‘Broadcast News’ pulls back the curtains very enjoyably

Holly Hunter in “Broadcast News”

t may not have the edge of other movies about the television business, but “Broadcast News” still has plenty to like.

Now streaming on Hulu, writer-director James L. Brooks’ 1987 comedy-drama comes from a world he already knew, having co-created the TV newsroom of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” However, he fortified his effort by enlisting someone even more expert on the subject to be an adviser: Susan Zirinsky, a veteran CBS News producer who’s now the chief of that entire division.

She’s also the inspiration for one of the story’s chief characters … Jane Craig, a driven (to put it very mildly) producer in a network bureau in Washington, D.C. Originally intended for Brooks’ “Terms of Endearment” colleague Debra Winger, the role made Holly Hunter a star, and she had two brilliant leading men to play off.

William Hurt is cast as charismatic Tom Grunick, a newly hired reporter whose admission of not fully understanding the job repulses Jane, though she also can’t deny her attraction to him. Albert Brooks plays Aaron Altman, a correspondent who’s perfectly capable — and enamored of his friend Jane — though he lacks star quality. (That’s confirmed by one of the movie’s showcase scenes, Aaron’s substitute newscast-anchoring that gives enhanced meaning to the word “sweat.”)

The romantic triangle plays out against realities of the news business, some of which continue to be experienced in the current environment with budget reallocations and staff cutbacks. Jack Nicholson turns up as the network’s chef anchor, whose paycheck is big enough to cover several other salaries … as pointed out by an executive (actual TV-news veteran Peter Hackes) who quickly regrets having made the comment.

Other notable roles go to Joan Cusack as a production assistant (her mad dash to get a tape to the control room in time is another of the picture’s high points), Robert Prosky as a grandfatherly newsroom superior, and Lois Chiles as a glamorous reporter who becomes Jane’s romantic rival for Tom.

Though such movies as “Network” have sharper teeth on the topic, “Broadcast News” eventually addresses how much show business there is in television news, as something that Tom does gives ammunition to Aaron, who declares him “the devil” in trying to steer Jane away from him. There’s truth in Tom’s rejoinder to Jane when she confronts him, and it holds true almost 35 years later.

Still, entertainment is the main thing on the mind of “Broadcast News,” and sharp, smart filmmaking and a wonderful cast enable it to fulfill that aim.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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