Stephen Arnell

10 iconic films about news rooms

10 iconic films about news rooms
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This month sees the debut of GB News, the new free-to-air 24 hour news channel, a competitor to the big fish BBC and Sky.

The most recent broadcaster to enter the arena was ITV in 2000, whose underfunded ITV News Channel lasted five short years, shutting up shop on 23rd December 2005, when Alistair Stewart (who will be presenting a weekday show on GB News) provided a final adieu to viewers. We'll see if GB news can fare better.

The mystique of the TV newsroom has long been a staple in both television and film, with the accuracy of many depictions often criticised by insiders.Cinema has embraced the world of video-blogging and Vice-style journalism in recent movies Long Shot (2019) and Tom Hardy’s Venom (2018). But turning to movies set in more traditional broadcast media, here’s my selection of ten motion pictures which may whet your appetite for the launch of GB News:

Bombshell (2019) – STARZ PLAY, Amazon Rent/Buy

The events surrounding the downfall of the late Fox News CEO/Chairman Roger Ailes were dramatized in Bombshell, another one of director Jay Roach’s politically themed movies, which also include Recount (2008), Game Change and Trumbo (2015). As expected, the picture takes a centre-left view of events, but much of the evidence of the abusive behaviour of Ailes and his cohorts to female employees at the channel hid in plain sight.

Roach assembled a strong cast that includes Charlize Theron (Megyn Kelly) Nicole Kidman (Gretchen Carlson), Margot Robbie (Kayla Pospisil) and Malcolm McDowell as Rupert Murdoch. John Lithgow is Ailes, who like Russell Crowe in the same years Showtime mini-series The Loudest Voice dons a Jabba the Hutt style fat suit with accompanying Droopy-esque jowls to play the corpulent Fox boss.

Nightcrawler (2014) – Netflix, Amazon Rent/Buy

The seedy side of local news in the US is luridly displayed in Nightcrawler, where thieving sociopath Lou Bloom (a very creepy Jake Gyllenhaal) becomes a successful stringer selling stomach-churning footage of accidents, robberies and violent crimes to ratings driven channel director Nina (Rene Russo). 

Those expecting a final comeuppance for Gyllenhaal’s loathsome character will find Nightcrawler a depressing experience.

Morning Glory (2010) – Netflix, Amazon Rent/Buy

On a much lighter note, this amiable workplace comedy is something of a throwback to Doris Day’s movies in the early to mid-1960s, where a plucky female professional contends with the entrenched attitudes of male colleagues.

Roger Michell (Notting Hill) directs this heart-warming tale of atypically sympathetic TV producer Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) who turns around an ailing network morning show and earns the respect of curmudgeonly co-presenter, the veteran journalist Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), pressganged into hosting to fulfil the terms of his contract.

A kind of soft dry run for Apple+’s The Morning Show, the picture benefits from Ford’s performance as misery-guts Pomeroy, who eventually shows his less grouchy side and actually cooks a frittata live on air, a change from his usual preferred areas of terrorism and political corruption.

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) – Amazon Rent/Buy

Will Farrell’s beloved spoof of 1970s regional news in the US birthed innumerable memes and has retained its ability to amuse, something you couldn’t say about 2013’s inferior sequel (The Legend Continues), which I have seen at least twice, but fail to remember in any substantial detail.

The key to the movie is the chemistry between Farrell’s Scotch savouring Burgundy and co-anchor/rival/love interest Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate).  Stick around for the outtakes between the pair as the credits roll.

One can only hope that one of GB News presenters will display Ron’s proficiency with the jazz flute (Simon McCoy perhaps?) although Ofcom will doubtless be on the line if any of the crew change the teleprompter in an Anchorman-style gag.

Live From Baghdad (2002) – full movie available free on YouTube

The events building up to and during the first Gulf War (1991) are brought vividly to life in Mick Jackson’s (The Bodyguard) HBO movie, which hails CNN’s ground-breaking coverage of events.

Michael Keaton stars as Robert Wiener, the CNN producer refused to leave Iraq when other broadcasters pulled out, who together with colleague Ingrid Formanek (Helana Bonham Carter) and channel correspondents Bernard Shaw (Robert Wisdom), Peter Arnett (Bruce McGill) and John Holliman (John Carroll Lynch) covered the conflict from Baghdad as it unfolded, with rival networks having to report from CNN’s live feed.

