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.”