Dir: Jake Kasdan. US. 2006. 87mins.
One of the early highlights of the Tribeca Film Festival, Jake Kasdan'sThe TV Set is a short, sharpinsider's view of US network television. Boasting a fine cast led by David Duchovny and Sigourney Weaver, the latter giving a tastyturn as the atrociously manipulative network president, the film is a pithilyalarming satire on the sanitisation of US popular culture and the tendencytowards blandness in the creative process.
Ironically, the film's very"insider" nature will limit its popular appeal in theatres. It feels like itscharacters and situations would sit more happily on adventurous US cablenetworks like HBO or Showtime, where behind-the-scenes shows such as Entourage, The Comeback and Fat Actresshave found their homes. Even with the cast and quality of writing anddirection, The TV Set will find itsnatural domestic home on TV.
International buyers will besceptical about audience interest in the Hollywood-centric, US TV-specificnature of the film, although festival audiences and critics will embrace itslampooning of the inane television shows which dominate the world's airwaves.
While comparisons with PaddyChayefsky's Networkwill be inevitable, they are unfair. Kasdan is lessambitious in his satire and focuses with tightness and brevity on theproduction process and the role of the artist in television packaging andscheduling. Network addressed farwider issues in US society.
Kasdan, whose previous film credits Orange County and Zero Effectboth have a certain following, spent some years in the network TV arena hecovers here, on subversive shows like GrossePoint and Freaks AndGeeks.
In The TV Set, he follows the story of a writer called Mike Klein (Duchovny) who has sold his script of a half-hour pilotcalled The Wexler Chronicles to afictional network called PDN (aka The Panda). Thescript is a personal story inspired by his struggle to understand his brother'ssuicide.
The film starts as Klein andhis double-dealing manager Alice (Greer) arrive at PDN to cast the two leadactors in the show. There they meet Lenny (Weaver), and her second-in-commandRichard (Gruffudd) who has recently moved to PDN fromthe BBC in London.
Trouble begins immediatelywhen Lenny, Richard and all the network executives favour a good-lookinggentile hack called Zach Harper (Kranz) over hischoice for the lead role, a more serious, shorter Jewish actor.
Lenny, who makes most of herdecisions based on the instincts of her 14 year-old daughter, is concernedprincipally with hitting the broadest demographic she can and immediately seesa problem with the suicide but she lets him go ahead with shooting the pilot.
The shooting itself is besetwith problems from the fact that Zach has fallen for his leading lady (Sloane)and is behaving erratically to the arrival of Lenny and her decision that thebrother's suicide has to be replaced by the mother's death.
As all concerned wait to seeif PDN will pick up The Wexler Chroniclesfor a first season, Kasdan illustrates the personallives of the characters which also have an impact on how the show itself willturn out. Mike's wife (Bateman) is pregnant and anxious for financial security,Mike's back problems land him in hospital, McCallister'swife leaves him, sick of the demands of his job.
The future of the showultimately lies in the hands of a test audience which will decide whether theylike it or not.
Duchovny as the beleagured Kleinand Gruffud as the exasperated McCallisterare both sturdy, but the women - Weaver and Greer - have the spicier roles.Weaver in particular avoids going over the top to give a precise portrait of aHollywood power player whose life is so enmeshed in her work that she cannottell them apart. That her superficially pleasant demeanour concealsunquestionable authority goes without saying.
Wexler Chronicle Productions
Philip Baker Hall