The Insider (1999) – full movie available free on YouTube or Amazon Rent/Buy

Michael Mann’s engrossing film is based on the 1996 Vanity Fair article "The Man Who Knew Too Much”, which examined the fallout from CBS’s 60 Minutes interview with tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe).

Crowe and Al Pacino (as 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman) are very good, but the standout for me is the late Christopher Plummer, as esteemed journalist Mike Wallace, who finds that his compromises with corporate executives end up diminishing his career and (it is implied) his self-respect.

In addition to Plummer, The Insider boasts a rogue’s gallery of scene-stealing older thespians, including Michael Gambon, Rip Torn and Phillip Baker Hall.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) – Amazon Rent/Buy

Another unloved entry in Pierce Brosnan’s run as 007, which along with Daniel Craig’s Quantum of Solace (2008) is rather better than critics thought at the time. Jonathan Pryce is fun as Murdoch-style media mogul Elliot Carver, who delivers writers Purvis & Wade’s mediocre dialogue with enough panache to help you forget how lousy it is.

Carver’s evil plot revolves around his ratings boosting effort to engineer a war between the UK and China. Can Bond stop the miscreant? I think you already know the answer to that.

In an odd foreshadowing of Michael Steele’s infamous Trump dossier, the Mao-suit sporting mastermind issues the following order to an underling: 'Mr. Wallace, call the President. Tell him if he doesn't sign the bill lowering the cable rates, we will release the video of him with the cheerleader in the Chicago motel room.'

At least in TND we are spared Madonna, CGI tidal wave surfing, and an invisible car (Die Another Day, 2002) as well as Denise Richard’s Dr Christmas Jones ('I thought Christmas only comes once a year') and Robert Carlyle’s blundering accident-prone ex-KGB assassin ‘Renard’ from the preceding The World Is Not Enough (1999).

In the same year as Tomorrow Never Dies HBO broadcast the TV movie Weapons of Mass Distraction, which starred Ben Kingsley and Gabriel Byrne as warring media billionaires.

Up Close & Personal (1996) – Disney+, Amazon Rental only

Robert Redford may have been looking for a May-December style spin on The Way We Were (1973), with the then gracefully ageing star playing a Miami TV news director Warren Justice and Michelle Pfeiffer as his protégée Tally Atwater in Up Close & Personal.

Very loosely based on the unhappy life of NBC new presenter/correspondent Jessica Savitch, the movie paints a heavily sanitised picture of her life in the guise of Pfeiffer’s Atwater. Co-writer John Gregory Dunne (with wife Joan Didion) was so exasperated by the constant changes to the script that he asked now disgraced producer Scott Rudin what Up Close & Personal was supposed to be about. 'Two movie stars', replied Rudin.

The picture made $100.7m on a $60m budget, so I assume Rudin at least was happy.

Hero (1992) – Amazon Rent/Buy

Also known as Accidental Hero, this Stephen Frears satirical comedy-drama features Dustin Hoffman as low-life crook Bernie LaPlante who performs a rare selfless act in rescuing survivors (including TV reporter ‘Gale Gayley’ - Geena Davis) from an air crash.

Outstanding arrest warrants prevent LaPlante from claiming the $1m reward offered by the Davis TV channel, which prompts telegenic imposter John Bubber (Andy Garcia) to collect the reward - and the attendant media lionisation.

An understandably nonplussed Hoffman determines to get what’s rightfully his.

Broadcast News (1987) – Disney+, Amazon Rent/Buy

Lastly, James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment/The Simpsons) romantic comedy-drama Broadcast News, which is a perennial fixture of any movie list about the TV news media.

The film boasts several classic moments: William Hurt as a smooth but not especially intelligent newsreader, Jack Nicholson’s cameo and Albert Brooks on-camera flop sweat and patented snark. 

If you are looking for older cinematic fare dealing with TV journalism, I’d recommend that you check out (or revisit) the likes of The Parallax View (1974), Network (1976) and Newsfront (1978).