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TV Journalists Give 'Broadcast News' Good Ratings

January 08, 1988|KATHRYN BAKER | Associated Press

NEW YORK — They have a few complaints about accuracy, but many real-life "Broadcast News" people are delighted by the movie, especially its portrayal of the passionately dedicated producer who is the unheralded heart of network news.

Writer-director James L. Brooks' romantic triangle set in the Washington news bureau of a major network has become the critics' darling and a box-office smash. Holly Hunter stars as the all-consumed producer who is torn between hard-working reporter Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) and a handsome, budding anchor (William Hurt) who has risen to the top by virtue of his looks.

Jack Nicholson makes an unhyped but brilliant cameo appearance as the self-important New York anchor whose ever-so-slight on-air reaction to a story makes--or crushes--a reporter's day.

Jane Pauley, co-anchor of NBC's "Today" show, is concerned that the movie might give the impression that on-air people are dummies, but she had only praise for Hunter's role as producer Jane Craig.

"I was surprised that a popular movie could be made about that character because it would've been more predictable to do a story about the anchorman or anchorwoman," Pauley said. "So I loved it that it turned that glamorous image of our business on its head and demystified it a little. I think that's important."

"CBS Evening News" executive producer Tom Bettag, said: "In catching the frenzy and compulsiveness that comes with the business, I think we just all sit and say, 'God, they got it just right.' "

"So few things are really done well enough about our business, it was really fascinating to see ourselves up there, and there was something emotionally gripping about being able to identify with the things up on the screen. It really got me in the stomach," said Sally Holm, a senior producer for ABC's "World News Tonight."

Brooks said the Holly Hunter character is a composite of many hard-working female producers. All the networks know a Jane Craig.

"It's very difficult for us at CBS to watch it, because Holly Hunter is so much Susan Zirinsky, it's like watching home movies," said Bettag.

Zirinsky, a senior producer in the CBS Washington bureau, was a technical adviser on the movie and bears a physical resemblance to Hunter.

Pauley, who had interviewed Hunter, said the actress was worried that she wasn't glamorous enough to be the star of a movie about network news.

"As I told her, there are a lot of women in broadcast news who match her physical type and who have that same driven, single-minded intensity that from time to time messes up everything else about their lives. But it makes them the best person for the job," she said. "Her physical type, not to mention her acting ability--she was perfect."

Brooks, who worked briefly years ago for CBS in New York, made a local TV station the setting for his "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and later moved "Lou Grant" to a big-city newspaper.

Though no network is specifically mentioned in "Broadcast News," at one point the president of the news division comes down from New York to deliver the bad news that some staffers are to be laid off, a move CBS made last year when about 200 employees from the news division alone were let go.

But what makes those in the business cringe about the movie is the idea that a dimwitted, good-looking guy without any journalistic ethics or know-how could rise to the top in their profession.

"The William Hurt character would never have made it to network anchoring," Holm said. "That was embarrassing I think to us, just that concept."

"It's everybody's worst nightmare of having a William Hurt emerge," Bettag said. "Fortunately, we haven't had to face that problem yet. I think people understand that the three network anchormen are real treasures because they're not just actors."

"My struggle with it," Pauley said, "is that everything in it, there's a grain of truth, many times more than a grain of truth. I would want to quibble with . . . the scene where Holly Hunter is feeding the Bill Hurt character lines while he's simultaneously doing an interview. I've never seen that happen before in my 15 years in the business."

Pauley said once when a producer did suggest a question to her through her earpiece, both missed the fact that the interviewee was at that moment giving the answer. The producer didn't look dumb, but Pauley did because she was the one on the air.

There seems to be a general sense of agreement that the rest of America will see "Broadcast News" and think that's the way it is in network journalism.

"I think we can tend to be so inflated that a little deflation in how the public looks at this business might in fact be in order," Pauley said.

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