In Jake Kasdan’s new comedy The TV Set, Sigourney Weaver plays a television executive whose suggestions drive a new show’s creator, played by David Duchovny, completely batty. Instead of broadly pitched generalizations, though, the movie smartly captures the sort of sunny-faced over-pasteurization of ideas that seems to so often result in a drab sameness that infects so much TV product.
At roundtable interviews for the film recently, I asked Weaver if that sort of tyrannically unchecked pursuit of accord on display in The TV Set was in her opinion more particular to television, or also possible in the world of film. There are many fingers in pies in any industry, after all, and not all of the owners of said fingers fail upwards. They’re smart people (well, some of them), and they have good intentions, but ideas all manner of hair-brained, backwards, down-market and pandering seem to find their way to the screen with unerring frequency. Is there just not as much importance placed on the debate of ideas and the defense of artistic rationale in TV?
“Well, I do think there’s more direction by committee in television than there is in most of the films that I’ve been a part of because the directors are smart enough to get away, and shoot out of town,” Weaver says. “But one of the things I felt was very important with Lenny — and one of the reasons I based her on this woman I know who runs this nonprofit — was that I didn’t want you to dismiss her too easily. I wanted her to be smart enough and real enough so you kind of had to take her seriously, because I do think that she has a point-of-view that is successful in this world, and she can get results. And so I think that one of the reasons that Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan are now making movies is because television didn’t appreciate them enough. I mean, Freaks and Geeks is one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.”
Weaver is in a position to know, too. Perhaps unknown to many, her father was president of NBC in the 1950s. “He created The Today Show and The Tonight Show, he helped create the talk show, he created Your Show of Shows,” says Weaver. “He put opera and ballet and drama on television. And he had this thing called “Operation Frontal Lobes,” which was that every show, even if it was funny or silly, had to sneak some culture in. You know, even in Show of Shows, Sid Cesar had to sing an aria from Puccini or something like that. He had to trick people into seeing things that were good for them [because] he felt that television could make the man on the street the uncommon man.”
“And so I was very aware of my father while I was playing Lenny,” continues Weaver with a laugh, “because I had the advantage of having grown up with my father, and Lenny did not. Lenny thinks that what she’s doing is good, because she feels that after a long day and a long drive home on the freeway you shouldn’t make people think — that that’s too taxing, that what people want is to be comfortable and laugh and just be stimulated a bit. So she has a different philosophy. But I did think about my father quite a bit [during filming], and I think he would love The TV Set because it shows what he was up against. But in the end, the “Lennys” won. You know, he tried to start a fourth network twice and those families who ran the networks would not let him. He shook things up too much.”
It’s great news for cinephiles as, fresh off successful runs in Los Angeles and New York City, a dazzling 35mm restoration of Charles Burnett’s fantastic Killer of Sheep will enjoy its first-ever proper theatrical distribution this spring and summer, from Milestone Films. One of the more acclaimed and influential movies by an African-American filmmaker, Killer of Sheep
was one of the first 50 films to be selected for the Library of
National Film Registry.
in Watts in the mid-1970s, the movie centers on a sensitive,
blue-collar dreamer (Henry Gayle Sanders) haunted by his work at a
slaughterhouse, and his struggles to keep his family together, and keep
from becoming detached and numb. Killer of Sheep was the award-winning student thesis project of Burnett (The Glass Shield), but due mostly to music licensing
problems and other rights issues, the
film has been screened publically very rarely, and then typically
only in film school settings and occasional retrospective presentations. For more information and a continually updated list of play dates and venues, click here.
MTV.com has up a piece with director Frank Darabont in which he discusses his upcoming movie The Mist — part of his ever-expanding personal canon of Stephen King adaptations — as well as his long-in-the-works Fahrenheit 451, which an industry friend told me has some casting news in the chamber, ready to be announced in the next couple weeks.
The most interesting tidbit, though, may be Darabont’s pointed evaluation of the time he spent crafting a screenplay for Indiana Jones IV, a period he calls “a tremendous disappointment and a waste of a year.”
Darabont says the experience only confirmed his feeling that he couldn’t be “chained to a computer anymore, not for the paycheck,” noting that Steven Spielberg loved the finished product and wanted to make it his next movie, only to have Lucas — whom Darabont calls one of the most stubborn men he knows — put the kibosh on it. Still, Darabont won’t reveal exactly what it was that Lucas objected to, or how his story might be different than the greenlit product, penned by David Koepp. “At this point, I don’t give much of a damn what George thinks,” says Darabont, “but I wouldn’t want to harm my friendship with Steven.” For the full piece, click here.
Props to Darabont for shooting so straight. Though puzzling, it’s hard to believe — despite the seeming 40 or so writers who have taken a crack at its script over the past half dozen years — that Lucas would completely shitcan a story that presumably he signed off on, especially if Spielberg loved the script. One would have to think that some trace elements of Darabont’s story might remain. Otherwise, is Spielberg suddenly that hard up for a franchise revisitation, sitting around, waiting to entertain whimsical new Indiana Jones yarns on the off chance that one might catch Lucas’ fleeting fancy?
Though he’s a writer I’ve long admired (hey, I even dig The Paper, what can I say?), we won’t know the success of Koepp’s script for a year or so (or until it leaks out all over the Internet). One thing is for certain, though: as evidenced by the Star Wars prequels, maybe Lucas’ story sense shouldn’t be the principal controlling force in the franchise reboot.