With the workplace comedy Extract opening today, I somehow feel like bringing up this movie I saw quite a while ago. It’s got one of the most fitting and clever tagline: “A place where dreams are canceled.” The TV Set, as it’s aptly named, is a satire about the journey of a TV pilot as it goes through the grueling network process of casting and production before it finally airs. Coincidentally, it stars Jason Bateman’s sister, Justine, as David Duchovny’s wife.
As we’re gearing up for the Fall season with a bunch of new shows coming up, we’re hardly aware of all the drama that goes on behind the scenes—the cast reshuffling, pilot re-shooting, etc. So it’s fascinating to get a glimpse of that and the whole ordeal the creators have to jump through to get a show into our living room. It’s inevitable some of the new shows we’re seeing the ads for right now might not make it past Thanksgiving, and this movie kind of makes you think about TV in whole new way.
Duchovny, with his dry humor, is perfectly cast as Mike, an idealistic TV writer who’s working on his show that’s based on the aftermath of his brother’s suicide. His boss is the ruthless, tough-as-nails network honcho Lenny—played superbly by Sigourney Weaver—who insists on ‘cheering up’ the plot a bit as she deems that suicide is too depressing. She constantly pushes Mike’s buttons as the show is all about the bottom-line for her, not an instrument of creativity. British actor Ioan Gruffud plays a former BBC producer consulted to add some sophistication and class. He is pretty much caught in the middle as he strives to bring balance between the two opposing characters.
I don’t know how accurate the depiction of the situations and characters are, but they seemed pretty realistic to me and I could imagine them happening in real life. The dialogue between Lenny and Mike are ironically hilarious, they make you cringe and laugh at the same time. Anyone who’s a TV watcher would sympathize with Mike as we all want something original and different, alas, the writer is hardly the same person who holds the purse strings. It kind of make me wonder when I watch a particular show whether it’s the original vision of the writer(s) or the 12th rewrite or whatever, y’know. Is a particular actor the first choice or a replacement as a result of a pilot overhaul? Take CBS’s Three Rivers for example. British actress Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall, Sabrina) was replaced by Alfred Woodard when her character didn’t test well. Similarly, none of the eye network’s Moonlight show original pilot cast survived, with the exception of lead actor Alex O’Loughlin. In The TV Set, there’s a scene in about the audition process and how a lesser actor gets chosen over a talented one because the studio thinks he’d appeal to a broader audience and the writer/director just have to deal with it and make it work.
It’s an amusing movie with clever and funny dialogue from start to finish. The performances are solid overall, including Judy Greer who plays Mike’s manager. Her character here actually has more to chew on than her usual ‘sidekick’ role. I’m partial to Duchovny as he’s a talented and versatile actor but Sigourney is the scene stealer here with her deadpan humor as the ‘villain’ of the movie.
A couple of trivia for you courtesy of IMDB: Just like her role as television network president, Weaver’s father, Sylvester (“Pat”) Weaver, was for many years president of NBC. The writer and director of The TV Set Jake Kasdan, was a producer and writer on Freaks and Geeks, which aired on NBC (albeit many years after Pat Weaver’s retirement).
The Apple site has the trailer, but here’s a behind-the-scene clip with interviews with some of the cast: