I’m not sure about you all, but when a really good TV show is canceled a part of me dies. I know it’s silly, but the fact of the matter is that there is just so little really intelligent programming anyway that when one is sent to the TV boneyard I can’t help be be a little sad. But for every intelligent show that dies you really have to wonder how many were aborted before they made it to the public eye.
Each winter the major television networks commission hundreds of scripts for television pilots
each spring a small fraction of those scripts are produced
of those produced pilots
approximately one quarter are “picked up” and put on the fall schedule
the rest never see the light of day
This is the story of one pilot
So begins The TV Set, a movie about a writer, his idea, and the roundabout journey to bring that idea to fruition on network TV.
Mike Klein (David Duchovny) is a screenwriter with a pilot script that has been picked up for production. The problem? Somewhere in the double-speak from his agent one thing is abundantly clear: the network executives like it, but only as long as they get to poke their greedy little fingers into the cookie dough.
Sigorney Weaver is network president Lenny, a woman so self-centered and unimaginative you have to wonder how she could reach a position with “president” in the title. This is a woman whose entire system for choosing what shows air is whether or not her 14-year-old daughter gives it a thumbs up. The other network executives don’t do any better, relying on what they think their daughters would go for instead of taking a script or produced pilot by its merits.
Only one executive seems to be on Mike’s side: Richard McCallister (Ioan Gruffudd) is a recent transplant from Great Britain and, initially, backs Mike’s fight to keep the entire basis of his show intact. Unfortunately, even he can’t stand against the boardroom’s vapid wasteland of empty suits and ends up losing a lot more than he bargained for.
This movie plays like a tragic comedy. Mike Klein has written a pilot based on a personal misfortune only to watch it twisted into an almost unrecognizable parody of itself by the time it reaches the final stage of the pilot’s production. You really feel for the guy by the end when he sees the perversion of his vision.
For me the thing that struck a chord in this movie is that, while I’m positive the network executive characters are on some level a parody of the real thing, I could totally see people like that running a network. Case in point: The Fox Network. But we won’t go there because the rant would never stop.
David Duchovny seemed almost like a puppydog who’s had his favorite chew toy taken away in this role. He portrays Mike Klein as a man who increasingly realizes he’s been coerced into compromises he swore he’d never make and, by the end, understands his dream is really a nightmare. The only people who really “get” his vision are the people who can do absolutely nothing to ensure that vision stays intact. Ultimately the network executives have the say and if they don’t get their way they subtly imply they’ll pull the plug on the whole project, exactly like a child in a huff taking his ball and going home.
By the end of the movie I realized one thing: This film is the movie version of my Network Executive Theory.
This theory states:
Whereas a network executive is person who has no creative talent but desperately wishes they did, they have managed to work themselves into a position where they can force their own non-creative ideas into the visions of creative people, thereby bypassing a system that wouldn’t let them be the creative person they think they are.
This movie does work as a very subtle comedy, but I wouldn’t suggest it for people who have a hard time sitting still. It’s very clever and almost certainly contains some industry inside jokes – it was written and directed by Jake Kasdan, who once worked on Freaks and Geeks, a TV show that was itself run around by a network and then canceled despite being a critical and cult hit.
Verdict: B. I’ll probably eventually buy this movie for three reasons: 1) David Duchovny is in it (not just because he’s good-looking; I really like him as an actor); 2) it totally validates my Network Executive Theory; and 3) I love subtle humor. It’s enjoyable, but it’s very subtle and a bit on the slow side, which won’t work for some people. I definitely wouldn’t suggest watching this just because David Duchovny and Ioan Gruffudd are in it because, like The Fountain (another good movie with a hunky actor), nothing about this movie accentuates their looks. David Duchovny has a beard and is wearing a fat pad and Ioan Gruffudd is not in this movie nearly enough to supply the eye candy. This movie is all about the story. If you think it’s up your alley go ahead and give it a watch, but it’s not a movie I would suggest for everyone.