and frustration that working in television can bring.

One is Jake Kasden's heartbreaking and hilarious indie film, The TV Set (starring David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, Ioan Gruffudd, and Judy Greer, among a host of others), which should be required viewing for anyone interested in a career in television, whether it be as a development executive, a writer, a producer... or hell, a key grip. Alternately touching and terrifying, it's a brilliant through-the-keyhole look at pilot season, seen through the eyes of writer Mike Klein (Duchovny), whose pilot is picked up by the Panda network and goes through the usual rigors of casting, shooting, and testing. Will it end up on the fall schedule during Upfronts, even as it drives Mike to the brink of insanity and physical pain?

The other is perhaps an odder selection but no less relevant: it's the middle section of John August's mind-blowing metafictional and metaphysical film The Nines (starring Ryan Reynolds, Melissa McCarthy, and Hope Davis) entitled "Reality Television." Purportedly about a successful Hollywood writer named Gavin who is the subject of a Project Greenlight-style reality television show documenting his pilot being cast, shot, and tested (sensing a theme here?), it's a biting indictment of the television-making process as a whole, as well as a semi-autobiographical recount of August's own experiences working on his short-lived Dick Wolf series D.C. (which August himself admits caused him to have a sort of break from reality, if he'd actually had time to have a mental breakdown).

In order to get his series, Knowing, on the air, Gavin has to compromise every single one of his values and betray his closest friend, Melissa McCarthy (here playing a variation on herself) in pursuit of that ever-elusive greenlight. Embodying the messed-up system itself is Hope Davis as network executive Susan, a hard as nails, semantics-obsessed suit who seems hell-bent on driving Gavin mad with her notes and suggestions. While it's a brutal look at the industry (complete with a shocking showdown between Gavin and Susan during Upfronts), The Nines is also just a fantastic film that plays with the rules of fictional narrative and storytelling in unexpected ways.

I am curious though: what are your favorite TV-related films? And which are you running to add to your Netflix queue?


The CineManiac said…
I loved The Nines, it was very, very strange, but the first one that pooped into my mind (along with The TV Set, which I"m dying to see) when i read the beginning of this post.
Also, even though it's not TV I thought of The Player
Anonymous said…
Yay! Two other people who have seen The Nines! For a movie that's so fantastical, the "Reality Television" section is frighteningly, well, real.

I agree with you that these two movies be required viewing for anyone who wants to go into television so they know what they're up against!
Anonymous said…
I have to say, as a self-proclaimed TV Addict I was slightly disappointed with THE TV SET but will definitely check out THE NINES on your recommendation.
Jo said…
I was pleasantly surprised by The Nines but did not enjoy The TV Set as much.

And although it was a cable television series, my first thought was "The Comeback." Watching a washed up sitcom star going through the motions as she tried to revive her career was painful and hilarious, and Lisa Kudrow just nailed it.
ProgGrrl said…
I just happened to watch THE TV SET about a week ago and really liked it (and was slightly depressed by it, of course). What a cast!

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